The News Rundown
- This past week, Parliament convened for its last sitting days of business before adjourning for an almost 3 month break for the summer. These last few days were especially consequential for the Trudeau government, as it was their last chance to pass legislation before the fall session starts on September 20th, which may or may not be interrupted by an election call, something that has been widely predicted, and which Liberal MPs are visibly gearing up for.
- One of the new bills introduced in the waning days of the session was brought forward by Minister of Justice David Lametti, proposing controversial legal changes intended to curb online hate speech and make it easier for the victims of hate speech to launch complaints.
- The proposed Bill C-36 includes an addition to the Canadian Human Rights Act that the government says will clarify the definition of online hate speech and list it as a form of discrimination. Lametti referenced the deadly truck attack in London, Ont. as an example of the violence possible as a result of online hate.
- Lametti says the new law will deal with “hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech.” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has been working on a new online harms bill with Justice and other ministries, though government spokespeople declined to say Tuesday whether that bill is the legislation that will be tabled by Lametti.
- Because of parliamentary privilege, little is known just how much of Guilbeault's online harms bill will be intertwined with Lametti's bill.
- One possibility is that Lametti’s bill could leave out online regulation and focus only on changes to hate speech law the government consulted on last year — though if that includes bringing back a civil remedy for hate speech, the bill still stands to garner much opposition.
- Guilbeault told an industry conference last week that the upcoming online harms legislation, which will deal with hate speech and other illegal content, will be even more contentious than broadcasting Bill C-10. That legislation finally passed through the House of Commons in the early hours of Tuesday morning after nearly two months of concern about its impact on free expression.
- “Now, this is going to be controversial. People think that C-10 was controversial. Wait till we table this legislation,” Guilbeault said at an appearance at the Banff World Media Festival.
- Anybody who hears that quote should know just how far the Trudeau government is willing to stick their fingers into what Canadians are doing online.
- According to the notice paper, Lametti’s bill will “amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and to make related amendments to another Act (hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech).”
- As part of the work on building up the online harms bill, Arif Virani, Lametti’s parliamentary secretary, held consultations across the country on Lametti’s behalf. That consultation included questions about reintroducing a form of a hate speech law — Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act — that was widely criticized over free speech rights before it was repealed in 2013.
- Under section 13, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal could issue cease-and-desist orders and impose fines up to $10,000 in response to complaints from individuals about matters likely to expose them “to hatred or contempt” for the reason of those individuals being “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
- Cara Zwibel, the director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s fundamental freedom’s program, said in an interview that Lametti’s bill “is going to make amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Canadian Human Rights Act makes me think that … they will either reintroduce Section 13 or introduce something similar, but maybe not exactly the same.”
- The CCLA opposed Section 13, and Zwibel said it wouldn’t be a good idea to reintroduce it. Zwibel said the concern with bringing back Section 13 is that it could create a chilling effect on free speech, due to the vastly increased numbers of complaints that the Human Rights Commission would have to choose to pursue or not.
- “The worry with, for example, reintroducing a remedy under the Canadian Human Rights Act is that with the Criminal Code we have the requirement that the attorney general approve a charge to pursue a promotion of hatred charge under the Criminal Code,” she said.
- Currently the Attorney General has to decide whether to approve charges, while under the new legislation, people would be charged automatically.
- The online harms bill was initially supposed to be tabled in the spring. Guilbeault told a Parliamentary committee in early June that the bill was delayed because of the controversy and Conservative Party opposition over Bill C-10.
- While C-10 finally passed through the House of Commons, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc, it is set to hit a roadblock at the Senate. Senators from various caucuses told the National Post last week the majority of senators have no interest in fast-tracking the bill before the end of the Parliamentary session.
- If the bill isn’t fast-tracked, it will be studied at a Senate committee, most likely in the fall. That means it’s likely to die on the order paper if a federal election is held then. The same would go for Lametti’s hate speech bill, which was introduced on the last scheduled sitting day.
- The bill has no realistic path toward adoption and implementation if an election is called in the coming months. So why are the Liberals announcing it now? They are attempting to get ahead of the news cycle with their own messaging, and by deliberately leaving it vague, it leaves media outlets to speak of the proposed changes in more broad terms, leaving a vaguely positive impression.
