Does it do more harm than good? Why I voted in support of C-5 and against C-11 

Photo of Mike standing in the House of Commons

I don’t expect any legislation I vote on in Ottawa will be perfect, or will fully address our community’s interests. But when I vote on any legislation, one of the key questions I ask myself is: does this bill do more harm than good? 

Recently, Members of Parliament voted on Bill C-5, which would repeal some mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) in the Criminal Code. MMPs require judges to sentence offenders for a minimum amount of time prescribed by law. That means judges can’t give shorter sentences, no matter what the specific case or situation.  

It has been proven by the Supreme Court that mandatory minimums do absolutely nothing to deter crime. In some cases they have been ruled unconstitutional, they disproportionately punish Black, Indigenous and racialized people, and Call to Action 32 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for the federal government to depart from these minimum sentences altogether. 

Unfortunately, Bill C-5 would only repeal 14 of the 67 MMPs currently in the Criminal Code. It doesn’t go nearly far enough towards making our justice system fair for everyone.  

So, in Chamber debate, I advocated for more MMPs to be repealed (examples here). Then, at committee – where a smaller group of MPs propose and debate amendments to improve legislation – MP Elizabeth May and I proposed over 50 amendments, like removing more MMPs and preventing police from keeping records on non-criminal activity. All were voted down by members of the Justice committee. 

As a result, the final legislation we voted on is inadequate, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. It does more good than harm, so I voted in support. 

In another bill, C-11 seeks to modernize the Broadcasting Act for the first time since 1991, primarily to bring online streaming services like Netflix and YouTube within its domain. It proposes several helpful changes that I support, including a requirement for streaming services like Netflix to invest in Canadian productions, and more support for community broadcasters. 

Unfortunately, the debate and conversation around C-11 have been polarizing. Some MPs have accused the government of censorship with this legislation (it is definitely not). The Minister of Canadian Heritage has said that the Act would only allow for regulating platforms, not individual users – but parts of the bill directly contradict this, and still include user generated content.   

Another major issue is that the bill is too vague – for example, it talks about “social media services” but oddly doesn’t define what they are, and it doesn’t even attempt to address the question of what qualifies as Canadian content.  

As a result, many Canadian content creators – those the bill is supposed to help – have voiced their opposition. Here’s one example from Morghan Fortier, one of Canada’s leading YouTube content creators: “Bill C-11 is not an ill-intentioned piece of legislation, but it is a bad piece of legislation. It’s been written by those who don’t understand the industry they’re attempting to regulate.  

Non-partisan experts like Michael Geist have sounded the alarm (examples here and here), sharing about how the bill doesn’t fully exclude user generated content and needs “extensive review and further reform to get it right.” For example, it’s not at all clear whether local musicians who solicit financial contributions via YouTube livestreams might fall under these regulations.   

Political analyst Erica Ifill puts it succinctly (read her full take here): “the new broadcasting bill still does not address core problems of the digital experience.” 

I first raised these concerns during debates in the House of Commons. I then brought amendments to the Heritage committee, specifically to remove the sections of the bill that would open the door to regulating user generated content. 

Normally, the committee would have enough time to discuss amendments, and they may have adopted more of the proposed changes to improve the bill. In this case, the animosity between Conservative and Liberal MPs prevented collaborative decision-making, and the Liberals ended up forcing the bill through without giving time to even debate each amendment.  

As a result, while I strongly support some elements of the bill, I’m concerned it could do more harm than good, and so I will be voting against. 

That being said, I’m expecting that C-11, like C-5, will still pass and go to the Senate for debate.  

In both cases, I’m hopeful the Senate will improve the legislation before either of these bills become law.