Earlier this month, the CRTC issued the first three of what may become at least nine public consultations on Bill C-11. As I lamented in a post on the consultations, “with short timelines, no resources or support mechanisms for new groups and entities interested in participating, and the absence of the policy direction, this is not a serious attempt to fully engage in Canadians.” A wide range of Canadian cultural, consumer, and independent groups have now escalated the issue by formally asking the CRTC to extend its submission period to late July rather than the current June deadlines. The request, which comes from groups that have both supported and criticized Bill C-11, should be a no-brainer given the absurdly short deadlines that severely limit the ability of many groups to effectively participate in the Bill C-11 consultation process.
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CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides Faces Her First Big Test: Is the Commission Serious About Public Participation on Bill C-11?
Ready, Fire, Aim: Eleven Thoughts on the CRTC’s Bill C-11 Consultations
The CRTC last week released the first three of at least nine planned consultations on the implementation of Bill C-11 (I was out of the country teaching an intensive course so playing catch-up right now). The consultations focus on the broad structure of the regulatory framework, registration requirements, and transitions from the current system of exemptions to one of regulations. The timeline to participate in this consultation is extremely tight with comments due as early as June 12th for two of the consultations and June 27th for the larger regulatory framework one. As the title of this post suggests, the CRTC is adopting an approach of shoot first, aim later. The consultations suggest that there is little interest in hearing from anyone outside of the legacy groups that have long dominated CRTC hearings. Indeed, by moving forward with incredibly tight timelines, without the government’s promised policy directive, and without support for newer groups to back their participation, the documents leave the distinct impression that the Commission had surrendered its independence and already made up its mind on how to implement Bill C-11.
The Bill C-11 Compromise That Never Came
The long legislative road of Bill C-11 comes to an end later today as nearly 2 1/2 years after the original Bill C-10 was first tabled in the House of Commons by then-Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, the Senate will vote to approve the bill. I’ve been asked repeatedly this week about what now lies ahead, but I think it is worth one more look back. I have long believed that politics invariably involves compromise as governments look to maximize the political benefit and limit the political risk from any given policy. The emphasis on compromise is why stakeholders rarely walk away entirely happy on most issues that feature a diversity of views, whether it is copyright, privacy, or Internet regulation. Yet with Bill C-11, compromise from the government never came.
Senate Committee Completes Its Review of Bill C-11: What Comes Next?
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications completed its extensive review of Bill C-11 last week. After a review for grammatical, editorial, and translation issues, the committee is expected to finalize its report back to the Senate later today. While the next steps for Bill C-11 remain somewhat uncertain, the committee should be congratulated for providing a model for legislative review. Indeed, the Senate committee was everything the House committee was not: policy focused, open to hearing from a wide range of witnesses, and willing to engage in meaningful debate on potential amendments. Politics occasionally arose during the clause-by-clause review, but political considerations were never going to be entirely stripped from a highly politicized piece of legislation.
I may have missed the odd change, but the following amendments were approved by the committee:
From Bad to Worse: Senate Committee Adds Age Verification Requirement for Online Undertakings to Bill C-11
The Senate committee studying Bill C-11 has ramped up the hours devoted to clause-by-clause review with amendments related to user generated content currently up for debate. However, earlier today, just prior to addressing the user content issue, the committee shockingly adopted an amendment that adds age verification for online undertakings to the Broadcasting Act. The amendment comes as a policy objective, meaning that it will fall to the CRTC to determine how to implement it. The implications are enormous since broadly defined the policy would require every online service that transmits or retransmits programs over the Internet (broadly defined to include all audio and audiovisual content) to establish age verification requirements to prevent child access to programs with explicit sexual activity. If the CRTC implements, the policy will surely be challenged as unconstitutional.