Back in November, when the Minister of Canadian Heritage first slapped Bill C-10 on the desk of the House of Commons, the ostensible goal was to bring sweeping amendments to the Broadcasting Act which had not seen substantial changes since the early 90s. A lot has changed since the 90s – the most significant and life-altering as we know it has been the mass use of the internet, smartphones, streaming, and generally the 24/7 ease of access to information from virtually anywhere.
A part of Bill C-10 is aimed at updating the Canadian broadcasting system to provide support and opportunities for Indigenous programming, and to consider accessibility needs and the interests of racialized communities. But a few problematic amendments appear in this Bill, such as the amendment to create a new category of broadcasting called "online undertakings" and extend and impose existing regulations aimed at ‘giants of social media’ and streaming companies that would be similar to traditional broadcasters. Providers such as Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime would come under regulation by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) resulting in online platforms paying millions to the Canada Media Fund which funds and promotes Canadian content. While this legislation may be supported by the some in the arts and culture community, if a provider such as Netflix or YouTube should fail to provide the applicable percentage of Canadian content, it could be faced with fines or retributions that make it too cumbersome or costly to operate in Canada, which could in turn lead to a provider no longer streaming to Canada or the CRTC blocking it altogether.
The most problematic and debated section of Bill C-10 is that it considers social media platforms to be a form of broadcasting, and a very important clause in the bill, Clause 4.1, exempted the personal posts of Canadians from this legislation. However, as the Bill has been negotiated and amended over the past few months, Clause 4.1 has been removed and this is cause for alarm. Without this section in the Bill, any user-generated content uploaded by a Canadian poster to platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram could be subject to CRTC federal regulations.
While Minister Steven Guilbeault, the champion of Bill C-10, claims that they are more interested in what companies such as YouTube and Facebook are doing as broadcasters and are not interested in user-generated content, this still leaves the door wide open to Canadians having their tweets, TikToks, or posts regulated, monitored, and censored by the CRTC. There has been a lot of confusion around the lack of detail in this bill, such as how a social media post could be deemed, and therefore treated like, a broadcast program by the CRTC making it susceptible to their regulations.
“For the majority of sites and services – even those who feature some user generated content – there will be the prospect of facing the full regulatory model that includes registration, discoverability requirements, and even mandated payments… Bill C-10 leaves open the possibility of extensive regulation, which may result in sites blocking the Canadian market for fear of facing new regulations. Rather than promoting innovation, greater choice, and new services, Bill C-10 discourages it.” - Michael Geist, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa.
In defence of the Bill, Minister Guilbeault has been in the media quite a bit these past few weeks, "The bill is not about what Canadians do online. It is about what the web giants do not do, which is to support Canadian stories and music," he said in the House of Commons. "We have and will continue to improve the Bill so that it can serve Canadian creators."
Bill C-10 is continuing to be debated in the House of Commons with Minister Guilbeault and expert witnesses attending to speak on the matter. The Minister of Justice, David Lametti, has also been invited to attend before the committee continues on it's clause-by-clause review. Some members of parliament have suggested scrapping the Bill altogether and starting from scratch to ensure it's done properly.
We hope that, now with the public’s attention and experts' consultation, Minister Guilbeault can clarify the intentions of the Bill, and either add Clause 4.1 back into the Bill that protects Canadians, or create a new, meticulously defined bill that does not leave anything to chance.
This gives far too much power to the CRTC to regulate, censor, and block social media users. It’s a dangerous precedent that could have huge implications eventually, if not immediately. The freedom of expression of Canadians must be protected and it must not be threatened by political leadership.