Canada has long prided itself on free expression and democracy, but newly passed Bill C-18 threatens to tarnish Canada’s reputation by infringing upon the fundamental principle of liberty in media.

What is Bill C-18?

Under the guise of supporting local news outlets in Canada, Bill C-18 aims to censor all news outlets on social media platforms unless their companies offer compensation to Canadian news outlets for the news they provide. Neither Canadian news outlets nor social media companies asked for such a structure; and yet, this kind of legislation has long been on the agenda for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

Kent Walker, Google’s President of Global Affairs, took to Google’s Canada Blog to announce:

“Bill C-18 has become law and remains unworkable. As a result we have made the difficult decision that when the law takes effect we will be removing links to Canadian news from our search, news and discover products.”

The importance of free speech online

As an integral part of society — Canadian or otherwise — free expression enables citizens to share their views and ideas and have access to the inevitably diverse range of perspectives that emanate from Canada’s long-held status as a multicultural society.

The digital age has democratized information through means like social media, which empowers Canadians to communicate within public discourse and on current events, domestic and abroad. By curtailing access to news accounts on social media, Bill C-18 already has stifled the free flow of ideas and restricted Canadians’ ability to engage in meaningful discussions on issues of public interest.

For more on free speech and why it’s so important, see:

The role of social media in news

In Canada, like other countries, social media has risen to become the primary source of news for many individuals, especially those aged 35 and under. And as we know from Elections Canada, that age group has one of the lowest participation rates of any in Canadian federal elections. So in addition to violating the principles of liberty, this legislation might worsen that problem.

Already, Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp has engaged in self-censorship, opting to limit news content to avoid potential liabilities, leaving Canadians with a limited news landscape. 

Google, however, has joined forces with the Canadian public to stand against this policy. It continued to allow Canadians the freedom to see news in Google search results during the most recent civil liberties concern over Bill C-11, a new law permitting the Canadian government to take partial control of YouTube and other platforms’ “recommended page” algorithm to promote more “Canadian content.”

Unintended consequences

The Canadian Federal Government has pushed for this and other similar legislation under the guise of “helping” Canadian media outlets earn a seat at the negotiation table with social media companies, and “helping” them when they struggle by promoting their content.

In response, major social media companies could start looking more deeply at the burden of doing business in Canada compared to the United States.

And in the long run, those social media operations might choose to focus more on the U.S., forcing local Canadian media outlets to lose whatever outreach they might have on global social media platforms, harming their long-term sustainability.

To learn more about related legislation in Canada’s neighbor to the south, see Learn Liberty’s video on Section 230:

Defending liberty

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined in the Constitution Act of 1982, protects various individual liberties that are relevant to the concerns raised by Bill C-18. Two specific sections include:

1. Section 2(b) – Freedom of Expression: This section guarantees every Canadian the right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press. By compelling companies to follow Bill C-18’s unprecedented financial compensation conditions or restricting access to Canadian users, Bill C-18 could infringe on this section.

2. Section 2(d) – Freedom of Association: This section protects the right of individuals to form associations, including online communities and social media networks. Limiting access to social media platforms through legislative means impedes individuals from freely associating and engaging in online forums, thereby curbing Canadians’ ability to exchange ideas.

What next for Canada?

Despite the questionable legality, the Canadian government could still succeed in pushing Bill C-18 to pass public scrutiny by continuing its campaign of “supporting” local Canadian media outlets. The government might argue that by enforcing compensation from social media platforms for the use of news content, the government is upholding the value of quality journalism, which — in theory — means it’s promoting the livelihood of local Canadian journalists.

While continuing to receive opposition to this law, especially from free speech groups and individuals such as myself, the government surely will continue to argue that this step is necessary to protect the Canadian media market from undue foreign interference and promote media diversity. And ultimately, the government’s focus on the economic and national interest factors might prove to become the predominant talking points. 

I’m hopeful, however, that the debates and legal challenges that ensue will build enough additional pressure for an election, in which at least one opposition leader pledges to scrap this law.

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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.