As noted in yesterday’s post on CRTC Chair Ian Scott’s upcoming Bill C-11 appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications, sources indicate that Scott requested the re-appearance in order to “clarify” his earlier remarks. Since those remarks were themselves a clarification of an earlier clarification, there is seemingly no end to Scott’s willingness to try to downplay the regulating of user content provisions that are plainly included in the bill. While the appearance itself raises concerns about government interference at the Commission, it is worth revisiting again what Scott has told both House and Senate committees with regard to Bill C-11.
First, the issue of regulating user content. This video features clips from two House appearances and one Senate appearance.
In Scott’s first House appearance on May 18, 2022, he had the following exchange with Conservative MP Rachael Thomas:
Thomas: So all these individuals are individual users creating content. It would appear that the bill does, or could in fact, capture them, correct?
Scott: As constructed, there is a provision that would allow us to do it as required.
On May 31, 2022, he was asked to clarify by Liberal MP Chris Bittle. His response conceded:
[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act.
Several weeks later, Scott had the following exchange with Senator Pamela Wallin:
Senator Wallin: I think we’re going to have to revisit the issue of user-generated content one more time. I know that you, the minister and other officials insist that you’re not regulating user-generated content, but I think there’s a bit of parsing the words. You will regulate the platforms, and then the platforms will impose your rulings and directives, as you said. You won’t manipulate the algorithms; you will make the platforms do it. That is regulation by another name. You’re regulating either directly and explicitly or indirectly, but you are regulating content.
Mr. Scott: You’re right. Thank you, senator. It’s a pleasure to see you. We sat on a board together a long time ago.
Senator Wallin: Indeed.
Mr. Scott: I’m not sure I’ve seen you since then.
Where do I begin? I can turn to my legal counsel, but I think you’ve already heard how the commission is tightly constrained. I take your point, and the word “regulation” in that sense, as you’re using it, is very broad. We’re subject to all kinds of regulation daily.
Bittle: Has the CRTC ever regulated actual broadcast content—what is said or what is seen—rather than just its distribution?
Mr. Scott: No. We obviously attempt to ensure that the objectives of the Broadcasting Act are met. We don’t regulate individuals. We regulate broadcasting undertakings, and they abide by a regulatory framework that we establish. We don’t dictate content, neither what is broadcast nor what is watched, obviously, by Canadians.
At the time of the appearance, Scott was aware – but the public was not – that the CRTC was set to rule on the content of Radio-Canada broadcast and its use of the N-word. The CRTC sat on the decision for months as the Bill C-11 debate unfolded, releasing it only after the bill had passed the House. The decision itself was widely characterized in Quebec as censorship and clearly involved regulating the content of a broadcast.
Third, Scott was asked about algorithmic regulation by Senator Miville-Dechêne during his Senate committee appearance:
I’ll give you a simple example. Instead of saying – and the Act precludes this – we will make changes to your algorithms as many European countries are contemplating doing – instead, we will say this is the outcome we want. We want Canadians to find Canadian music. How best to do it? How will you do it? I don’t want to manipulate your algorithm. I want you to manipulate it to produce a particular outcome. And then we will have hearings to decide what are the best ways and explore it.
There is little doubt that Scott will try wind back the clock on these answers, parsing his language about regulating platforms rather than users and claiming that the CRTC’s powers remain constrained. Yet by his own admission, the CRTC has enormous power to influence outcomes and the bill plainly provides regulatory powers over user content. It is sad that as part of what is likely to be his last appearance before a House or Senate committee as CRTC Chair, Scott will do what he can to walk back his past statements, choosing to serve the government’s political interests rather than the public interest that should be primary aim of someone in his position.