The way Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, was pushed through the House of Commons and on to the Senate is “an utter embarrassment,” according to a leading observer of the file.

The bill completed its first reading on Wednesday in the House of Commons after the Liberals struck down debate on the bill’s second reading, promptly sending it to the Senate. 

When put to a vote in the House, the bill passed with 213 votes for and 114 votes against. The Bill was supported by Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party MPs.

The Liberals claim that the law only sets out to force major social media companies like Facebook to negotiate revenue sharing deals with Canadian media companies, however, critics have argued that at its foundation it mandates payments for links. 

In a blog post, Canada research chair of internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, Michael Geist, called the legislative review “an utter embarrassment.” 

“The government cut off debate at second reading, actively excluded dozens of potential witnesses, expanded the bill to hundreds of broadcasters that may not even produce news, denigrated online news services as “not real news”, and shrugged off violations of international copyright law,” wrote Geist.

“All the while, it acknowledged that mandated payments for links are the foundation of the bill with officials stating that individual Facebook posts accompanied by a link to a news story would be caught by the law.”

In a tweet yesterday, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner equated sharing news links on social media companies to “Facebook and Google (stealing) local journalists’ articles.” 

The comment quickly garnered backlash, with some pointing out that Hepfner herself has shared links from news sources without explicitly giving credit to the source.

Members of the Official Opposition have criticized the bill during the final days of debate in the House, calling it an affront to the freedom of the press and an attempt by the Liberal government to stack the cards in their favour. 

On Tuesday, Conservative MP Brad Redekopp said that the bill “has the potential to tip the scales towards” the governing NDP-Liberals.

“This legislation is one of three Internet censorship laws that the NDP-Liberal government has brought in since the last election,” said Redekopp. 

“Simply put, this law would force Facebook, Google and other Internet companies to prioritize CBC and other government-approved news outlets on our feed over the smaller alternative news media platforms that may be more critical of the NDP-Liberal view of the world,” he continued.

“This legislation has the potential to tip the scales toward the NDP-Liberals during elections. Big tech recognizes that and they do not want to be tools of censorship in Canada or anywhere else.” 

Facebook has warned the Canadian government that it could block access to news sharing in Canada on its platform should the bill become law. 

“If this draft legislation becomes law, creating globally unprecedented forms of financial liability for news links or content, we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content on Facebook in Canada as defined under the Online News Act,” said Facebook’s head of media partnerships for Canada Marc Dinsdale.