Lalalala.. I don't wanna hear this! by Hilde Skjølberg (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Lalalala.. I don't wanna hear this! by Hilde Skjølberg (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Sunlight on the Submissions: Why the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel Should Reverse Its Secretive Approach

The Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel’s surprising decision to keep the 2,200 public submissions secret for months has had immediate repercussions. Some organizations are refusing to disclose their submissions until the panel does and others have noted the missed opportunity for public discussion of a vitally important issue. To date, about 30 submissions have been posted, a tiny percentage of the total. The decision has had an impact on university courses and predictably created an information asymmetry with some companies cherry-picking who gets to see their submission.

The approach runs counter to the government’s support for open, transparent policy making processes and the standard used within the sector by the CRTC. When one report indicated that the secrecy was at the request of ISED Minister Navdeep Bains, chair Janet Yale issued a public statement:

Any suggestion of ministerial direction concerning the release of written submissions made to the Panel is flatly incorrect. All submissions will be published along with the Panel’s ‘What We’ve Heard Report’ to be released no later than June 30th. That decision was taken by the panel alone as is to be expected of an independent, arms-length panel. Interested parties are free to make their submissions public.

This represents a change in language from the panel’s own press release on the consultation, which stated “these written submissions will be publicly available after the deadline for submissions on November 30, 2018.” The release did not say submissions would only be available once the panel’s interim report was released and few reasonably thought that “after the deadline” was a half-a-year or more after.

I followed up with a request for an explanation of why the panel has chosen secrecy over public disclosure. The response in full:

The Panel wants to take time to read, review, and digest the submissions, and will make all submissions public when it releases the What We’ve Heard Report. Interested parties are welcome to make their submissions public and many have already done so.

Here is their initial statement clarifying:

January 11th marked the deadline for written submissions to the Panel – this is the extended deadline we set after accommodating requests for more time to prepare submissions.

The Panel members wish to extend our sincere appreciation to the 2,000 interested parties who took the time and dedicated the effort to prepare submissions.

In addition to the submissions, the Panel met with over 100 interested parties.

We will now take a period of time to review and evaluate these submissions, along with our other outreach activities. These inputs will form the backbone of our What We’ve Heard Report which we plan to publish no later than June 30th. At that time, all written submissions will also be posted on the Panel’s website.

This response doesn’t really answer the question since the panel can obviously “read, review and digest the submissions” while the submissions are public and being assessed by those interested in communications policy.

Yet the decision is more troubling for what it says about the panel (which, it must be said, brings decades of experience and has committed an enormous amount of time to this challenging work). Diverting from established transparency norms should not happen without a strong justification. In this case, at best the panel seems to suggest that public discussion, debate, or even rebuttals of submissions might distract from its efforts to engage in a fair assessment process.

This hardly represents a strong justification. First, such a response would be viewed as entirely unacceptable by CRTC commissioners, politicians, regulators, or government policy makers, who all frequently engage in policy review with a public record readily available (less redacted confidential information). If panelists do not want to consider public debate on submissions, they can mute the discussion on social media or ignore public postings and media coverage. Establishing a panel publication-style ban on submissions for months goes far beyond what is necessary for their assessment process.

Second, the panel’s report in June is only a “what we’ve heard” report, not the report’s actual recommendations. There will be no insulating the panel from public commentary about the submissions and perspectives in the period from the initial report in June 2019 to the final report in 2020. Indeed, if the panel has concerns about coping with public debate about submissions during the development of a factual report summarizing its meetings and public submissions, how will it handle the more critical phase that leads to its recommendations?

The submissions that are currently available provide a pretty wide range of perspectives, but without Bell, Rogers, Netflix, Facebook, the CMPA, dozens of other organizations, and hundreds of individuals, it is incomplete. The panel should reconsider its ill-advised approach and move to quickly release all submissions without further delay.


  1. Kelly Manning says:

    Being able to respond to false claims and mis-statements of fact is essential in developing Fact Base Public Policy. If you can’t see the lies how can you prove them false?

    I never asked for or responded to the Business Leader submissions to the BC Legislative Committee that recommended the PIP Act be drafted, passed, and proclaimed, but I did monitor the minutes of the Committee as they appeared on the web.

    Apart from being amused at Glen Clark’s attempt to explain web cookies to other politicians it let me identify key bogus claims made my the Business Council of BC and to demolish those in my submission made near the end of the public submission window.

    I opened my submission by urging the committee not to take my word for anything that followed, check my supporting citations and verify what I said.

    My intent was to get them to apply the same advice to the Business Council of BC and other misleading submissions, and to apply the fact verification methods used for my citations to bogus claims made by the BC BC and other enterprises who wanted to profit by invading privacy.

  2. Kelly Manning says:

    Viewing reports can often shed light on bizarre decision making by Government bodies such as the CRTC.

    During the 1980s the CRTC seemed to feel that it had an obligation to approve at least 1 Religious Channel for Must Carry and Pass Thru tithes.

    Reading the published reports revealed anti factual behaviour. The pollster who surveyed public opinion about proposed specialty channels strongly warned that “the concept of a Religious Channel enjoys very limited support” in the original survey done for the CRTC and in a follow up survey done 5 years later.

    Pollster warned that less than 1 Canadian in 10 would watch a Religious Channel, even if it were free.

    Despite that clear finding of almost no support for a Religious Channel the CRTC approved Vision TV for Must Carry Status. Cablecos could not charge the Bonus Linkage Fee unless they carried Vision in Basic Cable and charge customer for the bandwidth needed to do that.

    When Vision foundered financially because it failed to attract viewers the CRTC propped it up with a mandatory Pass Thru add on tithe. Canadians paid millions to prop up a channel that the vast majority, >90%, had no interest in viewing. Statistic Canada’s Culture Report, TV Viewing in Canada,reported viewing of Religious TV falling from 0.5% of all viewing, about 1 minute of every hour spent staring at TVs, to 0.4% during the first 5 years Vision operated. A Financial News Channel included as an extra fee service in the 1st round of mid 1980s specialty channels was allowed to go bust with out getting a Mandatory Pass Thru fee, despite polling several points higher than Vision,

    The mandatory Vision TV generated annual revenue of millions of dollars, for a channel most cable subscribers had no interest in watching.

    Toronto apartment buildings took to replacing Vision with closed circuit coverage of their entrance buzzer areas, to little or no public comment because almost nobody except hard core religious zealots watched Vision.

    The CRTC didn’t seem to realize that it was exhibiting pro-Religious bias by praising Church Leaders for their “dedicated” efforts to make Canadians pay a mandatory tithe for a channel they have no interest in watching, even it it were free. The decision that the majority of Canadians have made that Religion is not very important in our daily lives, and that Religion causes more harm than good is perfectly reasonable.

  3. I would assume that the review panel is up to no good and will interpret the submissions in a way that supports what they want. I really don’t have any trust in them. But then, I’m sure they couldn’t care less if I do or not.

  4. Pingback: News of the Week; January 23, 2019 – Communications Law at Allard Hall