Earlier tonight, I posted on the government’s attack on freedom of expression with its astonishing plans to regulate all user generated content posted to sites such as Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. But the danger doesn’t stop there. For months, the government insisted that it was not going to regulate video games as part of Bill C-10. In fact, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told the House of Commons:
Bear in mind that we are imposing a number of guardrails. As I said earlier, user-generated content, news content and video games would not be subject to the new regulations.
It turns out none of this is accurate. I’ve blogged about how news is caught by the legislation and the Heritage committee just eliminated the guardrail on user generated content. Now it appears that the government plans to introduce a motion to bring apps under the scope of CRTC regulation.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last month and was asked by Liberal MP Tim Louis about “misinformation that somehow this [Bill C-10] would control, or regulate, or censor social media.” Guilbeault responded:
In the case of YouTube, for example, we’re not particularly interested in what people…you know, when my great-uncle posts pictures of his cats, that’s not what we’re interested in as a legislator.
When YouTube or Facebook act as a broadcaster, then the legislation would apply to them and the CRTC would define how that would happen. But really, we’re not interested in user-generated content. We are interested in what broadcasters are doing.
Guilbeault was referring to a specific exception in Bill C-10, the Broadcasting Act reform bill, that excluded user generated content from the scope of broadcast regulation.
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The 2019 Liberal election platform made Parliamentary reform a central commitment, promising to “give people a greater voice in Parliament, by improving the way Parliament works.” Yet Bill C-10, the Broadcasting Act reform bill, does the opposite, cutting mandated reviews of policy directions to the CRTC in at least half. The implications of the change are significant since it would mean that House of Commons and Senate committees would not longer review policy directions and Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault would be poised to enact his secret policy direction without a full review. I have already written about the surprising secrecy associated with the bill including the failure to disclose how the government arrived at its estimated benefits, the secret content of the policy direction to the CRTC, and the removal of cabinet appeals.
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I have not been shy about expressing my concerns with the Bill C-10, the Broadcasting Act reform bill. From a 20 part series examining the legislation to two podcasts to a debate with Janet Yale, I have actively engaged on policy concerns involving regulation that extends far beyond the “web giants”, the loss of Canadian sovereignty over broadcast ownership, the threat to Canadian intellectual property, and the uncertainty of leaving many questions to the CRTC to answer. Yet beyond the substance of the bill, in recent days an even more troubling issue has emerged as Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, his Parliamentary Secretary Julie Dabrusin, and the Liberal government abandon longstanding commitments to full consultation, transparency, and parliamentary process.
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The Broadcasting Act blunder series wraps up after a month of posts, two op-eds, and a podcast with a short summary of the case against Bill C-10. Notwithstanding some of the rhetoric, the debate is not whether the cultural sector should be supported (it should) or whether foreign Internet streaming services should contribute to the Canadian economy (they should). Rather, the issue is whether Bill C-10 is the best way to accomplish those policy goals.
Having spent a month dissecting the bill, it will come as no surprise that I believe the bill is deeply flawed. My concerns involve six main issues: Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s inaccurate descriptions of the bill and its impact, the negative effects on longstanding Canadian broadcast policy, the extensive regulatory approach, the uncertainty that comes from leaving key issues to the CRTC or a secretive policy direction, the questionable data underlying the policy, and its outlier approach compared to peer countries.
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