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Commentary

A Licence For Your Thoughts?

Tue, February 04, 2020   |   Author: Peter Vogel   |   Volume 27    Issue 5 | Share: Facebook | Twitter   

You need to get a government licence for many things in Canada; so far, publishing your thoughts is not one of them. But warning shots have been fired…

Freedom of the press is guaranteed in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it is well-situated as a “fundamental” freedom, one that is necessary for the protection of other freedoms. It needs to remain this way because a healthy democracy requires the freedom to speak out and try to convince others of your point of view.

When Members of Parliament, and particularly Government Ministers don’t understand this concept, we are in trouble. On February 2nd, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault mentioned the possibility of requiring news outlets to obtain government licences. Thankfully, he pulled back the next day, but this is a warning shot that we should not ignore!

If news outlets had to apply for a licence from the government, who would decide whether the license should be granted? Would there be an ideological test of some kind? If the license needed to be reviewed periodically, would there be a review of the content produced? It is not far-fetched to speculate that an ideological test would become a requirement, if not immediately, then eventually. Remember the Summer Jobs program…

The other warning shot, fired last week, is equally worrying. The situation is that Ezra Levant (the founder of Rebel News and a Canadian citizen) published a book during the last election, and advertised it. The book was critical of the Liberals in general and Justin Trudeau in particular. In December, Mr. Levant received a letter from the Commissioner of Canada Elections that informed him there had been a complaint and his actions in publishing a book were being investigated. You can see his side of the story because he secretly videoed the meeting he had with two investigators from the Commissioner’s office.

The issue of publishing certain things before and during an election in Canada has become more complicated in the last couple years. In an effort to achieve fairness, so-called “third party” advertisers are required to register with Elections Canada and the amount of money each “third party” can spend on advertising is limited. The intent of the law is to prevent groups that support a particular candidate or party from unduly influencing an election by adding funds above and beyond the amounts allowed for that candidate or party. For instance, if a labour union or an environmental group wants to run ads designed to increase public support for certain issues, they have to register as a “third party” and report on their spending during the election. Due to the fact that some groups like these have access to foreign money and support, and they can and do influence elections, there are legitimate reasons for “third party” rules and restrictions.

Because of the nature and timing of Mr. Levant’s book, a reasonable case could be made for him to be considered a third party. But, if that is the case, there are a few other things that should also be investigated:

  1. There were quite a number of books published about Justin Trudeau during the election period (twenty four of them!); most were supportive of Mr. Trudeau’s policies. Should not each of those authors also been registered? If not, why not?
  2. During the election Greta Thunberg, an environmental activist from Sweden, spent time in Canada and tried to rally public opinion against Canadian oil and all those perceived to be in favour of it. This was also political — due to the timing, if nothing else. Did she register as a third party? As a non-citizen, her actions should certainly be under a microscope, and probably a higher priority for the Commissioner of Elections Canada than Mr. Levant and his book.
  3. The CBC is not private enterprise, but rather a taxpayer-funded state-run corporation; as such, it should not support any political party or candidate. Insofar as they give disproportionate coverage to some political parties and candidates, they should also face scrutiny by the Commissioner of Elections Canada. A concrete example of their unfairness is the CBC vote compass, which acknowledges the existence of only six parties by name! Many more examples of exclusion could be drawn from their journalism; they did not even try to film an interview the Leader of CHP during the campaign, while they gave considerable screen-time to other party leaders.

The good news is that Canadians still have the freedom to investigate and criticize the government and its abuses of power in our country. The bad news is that too few of us are aware that our freedoms being eroded. (The most worrying of these erosions is the attempt by our Senate via bill S 202 to stop all conversion therapy; if you have not signed this petition opposing it, please do.)

There have been times and there will be times that the media in this country will receive criticism because of what is written or ignored — but freedom of the press must not be infringed upon and must be defended.

CHP has always stood for these fundamental freedoms, and we ask that you stand with us by supporting our efforts and joining with us if you are not yet a member.



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