The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage heard from a total of 48 witnesses as individuals or representing organizations during its study of Bill C-11 (excluding the CRTC and government officials). Of those 48, at least 16 either raised concerns about the regulation of user content in the bill or disputed government claims about its effect. Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs proposed and voted for amendments in Bill C-11 raised by a single witness or organization, but somehow the testimony of one-third of the witnesses, which included creators, consumer groups, independent experts, Internet platforms, and industry associations. was ignored.
The government’s decision to ignore the overwhelming majority of testimony on the issue of regulating user content damages the credibility of the committee Bill C-11 review and makes the forthcoming Senate study on the bill even more essential. But the government went beyond just ignoring witness testimony yesterday in the House of Commons. It now claims those views constitute “misinformation.” Tim Louis, a Liberal MP who is on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and sat through hours of testimony, said this in the House of Commons yesterday:
We have heard a lot of misinformation. My colleague just mentioned previously that a lot of emails have come in with a lot of confusion and misinformation, and I believe that is deliberate. I was going to address two of the issues that we might be hearing some of the most misinformation about in the Online Streaming Act. First is the fact that user-generated content is excluded. People ask where that is in the legislation. The bill explicitly excludes all user-generated content in social media platforms and streaming services. I will read the subsection. Subsection 2.1 of Bill C-11 states:
A person who uses a social media service to upload programs for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service – and who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them – does not, by the fact of that use, carry on a broadcasting undertaking for the purposes of this Act.
In plain language, that means that users, even digital-first creators with millions of subscribers, are not broadcasters and therefore they will not face any obligations under the act. Any suggestions otherwise are simply untrue.
This is the same MP who has heard CRTC Chair Ian Scott tell his committee:
[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act.
In fact, Louis was asked specifically about Section 4.2:
Marty Morantz: Mr. Speaker, I recognize that proposed subsection 2.1 provides clarity to some extent with user-generated content, but proposed section 4.2 clearly says that user-generated content or programs that generate revenue can be regulated. I am wondering if the member would at least acknowledge that this act would in fact allow for the regulation of user-generated content that generates revenue?
Tim Louis: Right now the digital creators are still protected. Proposed section 4.2 does not say that they would be scoped in.
The effort to conflate regulation of users with regulating their content has been ongoing for months. It has been misleading for months. But the government enters a danger zone when it labels the concerns raised by one-third of the witnesses before committee as “misinformation.” It is not and the risks associated with the label within political debate are enormous. There are members of the government’s online harms panel calling for new regulations on “misleading political communications”. When government MPs call the majority of expert testimony and analysis – corroborated by its own regulator – misinformation, it creates risks to freedom of expression that cannot be ignored.
This past week was a bad week for democratic governance and Bill C-11. The decision to race through over 100 amendments without public disclosure or debate ran counter to basic democratic norms as the public will never know what changes were proposed in those secret amendments. Now government MPs are resorting to claims of misinformation for testimony they heard directly from one-third of witnesses. The harm that causes will last long after some extra Netflix money is added to the Canadian system.