Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-11, the online streaming act. This bill seeks to awkwardly apply the same content regulation framework we see for radio and television onto online streaming and video platforms. Last year, the Liberals passed Bill C-10 in the House of Commons without allowing a full debate at the heritage committee to address many outstanding concerns from experts and parliamentarians over how this legislation affects Canadians' rights and freedoms on the Internet.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage claims that the bill's purpose is to target only large online streamers. The problem is this is not what the bill says. In fact, proposed subsection 4.2(2) says that in making regulations, the commission shall consider:
(a) the extent to which a program, uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service, directly or indirectly generates revenues;
To be clear, any content that generates any revenue could be regulated. On this point, Michael Geist said:
The tone for the government’s communication on Bill C-11 was established from the very beginning. In the very first speech from [the minister] in the House of Commons, he stated “the proposed amendments in the online streaming act regarding social media would not apply to content uploaded by users or to the users themselves.”
This is not completely true, though, as content uploaded by users who may benefit commercially from their uploads can be regulated under proposed section 4.2.
Mr. Geist said:
Not only does the law have few limits with respect to which services are regulated, it is similarly over-broad with respect to what is regulated, featuring definitions that loop all audio-visual content into the law by treating all audio-visual content as a “program” subject to potential regulation.
Bill C-11 essentially defines broadcasting as any transmission of programs and audiovisual content for reception by the public. Mr. Geist also said:
[F]or all the talk that user generated content is out, the truth is that everything from podcasts to TikTok videos fit neatly into the new exception that gives the CRTC the power to regulate such content as a “program”.
He also said:
The kind of speech that many Canadians engage in on these platforms is just basic, fundamental freedom of expression that does not require, and should not be subject to, any sort of regulation or regulatory oversight by a broadcast regulator.
The bill would give the CRTC wide latitude to decide how to implement its new powers and there are legitimate concerns about regulatory overreach. One of the fundamental tenets of our free and democratic society is the need to separate political direction from the independence of the media. We see that in oppressive regimes like Russia and others that maintain a firm grip over what people see and do not see.
That is why I am so concerned about this bill and in particular section 7 and how it is expanded under Bill C-11. This section says that cabinet could tell the CRTC how to regulate online platforms. The section modifies cabinet's power to issue directives of general application on broad policy matters. The section would not only allow cabinet to issue general directions on broad policy matters, but would also allow cabinet to direct the CRTC on specifics, such as the definition of a Canadian program. It would shift the final authority for regulation from an independent authority to politicians and cabinet.
Just today in question period the Prime Minister refused to answer what direction the government would in fact give the CRTC for the implementation of this bill. That is a concern in and of itself, given the fact that debate is about to end in a few minutes on this bill and presumably we will be voting on it very shortly. The government says the goal of Bill C-11 is increasing the share of Canadian content consumed online by Canadians, yet the reality is that lots of Canadian content is already uploaded and shared every day, albeit in a disorderly manner. However, most Canadians have come to see social media and the Internet as an inherently disorderly place. In fact, it is what many Canadians appreciate about the Internet and social media. It is the sense of randomness and orderly chaos to the content they consume.
This legislation must be considered very carefully. We live in a society that values freedom of speech, thought and expression. These values are entrenched constitutional rights. By allowing the CRTC to impose a revenue test, any new online creator must now contend with the regulatory quagmire of rules, regulations and whim-of-government regulation for fear of being offside the fiat of the CRTC.
This test alone would have the exact opposite effect of encouraging Canadian content. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be a chill on new creators.
Former vice-chair of the CRTC Peter Menzies stated, “Overall, the big problem still is that [the Liberals] continue to believe that the internet is broadcasting, and I don’t think they really understand what it is”. Under the previous bill, Bill C-10, there was originally an exception, in proposed section 4.1, that would have allowed those who generated content on social media sites to be excluded. However, at committee, government members removed that exclusion, opening up user-generated content to regulation.
Further complicating the matter in Bill C-11, the Liberals added an exclusion to the exclusion, in proposed section 4.2, mainly regarding the revenue exception I have already mentioned. This exclusion to the exclusion is so broad that the government, through the CRTC, could once again regulate wide swaths of content uploaded to social media.
Canadians are rightfully concerned that an unaccountable government agency would be enforcing and controlling what people see and do not see on social media sites. Although the goal of promoting Canadian arts and culture is one I believe in, the government will never be able to be an honest broker, as it will always choose to highlight the content and media it subjectively enjoys. The incentive structure will change. The word will get out that if people want to get celebrated and promoted, they will need to share the government's subjective view of what is Canadian. Canada is home to many world-class writers, actors, composers, musicians, artists and creators. Creators need rules that do not hold back their ability to be Canadian and global successes.
Honestly, when it comes to social media and other online platforms, Canadians' main concerns are not about where their content is created; rather, their concerns are more personal. Canadians consistently express frustration that the current regulatory framework allows for the easy and near constant sale of their personal information. What Canadians want is to take back control over their lives and their personal information.
Let me offer a constructive suggestion, if members will entertain a thought experiment. Suppose I am an Uber driver and I have a great reputation as a driver. I want to open an Airbnb apartment, but I have no reviews on that, which means it is going to be hard. What if I could port my reputation from one application to another? If we make reputations portable and free-existing, that would allow me to own my own reputation, instead of some social media giant. It could be regulated in a way similar to how we currently regulate intellectual property.
I know this idea is imperfect; it is more of a rough sketch of a solution. My point is that Canadians are way more concerned about control of their personal information online and reputation portability than they are about the already pleasantly abundant supply of Canadian content. The truth is that Bill C-11 is nothing but a solution looking for a problem. Instead, why not solve real problems? Canadians should control the valuable data they generate, and the government should focus on issues that truly preoccupy everyday Canadians.
For this reason, I cannot support this legislation.