The government plans to release its final policy direction on Bill C-11 today just days ahead of the start of a weeks-long series of hearings at the CRTC on the Online Streaming Act (I am scheduled to appear in early December). Ahead of the release, Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge tries to re-write history, urging fast enactment of the legislation and blaming the Conservatives for the delays. Yet here is the reality: Bill C-10, the predecessor to Bill C-11, would have become law back in 2021 had the government not opened the door to regulating user content. Instead, the bill rightly became a source of concern, leading to years of legislative delays that virtually guarantees that nothing will take effect until 2025 at the earliest.
The debate over Bill C-11 was notable for the continuous gaslighting from then Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who when he wasn’t lying to committee on what he knew about funding an anti-semite, was misleading committee and the broader public about the implications of Bill C-11. St-Onge continues that approach with her comments about the Bill C-11 policy direction. First, the claims of crisis are absurd. The legislation is focused primarily on film and TV production, which has been experiencing record investment in Canada. The attempt to conflate challenges in the news sector, which have made worse by the government’s Bill C-18, is really an attempt to mislead.
Second, the Bill C-11 process was never going to be fast specifically because the government left so much to regulatory processes and CRTC hearings. Despite numerous efforts to include greater specificity in the bill, the government rejected most amendments, leaving it to the CRTC to figure things out. I wrote about the CRTC approach here, noting that there are at least nine consultations planned. The upcoming series of hearings are only the first tranche of many more issues that require resolution. In other words, it was the government’s own choices that ensured there would be no fast implementation to Bill C-11.
Third, while St-Onge says that the concerns regarding regulating user content were misinformation, the policy direction confirms that the opposite is true. For months, the government insisted that regulating user content was out, yet the need for a policy direction on the matter proves that the law as written includes user content. In fact, the government rejected a Senate amendment that would have addressed the concern. Today’s final policy direction again demonstrates that the issue was real and it was largely the sustained criticism that pressured the government into a policy direction limiting the application of its own law. No amount of gaslighting will change the reality that the Bill C-11 process will be a lengthy one as a result of the government’s legislative choices and the concerns about over-broad regulation will linger throughout.