The widespread concern over Bill C-11 has largely focused on the potential CRTC regulation of user content. Despite repeated assurances from the government that “users are out, platforms are in”, the reality is that the bill kept the door open to regulating such content. The language in the bill is clear: Section 4.2 grants the CRTC the power to establish regulations on programs (which includes audio and audiovisual content by users). The provision identifies three considerations for the Commission, most notably if the program “directly or indirectly generates revenues.” The revenue generation provision is what led many digital creators to argue they were caught by the bill and for TikTok to conclude that any video with music would also fall within the ambit of the legislation.
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications, which has conducted months of hearings on Bill C-11, was clearly convinced that the user content issue needed to be addressed. Last night (hours after the ill-advised addition of age verification to the bill), it agreed on an amendment that, with two key caveats, goes a long way to scoping out user content regulation.
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Bill C-11, the government’s online streaming bill, is rightly garnering increasing attention, but there is a private member’s Senate bill that should also be on the radar screen. Bill S-210, a follow-up to S-203, is a bill that purports to restrict underage access to sexually explicit material. Sponsored by Senator Miville-Dechêne, a former CBC journalist appointed to the Senate in 2018, the bill would require age verification requirements for sites (likely backed by face recognition technologies) and mandated website blocking for sites that fail to comply with the verification requirements.
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In a day that started with Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault urging the Senate to focus on passing Bill C-10, Senators from across the political spectrum again signalled that they believe that Guilbeault’s bill requires extensive hearings given the flawed legislative approach in the House of Commons and a resulting bill that raises a wide range of policy concerns. Concerns with Bill C-10 were raised by virtually every Senator to speak during yesterday’s debate: Senator Donna Dasko noted that “public confidence is lacking at this point in time” in the bill, Senator Colin Deacon argued that the government has failed to address the core concerns involving privacy and competition, and Senator Pamela Wallin called the bill “reckless” and urged the government “to go back to the drawing board.” Those speeches came on top of the first day of Senate debate in which Senator Dennis Dawson admitted that “everybody recognizes the bill is flawed” and Senator Paula Simons said the bill reminded her of the Maginot Line.
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