Communications issues have been in the political spotlight in recent weeks with the controversial CRTC decision to reverse a pricing decision on wholesale broadband that swiftly led to calls for the resignation of Commission Chair Ian Scott as well as the ongoing battle over Bill C-10, which envisions granting extensive new powers to the CRTC.
Konrad von Finckenstein is a former chair of the CRTC, having led the Commission during a similarly contentious time during debates over net neutrality. He has since been outspoken on communications policy issues, including arguing that Bill C-10 should be scrapped and re-written. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about the CRTC, the recent decisions, and what he thinks a better approach to Internet and broadcast regulation would look like.
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Earlier this week, Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet called for a “gag order” on Bill C-10, which would limit debate on the bill using a process known as time allocation. The irony of calling for a gag order on debate over a bill with profound implications for freedom of expression is likely not lost on many Canadians. But worse than a regional, separatist party with 32 MPs calling for a gag order is the Minister of Canadian Heritage doing so. That is precisely what happened last night, as Steven Guilbeault announced that the government would be introducing a motion to cut off debate on Bill C-10.
Guilbeault’s statement in support of the gag order is riddled with inaccuracies and omissions:
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Google, which did not appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of its study on Bill C-10 (neither did TikTok, Facebook or other big tech companies with the exception of Netflix), has spoken out over concerns with Bill C-10. The post warns of the “possible unintended consequences that could negatively and unnecessarily impact” both creators and Canadian Youtube users. The company is particularly concerned with the discoverability requirements that have been expanded to include user generated content:
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The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continued its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-10 yesterday, spending the full two hours debating a Conservative amendment that would have restored the user generated content safeguards that were removed when Section 4.1 was dropped from the bill. The Conservative amendment effectively offered the parties a “do-over” by acknowledging that the removal had sparked huge public concern over the implications for freedom of expression and net neutrality. Nevertheless, the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc voted down the motion, with the NDP not even bothering to speak to the issue at all.
While the three parties were not supportive of addressing the user generated content concerns, they were quick to defend any suggestions that the study of Bill C-10 had been flawed and excluded important voices. For example, when Conservative MP Rachael Harder began reading comments from Scott Benzie on the harms to digital-first Canadian creators who did not appear before the committee (citing the likes of Lily Singh, Molly Burke and thousands more), Liberal MP Anthony Housefather jumped in with a “point of clarification” that the Conservatives could have invited Benzie as a witness (he said the same to me in a Twitter exchange). Bloc MP Martin Champoux also took issue with suggestions that the consultation had been incomplete, stating that there had been 121 witnesses.
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Weeks into a high profile debate over Bill C-10, the issue of discoverability of Canadian content has emerged as a policy tug of war between supporters that want the CRTC to intervene by mandating the discoverability of Canadian content on sites such as Youtube and Tiktok and critics that argue the approach would raise significant freedom of expression and net neutrality concerns.
But what exactly is “discoverability” and how would it impact both users and the thousands of Canadian creators that have already found success on digital platforms?
Fenwick McKelvey is a communications professor at Concordia University who has written more about the discoverability and algorithmic media than anyone in Canada. He has regularly participated in CRTC hearings and was the co-author of a leading study on the issue commissioned by Canadian Heritage. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about discoverability, his frustrations with its implementation in Bill C-10, and the potential consequences for Canadian creators.
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