(Image Credit: BorisFromStockdale via Wikimedia Commons; the file is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
The passing of Bill C-11 heralds the beginning of Canada’s decline as a society – but this decline will happen slowly enough for those responsible to avoid blame, because other factors will need to come into play for the decline to manifest.
A LONG TIME COMING
Bill C-11, known colloquially as the ‘internet censorship Bill’, finally completed its parliamentary journey and is now awaiting Royal assent, which we can safely assume will be forthcoming shortly. It may sound like nit-picking or pedantry, but until that moment of receiving Royal assent, Bill C-11 is not law, contrary to many proclamations by assorted opponents of the Bill. My purpose for highlighting this nuance here is to point out that we are now in the final stage of the age of ‘free expression’ in Canada, which is supposed to be an inviolable right acknowledged in the Charter. It is difficult to decide whether to call this phase as one characterized by the final rays of sunlight before a long night sets in, or a twilight zone where one can only see shadows. Whatever we choose to call it, one thing that is certain is that this phase will end soon.
The journey that brought us to this phase has been a long one; in its previous incarnation, this Bill was called C-10, which ‘died on the floor of the Parliament’ when Prime Minster Trudeau decided to call an election in 2021. At the time when that Bill was being equally hotly debated, I wrote an article about it (Bill C-10: A Fatwa On Knowledge) in which, as the title suggests, I likened this legislative proposal with the infamous fatwa from the topmost Islamic authority in Turkey – following the invention of the printing press in Europe – started the long-term decline of the Islamic world. The effect of that fatwa is still felt today: a civilization that gave us vital advancements in human knowledge, such as algebra, chemistry and astronomy at one point is still associated with illiteracy and social backwardness. While in that article I sought to sound a warning bell for the Canadian society, drawing from a precedent that is too painful, in the present article, I will try to ponder the timeline over which such decline can be expected to manifest in Canada. My hope here is that if this decline happens in slow-motion (as I hypothesize) and not precipitously, we may have an opportunity to halt it and, hopefully, reverse it before it is too late.
PARTNERS IN CRIME
As I mentioned in the intro to this article, while C-11 has the capacity to cause the decline of Canadian society into irrelevance on the global stage, it is going to need other ingredients to be added before this decline gets triggered. In terms of chemistry, it is the compound that will cause the said decline. What are these other ingredients?
The first two that come to mind are Bills C-18 and C-261 (many thanks to Twitter user @StatisticsBC for pointing me to the latter). As many readers may know, Bill C-18 seeks to force social media platforms and tech giant Google to pay news organizations for providing to users links to their news articles and other content. A detailed examination of this (frankly ludicrous) proposition deserves an article in its own right; it would suffice to mention here that in the real world (as opposed to the imaginary one that the sponsors and proponents of this Bill seem to inhabit), anyone helping a customer to find a supplier would be getting a ‘finder’s fee’ from the supplier. It is, and has been for the longest time, a business model to connect consumers with suppliers. Bill C-18 seeks to stand this age-old business model on its head: the party channeling business in the direction of a supplier would have to pay the supplier for the privilege. The possibility here is that tech giants such as Google (and other search engines) as well as Facebook (and other social media platforms) may decide not to bother with Canada at all – by population, we are a tiny fraction of their global market. If that happens, then Canadians’ ability to find information on the internet would certainly get diminished to a great – perhaps fatal – extent.
The other Bill, C-261, is the reincarnation of the previous Bill C-36, which had also ‘died on the floor of Parliament’ in 2021. At the time, it was colloquially known as the ‘online harms Bill’. In a nutshell, the Bill provided for proactive prosecution of people based on a complainant’s expectation that an act that was proscribed in the Bill would be committed by the accused. This evokes memories of the mayhem in Iraq – and specifically Baghdad – when the fundamentalist Islamists were going after people before the people had violated one or more of the ever-evolving rules and edicts of the former. Drawing this comparison, I wrote about this Bill nearly 2 years ago (Bill C-36 Sets Us On A Journey To Baghdad of 2007). As I mentioned in that article, one natural response from people fearing proactive prosecution is proactive compliance, viz., they seek to pre-empt malicious accusation by resorting to docile behaviour in the hope that they would not fall afoul of overzealous faultfinders. Since Bill C-261 relates to people’s online communications, this docility would manifest in their online activities. To put this in perspective, if Bill C-11 is about censorship, then Bill C-261 is about SELF-censorship. I envisage the combined chilling effect of Bills C-11, C-18 & C-261 on freedom of expression to rival the temperature on Europa, one of the satellites of Jupiter, on which the mid-day temperature is Minus 225 degrees Fahrenheit according to NASA – but it will take time for that to happen.