- And if an election is called, then this will just be early campaigning by the Liberals. They are trying to keep all of the focus on social issues to distract from their awful economic and jobs record during the pandemic. It's all smoke and mirrors, and the media is playing right along.
- Last week on Western Context we delved into the story of the Liberal government being held in contempt of Parliament for refusing to provide unredacted documents to the House of Commons detailing the firing of two scientists from an infectious disease lab in Winnipeg.
- The reason they were fired was over concerns about their ties to Chinese military research.
- This week Public Health Agency of Canada president Iain Stewart was reprimanded by the Speaker for failing to produce the documents in question.
- Having a government, let alone an individual, be held in contempt of Parliament is very very rare and when it happens, there’s always something to keep an open eye on.
- This week, it’s the question of what exactly the Liberal government is hiding.
- And that question becomes even bigger because on Wednesday the government announced they will be taking the House Speaker to court to block the release of the unredacted documents.
- In the government's court filing it says that the release could harm national security and possibly our international relations as well.
- House Speaker Anthony Rota called the court case an “urgent matter” and has vowed to fight the case. He said “The Speaker’s Office will defend the rights of the House. That is something I take very seriously. The legal system does not have any jurisdiction over the operations of the House. We are our own jurisdiction. That is something we will fight tooth and nail to protect and we will continue to do that.”
- This from the Speaker sums up the absurdity of what the Liberals are trying to do. Parliament is indeed governed by its own set of laws to the point, what would be often referred to as libel outside the House, is not actually illegal inside the House chamber.
- There’s also the notion of Parliamentary Supremacy, the idea that parliament reigns supreme and the will of the House is the final say. Meaning, if a majority of MPs call on the documents to be released, they should be released.
- The same thing extends to laws passed by the House. A law no matter how absurd can be passed by the House, it’s then up to the courts to challenge it and amendments may have to be made.
- Parliament is also supreme in that the actions of one Parliament today can not tie the hands of another in the future.
- By all Parliamentary standards, the House should have a leg up in this case.
- Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell said, “If the government does not respect the orders of the House of Commons, why should Canadians’ respect laws voted upon by the House of Commons?”
- Now of course he wasn’t speaking literally here, all he’s saying is that if these laws aren’t good enough for the Liberals, what good is Parliament for when it comes to laws for everyday Canadians?
- The word from the Ministry of Justice is that the Canada Evidence Act allows the government to do what they did as there is a clause that is often used in national security matters to keep sensitive information under wraps.
- This saga with the Winnipeg lab and the Chinese scientists has been going on for months. It’s estimated that at least 250 pages have been withheld in their entirety while hundreds of others were partially censored.
- It’s not as if the House of Commons has just thrown out the rule book and wants everything without a filter, last week we mentioned that MPs had asked the Commons law clerk to review the documents and redact anything that could be harmful to national security.
- Former House of Commons law clerk Rob Walsh said that the court should stay out of this and deny the governments request because it is “House business [and] it’s not the court’s place to interfere.”
- So where does this leave us? The House has adjourned for summer. On Wednesday it was thought that Speaker Anthony Rota could rule on a Motion that would instruct the House of Commons sergeant-at-arms to search the Public Health Agency of Canada offices and seize the unredacted documents.
- Fine. Good. We’ll have an answer this fall, right?
- Probably not. It is widely expected that before September we will be into an election campaign and this issue will disappear when the House is dissolved.
- Speaker Anthony Rota himself is not one of Trudeau’s lackeys. He’s been elected on and off since 2004 to the House of Commons and outside of his political life teaches political science.
- When this Parliament began Geoff Regan lost the speakership to Anthony Rota because the opposition preferred Anthony Rota while the Liberals preferred to keep Geoff Regan.
- The speaker is doing his part and has been neutral as the job calls for. But this doesn’t change the fact that what’s going on here is an affront to democracy and the people’s representatives.
- It will be up to the next speaker to decide what to do with the ruling, whoever that may be.
