(Image Credit: Marco Vech Professional Photographer, via flickr.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
One cardinal rule of government is that when enacting a policy that curtails people’s freedoms, it is necessary to present it as critically necessary to keep them safe from hazily defined but existential threats.
STEPS FROM CALAMITY
Bill C-11, commonly known as ‘the internet censorship Bill’, passed third reading in the House of Commons recently, with 210 MPs voting in favour and 118 MPs voting against (see this link). Initially, there was some confusion regarding whether any Conservative MP had voted in favour of the Bill or not (none had). Leaving that confusion aside, it is curious to see that one Green MP (Mike Morris) had voted against it, as well as the Independent (formerly Liberal) Kevin Vuong, who seems to be rather enjoying his term after being expelled from the Liberal caucus. The Bill is now in third reading in the Senate, according to this link. If it passes in the Senate, the Bill will be one step away (i.e., royal assent) from becoming the law of the land.
The Bill has attracted serious opposition from various stakeholders. The crux of their different arguments is that the proposed law has a significant and deleterious effect on Canadians’ ability to express and receive ideas in a free manner. In a textbook case of intransigence, the government has insisted that the contentious part of the Bill (Section 4.2) does not do that – despite the Chair of CRTC (the agency that would be mandated with implementing the mechanism under Section 4.2) stating clearly that his agency would have the power to do exactly that. In short, if the Bill passes in the Senate, the wheels to restrict what Canadians can say and hear online will be set in motion.
It is worth recalling here that Bill C-11 is basically a reincarnation of the earlier Bill C-10 in the previous parliament. Bill C-10 could not become law because PM Trudeau decided to call an election in 2021, causing the Bill to ‘die on the floor’. Before that happened, I had written an article (‘Bill C-10: A Fatwa On Knowledge’) explaining my views on why and how the Bill, if it became law, would relegate Canada to the backwaters of an increasingly connected and knowledge-based world. As I said in the intro to that article: “By severely restricting Canadians’ ability to express and access ideas online, Bill C-10 puts us at a competitive disadvantage in an increasingly knowledge-based and globalized world. Its consequence will be Canada’s long-term decline.” I believe that since Bill C-11 is the same as Bill C-10, the ideas that I offered in that article are as valid and relevant in the present context of Bill C-11. I strongly urge you to read that article.
DANGER & SAFETY
The crux of the idea behind this proposed law is that (a) the online world is teeming with indescribable dangers from which the innocent-as-a-lamb Canadian public must be protected by an omnipotent and benevolent government, and (b) Canadian producers of online content are too weak to compete in the marketplace without being shielded from competition that emanates from elsewhere. They propose to achieve these twin objectives via the instrumentality of CRTC, which will act as a human ‘proxy server’ to filter all content – of the entire internet worldwide – to ensure that Canadians, who will now be wards of the State as far as the cyberworld is concerned, have their safety and competitive position undamaged.
Over the course of writing on Canadian socio-political issues in the last 3 years, several important principles have become clear(er) in my mind. One of these is that every policy should be examined from the vantage point of the feasibility of its implementation. “How does this policy look like at the point of implementation?” should be a mandatory question for every policy. Regardless of how well-intentioned a policy is, if it cannot be implemented without creating dislocation in the society, it will cause damage and destruction. Sadly, no thought has gone into examining the feasibility of CRTC managing potentially hundreds of millions of registrants and billions of internet users. I can see chaos – or even total breakdown – once CRTC starts implementing Bill C-11. This is assuming it does so in earnest, rather than using the law as a tool to crack down on and silence specific individuals or entities.
Beyond that, however, it is not clear to me how they can ensure everyone’s safety in the vast world of the internet. But the idea of 100% safety for 100% of people appeals to many Canadians. I think this is because (as I have observed in the past) over the past 50-odd years, the Canadian society went from being ruggedly individualistic to being trenchantly collectivist. Therefore, the idea of ‘collective safety’ appeals to a large section of the Canadian society. In addition, the era of Covid has further strengthened this tendency among even more people who may have earlier regarded ‘collective safety’ with some hesitation.
As with most everything else, the question of ‘collective safety’ hinges on what – and how much – of other things we are going to sacrifice in its pursuit, and whether the intended outcome can be guaranteed. In this context, an African folk tale that I was told by my colleague Eric during my years in Kenya is instructive.
THE HORN OF A DILEMMA
There was once a tribal chief who was longing for a son to inherit his position. He kept marrying different women to this end, but to no avail. Finally, at a relatively advanced age, one of his young wives gave birth to a son. The chief was naturally concerned about his son’s safety. He consulted the astrologer, who told him that his son’s death would occur via a rhino’s horn. The chief promptly made a rule that his son was not to leave his house; everything that his son needed was to be supplied to him within the walls of their home.
Inside the home, the walls were decorated with trophies from the various hunts that the chief had led. Among the heads of lions, elephants and buffalo, one of these trophies happened to be the head of a rhino. One day, as the chief’s son was playing directly underneath this trophy, the big, thick nail on which it had been hung came loose, and the rhino’s head fell down. Just before it hit the floor, the horn on the rhino’s head pierced the chest of the chief’s son, killing him instantly.