SLO-MO TRAIN WRECK
To start with, Bills C-18 and C-261 are still ‘before the Parliament’. While the Conservative side will (hopefully) put up stiff resistance, especially in the Senate, going by the record of the (nominally) independent Senators, we can reasonably expect the Bills to become laws. As for the House of Commons, the curiously named ‘Supply & Confidence’ agreement between the NDP and the government will ensure their passage (I am saying ‘curiously named’ because it is not clear to me as to what is being ‘supplied’ in return for the NDP ensuring that the government has the confidence of the House). However, for strategic reasons, backroom deals may be struck with the Bloc to see to it that Mr. Singh can strike an ideological posture in opposition to a piece of legislation while ensuring that the legislation passes – although when it comes to Bills C-18 & C-261, he is unlikely to oppose them; his socialist bent makes him naturally in favour of more government control over the populace.
But as I said earlier, these pieces of legislation would only make a compound (a corrosive one). The compound would still need a catalyst for it to start affecting the society on a large scale. As I see it, such a catalyst often tends to be political disunity. All the claims of Prime Minister Trudeau being ‘the most divisive PM in Canadian history’ (and before him, PM Harper being called similar) notwithstanding, Canadian society still remains a cohesive one – at the very least, it is cohesive enough for the country and the society not to unravel. But we cannot take this cohesiveness for granted – unless we work to counter the impacts of these laws, it could unravel.
I think this is where the social science departs from chemistry. The trigger that gets the unraveling of the Canadian society going will not be a thing, but rather an event. The most recognizable example of such an event is the gunshot that killed Archduke Ferdinand – all the factors (defensive alliances etc.) that had produced the compound for a big war had been in place, bur dormant, until that shot was fired. Then all hell broke loose, literally. Despite the outward appearance of unity (in the form of alliances) the disunity that existed at the subterranean level emerged with destructive force.
An alternative possibility is a collapse that can be observed only on a generational time scale, such as in the case of the Mughal empire. The last of the great Mughal emperors, Aurangzeb, had been oppressive and a religious zealot, and thus his rule had created the compound for the destruction of the empire – but his strong-fisted rule held it together. Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor over 180 years of Mughal rule, died in 1707. Within 13 years of his death, there were 10 ‘emperors’ who sat on his throne. Large provinces of the empire began to secede, the local governors appointing themselves kings. Some 32 years after the death of Aurangzeb, the army of the Persian emperor Nadir Shah defeated the Mughal forces, eventually sacking and looting the capital city of Delhi. Over the next century, the ‘empire’ shrank and was finally confined to the walls of the Red Fort of Delhi.
Depending on how you look at it, 32 years is a long time, or the blink of an eye. On a civilizational timescale, it is the latter. But on the timescale of political careers in a democracy (however flawed or otherwise), it is a very long time. How many Canadians today remember what laws were passed in 1991, and who voted for these laws to be enacted? Moreover, if there are any adverse effects of these laws, those can always be blamed on either ‘unforeseen factors’ or the actions of the succeeding governments. Sadly, all these defensive arguments and natural amnesia will not save us from the consequences of Bill C-11 and its ‘sister Bills’. Just as we live with the consequences of all laws, good or bad, passed in the past, we will have to live with the consequences of these laws as well. Given the vagaries of time, a trigger would be unavoidable.
One would need to be a clairvoyant to predict what form that trigger will take in Canada, but sadly I am not one. All that I know – or can conjecture – is that this bouquet of laws DO make a lethal mix. After that catalytic action is triggered, Canadian society and the country called Canada may continue to exist, but if they do, they will be a pale shadow of their former selves.
Independent voices are more important than ever in today’s Canada. I am happy to add my voice to the public discussions on current issues & policy, and grateful for all the encouraging response from my listeners & readers. I do not believe in a Paywall model, so will not make access to my content subject to a payment.
To help me bring more content to you, please consider donating a small amount via this PayPal link on my website: https://darshanmaharaja.ca/donate/