By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
After giving a lengthy speech about his concerns over Bill C-11 (an Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts) on March 27, MP for Bow River, Martin Shields, responded to the questions of other MPs.
The first of these was Lori Idlout, NDP MP for Nunavut, NU.
“I want to ask the member about some celebrities because one of his colleagues was kind enough to mention some mainstream celebrities,” said Idlout. “These ones are Indigenous. Some, he might know: Tantoo Cardinal, Tom Jackson and Tina Keeper. They are well-known celebrities. There are also other independent producers: Nataq Ungalaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Sylvia Ivalu, Tanya Tagaq Gillis and Elisapi. Would the member have known or heard of any of these names if it were not for my mentioning them now? Does he agree that this act is necessary so that we can continue supporting Indigenous independent producers like this bill intends to do?”
Shields rose in response to this question admitting that he did not know about the celebrities.
“I enjoyed the time my colleague and I spent on Indigenous committees,” said Shields. “The member brought a great voice to that committee when I was on it, and I appreciate it. No, those are not familiar names to me, but I have watched the Indigenous channel a number of times and watched the stories that are on it. They are not on CBC, CTV or Global, but I chose to watch them. I have turned to that channel and there have been excellent Canadian stories, Indigenous stories, produced by Canadian Indigenous people and put on that channel. I have chosen to watch them. It has been my choice to do that, and there is excellent quality on that particular channel.”
Pat Kelly, a fellow conservative MP for Calgary Rocky Ridge, was next to ask Shields a question this time by requesting expansion on a particular detail Shields brought up in his previous speech.
“The member mentioned the talk we heard in the debate about level playing fields,” said Kelly. “Could he comment on whether an unfettered Internet is the most level playing field that could ever possibly exist?”
Shields responded by looking to U.S. history, and speaking about an individual who used a new form of media to help him succeed.
“I am going to go back to history to answer that one,” said Shields. “I am going to go back to 1960. At that time, most political debates happened via radio. There was a candidate who was Irish and Catholic, and the United States had never elected an Irish Catholic president. However, he looked to a new medium: He looked to television. He studied it and looked at how he could perform on television. His opponent, Nixon, thought that was no problem. Somebody took a new medium, which he did not get government support to do. He won that debate and JFK became president.”
The Liberal MP for Hamilton Mountain, ON, Lisa Hepfner, asked Shields if he believes the Internet is a ‘wild west’ of information freedom.
“Does my colleague from across the way truly think the Internet is some wild, open place where people can post and see whatever they want, or does he actually think that the companies with dominance on the Internet are making decisions for us about what we should watch and what we have access to?” asked Hepfner.
Shields defended freedom of speech using an example from history.
“I am going to go back to history again,” said Shields. “During the Vietnam War, I was in university, and I read different papers from all over the world. They would write about battles that occurred in Vietnam, and one would say each was a different battle; however, they were all the same. I know that because my family and cousins were there, and they told me what actually happened. Are we to say they should not be able to write their version of that story? Are we to say that one cannot write one’s version of the story, and it needs to be one story? No, the person who wants to write should be allowed to.”