Meta executives faced another round of criticism at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage yesterday, yet beyond the usual outrage emanating from MPs that have labelled critics as racist or dismissed online news outlets at not news, was the growing realization that the company’s plan to block news sharing in Canada if Bill C-18 passes in its current form may not be a bluff. Meta has adopted a consistent position for months that the bill creates the prospect of unlimited liability for linking to news articles, the vast majority of which are posted by the media companies themselves. Paying for those links is viewed as uneconomic and untenable by the company, which would rather exit news sharing altogether in Canada rather than cough up millions of dollars for links.
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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.
Bill C-11 Estimates Revealed: Internal Government Documents Show No Impact on Net Employment, Admit Streamers Already Invest Millions in “Unofficial Cancon”
The government’s support for Bill C-11 has often been framed on economic terms with Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez arguing that the bill will “create good jobs for Canadians in the cultural sector”. I’ve long maintained the government’s claims that the bill will generate billions of dollars in new money was massively exaggerated and that a far more likely scenario would be that the bill would simply lead to a reshuffling of existing expenditures.
Using the Access to Information Act, I have now obtained a copy of the government’s internal estimates for the economic and production impact of Bill C-11 (methodology, memorandum, PPT), which confirm many of my suspicions. While the government is pinning its hopes on massive spending from Internet streamers such as Netflix, it admits that even if the bill did not pass it would not affect net new employment in the sector. Moreover, internally the government recognizes the claim that Netflix and foreign streamers don’t contribute to Canadian content is false, as it has identifies a new category of “unofficial Cancon” which would qualify as Cancon under every measure but for the fact that it is owned by companies like Netflix and Disney. And as for the payments from social media companies that the government insists are so essential that it has fought for years to include user content regulation in the bill? The estimated economic benefit represents just one percent of its total projection for Bill C-11 with pure guesswork about what percentage of content on the platforms might require contributions.
The Canadian Heritage Online Harms Credibility Gap, Part Two: Filtering Out Critics From Participating in Anti-Hate Consultation Survey
The government’s online harms bill, led by Canadian Heritage, is likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. My series on why the department faces a significant credibility gap on the issue opened with a look at its misleading and secretive approach to the 2021 online harms consultation, including its decision to only disclose public submissions when compelled to do so by law and releasing a misleading “What We Heard” report that omitted crucial information. Today’s post focuses on another Canadian Heritage consultation which occurred months later on proposed anti-hate plans. As the National Post reported earlier this year, after the consultation launched, officials became alarmed when responses criticizing the plan and questioning government priorities began to emerge. The solution? The department remarkably decided to filter out the critics from participating in the consultation by adding a new question that short-circuited it for anyone who responded that they did not think anti-hate measures should be a top government priority.
The Canadian Heritage Credibility Gap on Online Harms, Part One: Public Report Did Not Disclose 90% Opposition to Its 2021 Proposal
The government’s online harms bill – likely rebranded as an online safety bill – is expected to be tabled by Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in the coming weeks. The bill, which reports suggest will even include age verification requirements that raise significant privacy and expression concerns, is expected to emerge as the most controversial of the government’s three-part Internet regulation plan that also includes Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. Given the fierce debate and opposition to those two bills, it may be hard to believe that online harms or safety will be even more contentious. Yet that is likely both because the bill will have enormous implications for freedom of expression and because Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and his department face a significant credibility gap on the file. To be absolutely clear, there is a need for legislation that addresses online harms and ensures that Internet platforms operate in a transparent, responsible manner with the prospect of liability for failure to do so. However, Canadian Heritage has repeatedly fumbled the issue with conduct that raises serious concerns about whether it is fit to lead.