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.