The Canadian government is promising Bill C-11, which is aimed at regulating online streaming platforms, won’t hurt Canadians’ free speech.
But stakeholders and experts aren’t convinced.
“The biggest difference is that it’s called Bill C-11 instead of Bill C-10,” said Peter Menzies, a former Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) vice-chair and past newspaper publisher.
“I think they deserve a little bit of credit for acknowledging that some of the concerns that many people raised last spring did indeed have merit, but their efforts at resolving those, I think, are weak.”
Bill C-11, which is the latest iteration of the government’s contentious Bill C-10 from the previous Parliament, is aimed at modernizing the Broadcasting Act — a piece of legislation that hasn’t been seen any major changes since 1991, before the internet was widely available.
If the bill passes, it would require streaming services like Netflix, Crave and Spotify to follow Canadian content rules, ensuring the companies pay into cultural funds and display a certain amount of Canadian content.
Bill C-10 became a source of controversy after the Liberals removed a section of the bill that protected user-generated content and exempted it from regulation. That meant Canadians’ Facebook and Instagram posts could be forced to abide by certain CRTC rules.
In the new Bill C-11, the government says it fixed the problem.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said at a press conference Wednesday that “cat videos” or social-media “influencers” would not be covered by the bill.
The updated legislation would only cover commercial social media content — such as professional music videos — and would not include popular home videos posted on YouTube, such as footage of children or pets behaving in an amusing manner.
Rodriguez said the government had “listened to concerns around social media and we fixed it.”
However, Menzies isn’t entirely convinced.
“They’ve added what they believe to be some safeguards, but they’ve also taken some out from the previous legislation. Overall, the big problem still is that they continue to believe that the internet is broadcasting, and I don’t think they really understand what it is,” he said.
The former CRTC vice-chair’s concerns about regulatory overreach are also still at the top of his mind.
“It’s unfortunate because they’re giving the CRTC enormous powers — enormous powers — and it’s not in the DNA of any regulatory body to not continue to expand its turf,” Menzies said.
“So that’s troubling.”
Rodriguez plans to ask the CRTC to define precisely what constituted commercial social-media content, and what would not qualify. Right now, he said, those definitions are foggy at best.
“It’s almost hard to say who shouldn’t be concerned (about being regulated), because so much left to the CRTC to decide,” Menzies said.
He’s not the only one with concerns. If the government hasn’t adequately addressed free speech concerns in the bill, the Conservatives won’t support it, the party’s Canadian heritage critic John Nater said in a Thursday statement.
“When the Liberal government introduced Bill C-10 in the previous Parliament, experts and advocates raised serious concerns about how this legislation affects the rights and freedoms of Canadians on the internet,” Nater said.
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“Canada’s Conservatives support protecting Canadians on the internet and creating a level playing field between large foreign streaming services and Canadian broadcasters, but not at the cost of Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms.”
But not everyone is opposed to the new legislation.
“I think it is important that we update the Broadcasting Act,” said Andrew Cash, president and CEO of the Canadian Independent Music Association. “I mean, the last time this was done, fax machines were cutting edge technology.”
“So the fact that we are having a conversation about, ‘What does Canadian culture look like in the digital age? And how do we reflect that in legislation and regulation?’ I think that’s super positive.”
While he said he still needs to do a deep dive into the content the bill, he was supportive of the bill’s predecessor, C-10, and wants to see more policies that help fund the arts.
“It’s vital that we have policies that aim to actually build a strong middle class of arts, and cultural workers, and artists, and entrepreneurs. Generally, in this sector, it’s either feast or famine,” Cash said.
“I’m looking to a bill like this as a potential positive step towards resetting the table.”
Cash wasn’t alone. Other music industry groups also welcomed the bill, including L’Association Québécoise de l’Industrie du Disque, du Spectacle et de la Vidéo (ADISQ).
“We have great hopes for this new bill, the adoption of which is essential for local creators and producers and the vitality of Francophone music,” said Philippe Archambault, president of l’ADISQ, in an emailed statement.
There’s also some support for the new bill in Parliament. Modernizing the Broadcasting Act is “important,” NDP heritage critic Peter Julian told Global News in a Thursday statement.
“The NDP supports the goal of creating a level-playing field between Canadian broadcasters and web giants. We long fought for this bill to be introduced,” Julian said.
“We are pleased to see that the government heard the concerns of many Canadians regarding freedom of expression. The NDP will continue to analyze the bill, discuss it in caucus and we’ll work with experts and workers impacted to ensure that its measures restore the level playing field.”
— with files from The Canadian Press