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Canada Free Expression Copyright Government Censorship

Beyond C-10: Inside the government’s plan to suspend Internet users and block website access

On top of Bill C-10, Canada’s government is trying to give itself sweeping censorship powers to shut off access to parts of the web.

While we’ve all been distracted by the government’s bumbling overreach with Bill C-10, they’ve launched yet another attack on our online rights and freedoms: a Bell-backed proposal to give the government sweeping censorship powers to demand ISPs block websites, and have ISPs suspend our Internet, or even ban us permanently. All this any time that litigious rights holding companies like Shaw, Disney or Bell claim we’ve improperly accessed their copyrighted materials.

On April 14, the federal government launched a “Consultation on a Modern Copyright Framework for Online Intermediaries”. In their accompanying policy paper, the government suggests giving itself sweeping powers to create enforceable website block lists, shutting off access to any parts of the web accused by rights-holding media giants like Bell Media and Corus Entertainment of hosting content that infringes on their copyright.

But that’s just the start of the censorship that could be coming our way — and chillingly, the government wouldn’t even be doing most of their own dirty work. 

According to the proposal, intermediaries like ISPs and libraries could lose many of the protections they currently enjoy from frivolous lawsuits from rights-holders, exposing them to considerable legal risk. 

If these ‘safe harbour’ protections that protect intermediaries like libraries and ISPs from being sued by rights holders are reduced, and they are encouraged to make their own policies for addressing copyright infringement — what do you think they’re going to do? The logical response for most service providers will be minimizing their risk by aggressively blocking content, as well as disconnecting users entirely! 

Not only will this lead to much lawful content and mixed use platforms being blocked; it also means that, since many communities in Canada have only one viable ISP, the government is sentencing entire households in Canada to complete disconnection of an essential service for the crime of an alleged copyright violation on their Internet service. And it will have happened outside of the proper judicial process — just whatever rights holder-favouring process our ISP cobbles together for us.

What’s most galling is that all of this is to address an ‘urgent’ copyright infringement problem that doesn’t exist. Piracy has steadily declined in recent years around the world, including in Canada — not because of website blocking, but because of the growth of legitimate streaming services. The reality is that when rights holders give us a fair deal for the creative content we want on platforms that work, most of us prefer to pay for it.

This wildly overreaching proposal treats us all like potential criminals. It is disproportionate, unjustified, and open to abuse. If it sounds like it is straight off of Bell’s wishlist, you’d be right – they’ve already proposed a version of this four times before! But the community has stepped up to defeat it each time, and we can do it again. We can’t afford this massive step backwards for the open Internet — it must be stopped.

Luckily, unlike with Bill C-10, we’re actually getting a proper public consultation on this website blocking proposal where you can raise your voice in opposition. People across Canada are speaking up to tell the government to stop this censorship power grab. But the consultation is only open for comments until May 31st — so add your voice while you still can! 

That’s no justification for giving this kind of sweeping power over what we see online to the federal government and Big Telecom. If we swamp the website blocking consultation RIGHT NOW urging the government to drop this censorship scheme, we can stop it in its tracks. If you haven’t already, send your comment to the consultation: NO government website blocking powers!