- An election is on the horizon, whether the Liberals want to admit it or not. Recently uncovered records point to that, as they are even funding taxpayer money towards Liberal friendly companies that are running their digital operations for their re-election campaign.
- The Liberal Research Bureau, a taxpayer-funded office that supports Trudeau government MPs, used parliamentary money to hire a company that plays a key role in the Liberal Party’s re-election efforts. Commons expense records show the bureau paid more than $75,000 to Data Sciences Inc. in the period between Aug. 1, 2019, and Oct. 1, 2020.
- Data Sciences, a Montreal-based company, is owned by Tom Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau who ran the Liberals’ digital operations in the 2015 and 2019 elections. He is expected to take on the same role in the next general election. Pitfield’s company is known for using algorithms to target and adjust digital advertising during elections.
- An examination of expenses filed in the House of Commons shows 149 Liberal MPs, or 97 per cent of the caucus, made payments out of their office budgets to Data Sciences Inc. The amount MPs collectively claimed for payments to Data Sciences was more than $30,000.
- This spending is in addition to separate payments made from the taxpayer-funded office budgets of Liberal MPs to Data Sciences and another campaign-related company, NGP VAN, which makes software used by the U.S. Democratic Party that the Liberals license to run their Liberalist election database.
- Liberal MPs also claimed a total of $74,290 in payments to NGP VAN in their fourth-quarter expense reports for the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year. Given that this was only a quarterly report, the total amount of taxpayer dollars supporting these Liberal-friendly firms is likely much higher.
- NGP VAN describes itself as “the leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns.” The software and services offered by the firm have been used by the Obama and Biden campaigns, as well as those of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
- These payments to companies that play key roles in the Liberal Party’s digital campaign operations raise ethical questions about the use of taxpayer funds being spent for partisan political purposes by Trudeau's team.
- Trudeau’s Open and Accountable Government policy urges his ministers to uphold “the highest standards of honesty and impartiality,” and says “both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny.” The policy adds that this is an “obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.” We know from the past 6 years of this government that these are just simple words.
- The Liberals claim that the spending is purely for constituency outreach services, which is an allowed expense. They say that there is an inviolable wall between the help Data Services and NGP VAN provide members of Parliament with managing constituency casework and the voter-outreach assistance these companies provide the party during political campaigns.
- Melissa Cotton, managing director of the Liberal Research Bureau (LRB), said the more than $75,000 her office spent on Data Sciences is for technical support and training related to software that “assists MPs in their parliamentary engagement with constituents.”
- Cotton said: “This would not be dissimilar to specialized support for other technology and software that MPs’ offices use to assist and communicate with their constituents, much of which is also provided to MPs of all parties by outside experts or professionals.”
- In the House of Commons Question Period on Tuesday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized the Liberals for awarding taxpayer-funded contracts to Data Sciences, calling Pitfield the Prime Minister’s “lifetime” friend, and pointing out the strong ties between the Liberals and the companies they are giving money to: “Mr. Pitfield is not just the Prime Minister’s buddy; he is also married to the former Liberal Party president. It certainly pays to be a Liberal insider in Ottawa these days.”
- Mr. Pitfield’s wife, Anna Gainey, was president of the Liberal Party from 2014 to 2018, and is also close to the Trudeau family. The Pitfields and Trudeaus vacationed together at the Aga Khan’s resort in the Bahamas over the Christmas holidays in 2016. The Ethics Commissioner ruled a year later that Mr. Trudeau had violated conflict-of-interest rules by accepting the free holiday.
- This also harkens back to the WE Charity scandal, which also involved government money being awarded to a Liberal friendly company that had close familial ties to Trudeau, and awarded kickbacks.
- This could be a scandal of the WE Charity proportions but the media has not covered this story in full, apart from the Globe and Mail, and Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun. Once again, rather than covering Liberal scandals they are covering them up instead.
- Bilingualism in Canada is something that not many Canadians west of Quebec really care about except for a few French enclaves in parts of Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
- Bilingualism is something we’re all exposed to each and every day whenever we buy something since it is required to be labeled in English and French.
- In terms of modernizing bilingualism the Trudeau government called it an “emblem of Canadian identity” going back to 1969 when the legislation was first passed by his father.
- Bilingualism of the day was an effort by the government to protect the culture of Quebec.
- Many see Quebec as the bilingual province of Canada but given French is spoken in majority in Quebec, the only officially bilingual province is New Brunswick.
- Last week the government tabled Bill C-32, an Act to “strengthen the official languages Act.”
- The initial official languages Act was about ensuring Parliament, federal agencies, and the courts operated in both official languages. The law also aims to protect linguistic minorities. English in Quebec and French outside of Quebec.
- According to the Globe and Mail Editorial Board, the new changes will transform the Official Languages Act into Quebec’s Charter of the French Language.
- If Bill 32 is passed, French would become the official language of Quebec.
- If passed, federally charted business in Quebec would either have to submit to Quebec’s Bill 101 which supports language requirements or the federal language requirements in the strengthened official languages Act.
- All Supreme Court nominees will be required to be bilingual, which severely limits those from Western Canada. Yes, anyone can learn French but there are cultural differences between someone who is bilingual and someone who is not in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
- In discussing Bill 32, the federal government has said, “The existence of a francophone majority in Quebec, with a future in which French is assured, is not only a legitimate objective, but also a fundamental premise of the federal official languages regime.”
- This puts the sole focus of this piece of legislation on Quebec.
- Official Languages Minister Melanie Holy said that initially the threat to French came from Canada, now it comes from “globalization and the internet, which are ruled by a hegemony of English.”
- It’s at this point we need to be 100% clear and go back to 2017. Many thought that Canada had escaped its own populist surge like we saw with Brexit in the UK or Donald Trump in the US.
- Those with the foresight of observing geopolitical trends and what modern 21st century populism actually stands for, understood that no country would be immune.
- The two polar opposites are those like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson or the opposite being in the camp of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders in the US, and now, apparently Justin Trudeau in Canada.
- Populism was the bad word that everyone in the media shied away from while initially claiming that we would be fine here in Canada.
- This of course naturally turns into a discussion about electoral fortunes but first, you’re probably wondering is what the Liberals are doing necessary?
- According to Statistics Canada, 94.5% of Quebeckers say they can converse in French and 80% say French is their mother tongue.
- While this piece of legislation would strengthen French, the Quebec government also plans to invoke the notwithstanding clause in Bill 96 to limit the use of English in schools.
- It also so happens that the opposition in the Parliament of Canada supports this legislation. Who wouldn’t? It makes your party more palatable to those in Quebec.
- This marks a continued trend of all major parties supporting most initiatives to curry favour with those in Quebec, excluding Bill C-10 which imposes internet content requirements.
- When Premier Francois Legault ran under this platform it was called a campaign teeming with Quebec nationalism. It’s here federally and most parties now support it.
- Aside from winning downtown Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver the other tried and true path to electoral victory is through the west with the support of Quebec nationalists and southern Ontario.
- This is a strategy that the Conservatives must employ vigorously whenever the next campaign begins or they will likely see problems.
- At the end of the day though, highlighting that 94.5% of people in Quebec can converse in French and 80% see the language as their mother tongue does not win elections.
- Bill 32, however, does have the chance to win votes in Quebec at the cost of changing what bilingualism means in Canada and that is a big deal since no one realizes what changes are on the horizon.
Word of the Week
Parliamentary Supremacy - The principle that the elected representatives of the people, assembled in Parliament, have unlimited power to make the law
Quote of the Week
“The Speaker’s Office will defend the rights of the House. That is something I take very seriously. The legal system does not have any jurisdiction over the operations of the House. We are our own jurisdiction. That is something we will fight tooth and nail to protect and we will continue to do that.” - House Speaker Anthony Rota on being taken to court by the Government of Canada
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Fighting Tooth and Nail
Teaser: The Liberals introduce a hate speech bill that won’t pass, take the House Speaker to court over incriminating documents, and use taxpayer money to fund their re-election. Also, the death of Canadian bilingualism foreshadows the next election.
Recorded Date: June 25, 2021
Release Date: June 27, 2021
Edit Notes: Pelosi
Podcast Summary Notes