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OTTAWA, February 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Canada’s heritage minister backpedaled yesterday on comments published Sunday by CTV News that the Trudeau Liberals are considering forcing news websites and social media to obtain a government license to operate in Canada.

Steven Guilbeault made his initial remarks during an interview with CTV’s Evan Solomon on the report released last Wednesday that recommends massively expanding the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate not only radio and television broadcasters but news websites as well.

Drafted by former telecommunications executive Janet Yale, the report is titled “Canada’s Communications Future: Time to Act,” and its 97 recommendations include having the CRTC or “another regulatory body” licence all companies that create “audio, audiovisual, and alphanumeric news content” — something with which Guilbeault appeared to agree.

“We would ask that they have a licence, yes,” the Liberal minister told Solomon.

“If you’re a distributor of content in Canada and obviously if you’re a very small media organization the requirement probably wouldn’t be the same if you’re Facebook, or Google. There would have to be some proportionality embedded into this,” Guilbeault said.

But following widespread backlash, Guilbeault walked back his comments Monday in a news conference broadcast on CPAC, in which he stated the Liberal government has “no intention to impose licensing requirements on news organizations,” nor will it “regulate news content.”

“Our focus will be and always has been that Canadians have diversity to high-quality news sources,” he told reporters, adding that “we will speak again when we have legislation to present.”

Guilbeault said his original comments referred to media outlets that produce cultural content and the issue of discoverability — “which doesn’t apply to news media outlets,” and that confusion could also arise because the report talks about media, but isn’t necessarily referring to news agencies, according to iPolitics.

But the Liberal minister’s volte-face led to some Twitter observers to speculate on whether or not Justin Trudeau’s government can be trusted.

Meanwhile, Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne denounced the report last week as a “regulatory power grab without precedent, in Canada or the democratic world”, and tweeted Sunday: 

Released after one-and-a-half-year long review, the Yale report recommends that the government expand the CRTC to regulate “media curators” such as Netflix and CTV that “acquire and produce their own content”, as well as media aggregators, which are cable companies and sites like Yahoo News; and sharing platforms like Facebook and YouTube, according to iPolitics.

It also recommends the CRTC decide “what news aggregators are trustworthy, and require links to those sites, with rules to ensure the links are prominently displayed,” iPolitcs noted. 

Recommendation 56 states that “the existing licensing regime in the Broadcasting Act be accompanied by a registration regime. This would require a person carrying on a media content undertaking by means of the Internet to register unless otherwise exempt.”

The report further recommends forcing streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime to pay tax and create and stream a set quota of Canadian content, the Post Millennial reported. 

On Sunday’s broadcast, Solomon quizzed Guilbeault about just how the Liberals intended to enforce the proposed licensing requirement with international online news sites. 

Would Canadians be blocked from accessing the “controversial” Breitbart site, not to mention the New York Times, Mother Jones, the Daily Mail, he asked.

Guilbeault said he didn’t think foreign sites would be blocked if they did not comply with the CRTC.

“Frankly, I’m not sure I see what the big deal is,” he added, pointing out that international corporations in other sectors such as finance, energy, and construction, must comply with Canadian regulations.

When Solomon pointed out the digital world was “different than shipping logs and you know that,” Guilbeault conceded that “it’s true that not so many countries have done so, that is correct, but we, Canada would be the first country in the world to do that.” 

He said that the Liberals were only studying the Yale report, and that legislation would be tabled before the year’s end.

Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chairman in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa told CTV the report is “candidly extreme” and has no “physical boundaries.” 

He speculated that legislation based on its recommendations may not survive a Charter challenge.

“It’s not the sort of thing we’d expect to see in Canada, to be honest,” Geist said.

MP Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative shadow minister for minister for industry and economic development, likewise blasted the report and questioned whether a law enforcing its proposals would be constitutional.

She tweeted Monday that Guilbeault’s “bizarre press conference” only added to the confusion and that the Tories would stand up for free speech.

“This morning the Liberals give a bizarre press conference, adding more confusion as to what media they’re going to require licenses for in what circumstances. I responded very clearly – Canadians can think for themselves and will fight government erosion of freedom of speech,” she said. 

Contact information:

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault – Minister of Canadian Heritage
15 Eddy Street, 12th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M5
Telephone: 819-997-7788
Email: [email protected]

MP Michelle Rempel Garner
Conservative shadow minister for industry and economic development
Suite 115, 70 Country Hills Landing NW 
Calgary, AB T3K 2L2 
Telephone: 403-216-7777 
Email: [email protected]

Justin Trudeau – Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Fax: 613-941-6900
[email protected]