The controversy over the CRTC’s Radio-Canada decision involving its repeated use of the N-word has continued to grow with Quebec-based politicians – including the governing CAQ and the Liberal Party of Quebec – warning of censorship and calling on Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to reverse the CRTC decision. The outpouring has left me struggling to reconcile the seeming hypocrisy of politicians who warn about the dangers of CRTC speech regulation even as they have been the most ardent supporters of Bill C-11, eager to pass resolutions that call on the federal government to enact legislation empowering the CRTC to regulate user content.
My initial take in a tweet was that this reflects a demand to protect their own speech even as there is a willingness to sacrifice the speech of others in return for a Youtube payoff. On reflection, however, I think there is more at play. Before explaining, it bears mentioning that months of assurances during the Bill C-11 hearings that the CRTC does not engage in speech regulation were patently false.
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications held an exceptionally important hearing as part of its Bill C-11 pre-study (which is about to change into a Bill C-11 study) last night featuring Canadian Heritage officials and CRTC Chair Ian Scott. I will have a second post on the officials, who struggled to provide clear answers to basic questions on everything from how to identify what counts as Cancon for user content (Youtube’s Content ID was suggested) to the absence of thresholds for what is covered by the bill (there are no thresholds and the government wants the ability to also target small streamers). But the key moment of the day came in questioning Scott about the discoverability and the potential for algorithmic manipulation.
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications started its Bill C-11 pre-study yesterday just hours before the the bill passed third reading in the House of Commons. The bill quickly moved to first reading in the Senate, though at this stage it would appear that there will be just one more hearing involving departmental and CRTC officials before the summer recess. The House vote was widely expected as the government received support from the NDP on several occasions to limit debate. The Bloc and Green MP Elizabeth May also supported the bill, while it was opposed by the Conservatives and Green MP Mike Morrice.
I was pleased to appear before the Senate committee together with former CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein as part of its first panel of the day. The questions and answers touched on a wide range of issues including discoverability and public support for the sector. My opening remarks are posted and embedded below:
Last week, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage rushed through the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-11 in a manner that should not be forgotten or normalized. Despite the absence of any actual deadline, the government insisted that just three two hour sessions be allocated to full clause-by-clause review of the bill. Once the government-imposed deadline arrived at 9:00 pm, the committee moved to voting on the remaining proposed amendments without any debate, discussion, questions for department officials, or public disclosure of what was being voted on. This week’s Law Bytes podcast features clips from a hearing that one Member of Parliament described as “an affront to democracy”.
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: