Cutting Through the Noise of the Bill C-11 Debate: Regulating User Content Remains a Reality
There were no shortage of head-shaking moments, but buried amongst those comments were several notable moments that illustrated the reality and risks of Bill C-11
The debate on Senate amendments to Bill C-11 continued in the House of Commons yesterday, with hours devoted to MPs from all parties claiming misinformation by their counterparts. There were no shortage of head-shaking moments: MPs that still don’t know that CraveTV is not a foreign streaming service, references to Beachcombers as illustrations of Cancon, comparisons to China that go beyond the reality of the bill, calls for mandated cultural contributions from TikTok even as the government bans the app, and far too much self-congratulation from MPs claiming to have done great work on the bill when the Senate review demonstrated its inadequacy. But buried amongst those comments were several notable moments that illustrated the reality and risks of Bill C-11.
At the very top of the list is Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner, the same MP who last year said that online news services weren’t news. She provided the clearest response to the question of why the government is rejecting the Senate amendment that would ensure that platforms such as Youtube would be caught by the legislation consistent with the government’s stated objective, but that user content would not. Hepfner leaned into Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez disinformation by citing loopholes as the rationale:
Mr. Pat Kelly: Madam Speaker, if this bill does not affect what Canadians will post, why did the government choose to remove the amendment that would have explicitly said that? We, the Conservative members, have been accused repeatedly throughout the debate, of misinformation, and yet they have refused to explicitly exclude content posted by Canadians. Why?
Ms. Lisa Hepfner: Madam Speaker, the only amendments this government did not accept were amendments that created loopholes that would have allowed streaming companies to get out of their obligations. This is all about supporting Canadian culture and Canadian artists.
As I noted yesterday, Canadian digital creators are not loopholes. The amendment was proposed by two Trudeau-appointed Senators who are not prone to hyperbole and would never be mistaken for repeating tech giant talking points. Rather, unlike many MPs, they took the time to listen to the concerns of digital creators, study the impact, and craft a solution. Hepfner’s insistence that this all just a loophole for big tech is a betrayal of those creator concerns and best characterized as disinformation.
Two Conservative MPs – Melissa Lantsman and Raquel Dancho – succeeded in cutting through the disinformation. Lantsman described the government’s decision to reject the Senate amendment appropriately:
Here is the response to trying to get user-generated content out of the mix. It is in amendment 3, and it is part of what we are discussing here. The government states it:
…respectfully disagrees with amendment 3 because this would affect the Governor in Council’s ability to publicly consult on, and issue, a policy direction to the CRTC to appropriately scope the regulation of social media services with respect to their distribution of commercial programs, as well as prevent the broadcasting system from adapting to technological changes over time….
That is the government’s response. The rationale behind the rejection for content creators finally says the quiet part out loud. It finally said it. It is right here. For a government that claims user-generated content was never going to be part of the bill, it took out that amendment and then rejected the fact that the amendment would have been put back in the bill. It says the opposite right in the rationale. The government wants the power to direct the CRTC on user content today, and it wants the power to do it in the future.
Regulatory power over user content is confirmed in that explanation. It covers YouTube videos, podcasts and any other content on platforms we do not even know exist yet, because that is what “adapting to technological changes” means. The government has regulated something that does not even exist yet.
Dancho highlighted the risks of that approach:
Madam Speaker, the control is right in the bill. Clause 9, for example, the one I talked about in my speech, would dictate discoverability. It would provide the CRTC, the ultimate gatekeeper of traditional content platforms, the ability to force online streaming platforms and social media platforms to comply, under pain of a $10-million fine, I will add, with the enforcement of discoverability laws. They will downgrade a video that does not meet the government’s definition of “Canadian” and will upgrade a video that does. To me, that is absolutely a limit on the free speech of the individual who is deemed not Canadian enough by the government’s vision of Canada, which, as the Conservative Party has made very clear, we take great issue with over and over again. That is in the bill itself. I do not know what to tell the member.
Toward the end of the debate, two NDP MPs provided the best illustrations for why there is reason for concern. Randall Garrison talked about regulating digital creators with large audiences who generate revenues, a mistaken interpretation of the bill (it regulated those creators content, not the creator themselves) but one that re-affirms the fears of digital creators:
Madam Speaker, we started with Bill C-10, which was definitely worse. I think what the member is referring back to are the concerns we were expressing at that time. Some of the changes that came in Bill C-11 reassured us, and one of those changes is the very one the Conservatives are harping on. That is the change that made sure that user-generated content is not affected by this bill.
What Conservatives are ignoring is that there is an exception. If those making their own content have a million subscribers and they are making money out of that, then, yes, the CRTC will have an ability to look at that. It is not what the Conservatives are saying, which is that we should have a blanket exemption that nobody who is making money on the Internet has to report to anybody or be accountable for anything. That was one of the major improvements between the first version of the bill and the bill that New Democrats are now supporting.
Then MP Lori Idlout made the Conservatives case for them, by stating that she prefers to have the CRTC make decisions about is available on Internet streaming services as part of a content regulation system for Internet services:
Uqaqtittiji, to put it simply, I very much prefer to have the CRTC determine what is reflected back in what it regulates regarding online streaming as opposed to studio executives who are outside of this country, and that is what we are talking about in the bill. There has already been content regulation for TV, there has been content regulation for radio, and that content regulation needs to happen for online streaming, because so many Canadians are online every day.
There was plenty of noise during yesterday’s debate, but amid the cacophony there was also a clear-cut reality: Bill C-11 still includes provisions that would regulate user content, the government has rejected a fix on spurious grounds, and there are MPs who are quite happy to see that regulation happen.
Post originally appeared at https://www.michaelgeist.ca/2023/03/cutting-through-the-noise-of-bill-c-11-debate-regulating-user-content-remains-a-reality/
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