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.
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CRTC Chair Ian Scott Confirms Bill C-11 Can Be Used To Pressure Internet Platforms to Manipulate Algorithms
My Appearance Before the Senate Transport and Communications Committee on Bill C-11: The Senate Starts Review As Bill Receives House Approval
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:
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 131: The Bill C-11 Clause-by-Clause Review – What “An Affront to Democracy” Sounds Like
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”.
Bill C-11 Enters a Danger Zone: Government Shifts from Ignoring Witnesses on User Content Regulation to Dismissing Criticisms as “Misinformation”
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:
The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conducted the one day of debate on Bill C-11 yesterday that Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and the Liberal government – aided and abetted by the NDP – required under a House of Commons motion. The result was an embarrassment to the government that leaves a stain that will not be easy to remove. 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 featuring debate and discussion (MPs on the committee were all open to extending each session by 30 minutes for a total of 7 1/2 hours). With roughly 170 amendments proposed by five parties, there was only time for a fraction of the amendments to be reviewed. Instead, 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. The voting ran past midnight with the public left with little idea of what is in or out of the bill. The updated bill will be posted in the next day or so.