Now the chief became enraged at the astrologer and summoned him. He then confronted the astrologer angrily, asking how his prediction could have come true when he (the chief) had taken extreme precautions to avoid it. The astrologer replied that his prediction did not say whether the rhino would be alive or long-dead, nor whether its horn would be out in the bush or on the wall of the chief’s house. In fact, by making it compulsory for the son to remain indoors – where the trophy was ever-present – at all times, the chief had increased the probability of his son’s death substantially, because out in the bush, human-rhino encounters are only occasional.
THE SALESMAN WITH A CLIPBOARD
Within a couple of days after I became a ‘first-time home-buyer’, my doorbell rang. When I answered it, I found a man standing outside, with a clipboard in his hand. I asked what he wanted. He said, “I want to protect your interests. Here is my company’s contract for electricity supply (or perhaps it was gas supply, I forget exactly which one it was). Please sign it so that your interests are protected.”
Thankfully, I had already heard much about the ‘salesman with a clipboard at your door’ situation, so I declined his offer. He persisted and started telling me about all the different ways in which my interests were unprotected unless I signed that contract right there and then. I had heard about this hard-sell tactic as well, so I kept declining and finally asked him sternly to leave my property.
I believe that when it comes to Bill C-11, the government is in the role of that ‘salesman with a clipboard at our door’, offering to protect our interests – whether as ‘vulnerable’ users on the internet or as content creators who are losing out on potential revenue due to ‘unfair’ competition from elsewhere. In this case, however, the unfortunate part is that we cannot decline the offer directly, but rather, must depend on our (so-called) representatives to do that on our behalf. And we certainly can’t tell the government to get lost, the way I told that salesman with a clipboard.
A PEACE OFFER FROM BARZINI
But the damage that Bill C-11 would inflict on the Canadian society would be so much more significant and far-reaching than the ‘clipboard situation’ that I am inclined to use the word ‘sinister’ for the Bill, and for the forces that are pushing it through. I am using strong words here because (as I have explained in ‘Bill C-10: A Fatwa On Knowledge’), Bill C-11 will lead to long-term and inescapable decline of Canada.
In this context, a piece of literature that I find relevant is the scene from the movie The Godfather (part 1), where a retired Don Vito Corleone is chatting in his backyard with his youngest son Michael (see this link on YouTube). The Don’s mental capacities have declined a bit, so his thoughts meander a lot. He wanders from asking Michael about his children to lamenting that he (the Don) himself couldn’t give his family the amount of time that he should have. But even in this depleted state, his mind is sharp enough to warn about the threat from the Barzini family: “Whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting – he is a traitor, don’t forget that.”
The stakes here were not limited to control over a big part of the organized crime in New York of the time. Don Corleone was the numero uno of the crime ‘families’ there, and the Don had figured out that Don Barzini was aspiring to replace him at the top spot. In order to take over the activities (gambling, unions etc.) that made Don Corleone the top Don, any challenger would have to physically liquidate members of the Corleone family – perhaps all of them. In Don Corleone’s judgement (which turned out to be correct, eventually), this challenger would be Don Barzini and the challenge would come in the form of a ‘peace offer’ brought to the Corleone family via one of its own senior members. So, in an indirect manner, the Don is also telling Michael that one of his two caporegimes, Clemenza and Tessio – who had been with the Don since the very beginning – could become a traitor at some point. The promise of peace between the ‘families’ would be the pretext for getting rid of the Corleone family entirely. In other words, the fatal threat to the Corleone’s would come in the guise of an offer to protect their interests.
The only thing that stands between Bill C-11 becoming the law of the land in Canada, setting us on a downhill journey as a society, is one round of voting in the Senate (for the record, I consider royal assent to be a mere formality). In my view, this will change the very character of the Canadian society, As I wrote over 9 months ago in my article ‘Two-Way Exodus’:
“Various legislative proposals are afoot that, if or when implemented, would make Canada a greatly less desirable place to live in for many, while making it vastly more alluring to others. Our society is likely entering a stage of metamorphosis.”
Before I immigrated to Canada, the buzz in that community abroad was that school education and healthcare were ‘free’ in Canada. The appeal of this ‘free’ stuff on would-be immigrants was strong. Since then, a lot of other ‘free’ or subsidized stuff has come in the picture, such as the much ballyhooed ‘$10-a-day daycare’ and the recently announced federal ‘dental plan’ (which is neither about dental care nor a plan, but let us not digress). The net result of these policies is / will be to increase the appeal for immigration to Canada among people who prioritize such issues. At the same time, among the people who are already here, the more productive or less docile would be compelled, at some point, to leave Canada for places with less restrictive laws and more room to achieve their potential in the new economy of the internet. As anyone who learned any martial art was taught, the best defence is not to be in a dangerous situation.
With the new, emerging legal framework in Canada, over the long term, there will be a larger and larger proportion of people living here who are content with inhabiting a place that occupies an increasingly lesser relevance in the world. Everyone else will have heeded the advice of the martial arts teachers and moved to where they can be productive and connected without the government getting in the way. At that point, I doubt if the other 6 member countries in the G7 would want Canada to remain in that group.
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.
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