Over the past week, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has repeatedly been told that Canadian cultural groups are among the strongest supporters of freedom of expression and would never think of supporting legislation that undermines that foundational democratic principle. Yet the reality is that some of the same cultural groups that now downplay the impact of Bill C-10 on expression, lobbied the government to remove all user generated content safeguards. In other words, rather than support freedom of expression for all Canadians, some envisioned using the Broadcast Act to regulate both users and user generated content.
For example, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault often points to support from the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE), an umbrella organization that represents many other lobby groups. The CDCE has issued multiple supportive releases on the bill, claiming that the free speech concerns are overstated. The group points to Section 2.1, which creates an exemption for users as evidence that there are no expression concerns. But the emphasis on Section 2.1 conveniently ignores the fact that Section 4.1, which created an exemption for the content itself was removed, meaning that all user generated content is treated as a program subject to regulation by the CRTC. As has been much discussed, this opens the door to the CRTC establishing regulations on the feeds of millions of Canadians using services such as TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube.
While there have been efforts to suggest that the concerns about overbroad regulation are just misinformation or fear mongering, the CDCE was one of several culture lobby groups that lobbied the government to remove both user generated content exceptions. It now says that user generated content is protected, but the CDCE urged the committee to delete both Section 2.1 and 4.1, effectively advocating that all users and their content would be regulated by the CRTC. The government decided to keep Section 2.1 in place, however, it is apparent that freedom of expression for users was not a top CDCE priority.
The CDCE was not the only high profile cultural lobby group to lobby for the potential full regulation of user generated content. The Association québécoise de la production médiatique (AQPM) adopted a similar position in its brief, calling for the deletion of both user generated content provisions and expressly supporting the regulation of what it called “professional” user generated content, which as a recent article in the Toronto Star notes, could include thousands of Canadian Youtube, Tiktok, and Twitch creators who have been left in the dark about Bill C-10.
Earlier this week, ACTRA, a leading creator union, was in the media calling for the committee to move forward with Bill C-10. But ACTRA’s brief to the committee called for both the deletion of Section 4.1 and a revamped Section 2.1 that would leave it to the CRTC to decide which social media users would be regulated. The proposed ACTRA provision stated:
(2.1) A person acting in an individual capacity who uses a social media service to upload programs for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service is not providing a broadcasting undertaking, unless the CRTC determines they are the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them, or they are providing programs for commercial purposes.
The inclusion of “providing programs for commercial purposes” would capture any Youtuber, TikTok user, podcaster, or other creator generating revenue from their work and subject them to potential regulations on mandated contributions, disclosure requirements, and even CRTC registration.
Why does any of this matter?
The effect of these approaches would have been to regulate thousands of Canadians that have found audiences online. If that sounds familiar, Guilbeault said earlier this month that the bill would cover social media users with large audiences, only to try to walk back the comments the following day.
The reality is that government has left little doubt that lobbying interests carry far more weight than the views of Canadians when it comes to Bill C-10. Those lobbyists may be “shocked” to find Canadians concerned with the regulation of user generated content, yet that is precisely the approach that they lobbied the government to implement. If Bill C-10 passes and the CRTC is left to sort out the implementation of the regulations, those groups seem likely to continue their efforts to regulate the user generated content of millions of Canadians.
What the heck is a “cultural group”?
A “cultural group” is any entity that can reliably supply a significant number of votes for a Liberal candidate. Otherwise it’s just an “irrelevant gang of racists”.
That’s more cynical than we need at the moment…
“Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions”, pushing a new law to limit diversity of expression….right.
Always be wary of any group with a name like Association for Loving Patriotic Promotion of Children and Bunnies, because they’re going to be financing rabbit-eating child-soldier rebels in a civil war somewhere. A proposed law called the Save Our Patriot Children True North Strong And Maple Syrup Act should frighten you.
The example I use is the full name of North Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Once again, Michael Geist has tried to put his particular spin on the actions of third parties without trying to understand their motivations or rationale. As usual, he dances around the central issues, picking and choosing excerpts that suit his purpose. This time, his target is “cultural groups”, those umbrella organizations that represent creators of expression that aims to capture the soul of what it is to be Canadian or Québécois. Thus, Michael Geist’s emphasis on the deletion of Section 4.1 of Bill C-10 conveniently ignores the fact that Section 2.1 proposes that a person who uses a social media service to upload programs for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service does not carry on a broadcasting undertaking for the purposes of Broadcasting Act. If Canadians using social media will not be regulated, then their feeds will not be regulated either. The Canadian government has no intention of regulating the user generated content of Canadians, unless they potentially have a commercial interest in distributing such content. The current version of Bill C-10, as amended by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, will not permit the CRTC to do so. For those users that have such a commercial interest, there could well be some form of regulation if the commercial interest is very substantial. (Typically, the CRTC exempts all of the small players.)
Further, proposed s. 9.1 (1) clearly states: “The Commission may, in furtherance of its objects, make orders imposing conditions on the carrying on of broadcasting undertakings that the Commission
considers appropriate for the implementation of the broadcasting policy … ” This reinforces the idea that the CRTC will concentrate on ‘broadcasting undertakings’ which, as you note, do not include unaffiliated individuals engaged in non-commercial user-generated content. The fact that bodies like ACTRA sought stronger language in the legislation does not mean that they too are part of some ever-expanding conspiracy to thwart the free expression guarantees of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Given that You Tube employs Content ID, Twitter has banned former President Trump (a free expressionist if ever one existed) from using the platform, and Facebook is taking out full-page ads in the NY Times promoting reform of section 230 ( which provides immunity for platforms), Canadian free expressionists would appear to have more to worry about censorship or interference from the social media platforms than CRTC boffins under the bed.
Time to stop the scare tactics.
“those umbrella organizations that represent creators of expression that aims to capture the soul of what it is to be Canadian or Québécois.”
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *breath* HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Somehow this little administrative bill manages to be the most absurd action from an otherwise already highly disappointing Liberal government.
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I get stuck on the “commercial interest” aspect of uploading user-generated content. The Internet is full of user-generated programming by “influencers” whether they are into promoting fashion, testing woodworking tools, demonstrating cooking skills, producing music or people assembling videos of spectacular “fails.” If they get corporate sponsorship, they are commercial. But how do do you set the threshold on how commercially successful they are in order to be regulated and how do you actually then regulate what are inherently free speech activities?
I do not agree that a sponsored web site is necessarily “commercial” in the usual sense of the word. By “commercial”, I meant net revenue generating. Although I think that Canadian Heritage wishes to target commercial undertakings in this latter sense, the CRTC currently has ways of exempting small players which do not make a significant contribution to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. For example, broadcasting order CRTC 2015-88 exempts discretionary television programming undertakings serving fewer than 200,000 subscribers. So the Commission could adopt this kind of exemption order based on the number of subscribers (with a much higher threshold) for user generated program material.