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Liberal’s C-10 Bill faces backlash over free speech concerns

Canadian Heritage Committee promises bill won’t regulate user-generated social media content.

Wednesday May 5, 2021 | NATIONAL

by Island Social Trends | combined notes by Mary P Brooke, Editor and Jalen C Codrington, Copy Editor

Canadians are now seeing some thoughts toward action on protection of Canadian content within the realm of the big tech media giants and perhaps finally some tax revenue action by the federal government. Big tech giants collect millions in ad revenue and do not pay tax in Canada. They build success using the content generated by their users (including professional news media).

Canada Media Fund
Currently, only Canadian broadcasters, radio stations, and TV networks pay into the Canada Media Fund.

Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault first proposed Bill C-10 in November 2020, with the intent of modernizing the Broadcasting Act for an era where Canadians are increasingly taking to the Internet to consume music, TV, and movies. Prior to that, the Liberal government did develop some other papers and recommendations around protecting the Canadian media industry around these issues (some of which has not produced much change for the revenue challenges faced by Canadian media).

The proposed bill would amend the Act to subject online streaming services operating in Canada such as Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon Prime to the regulations of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Guilbeault says one of the objectives of the bill is “investment in Canadian cultural content.” He purports the bill would level the playing field between Canadian companies, who are already subject to such regulation, and the international tech giants who operate free of government influence – a David and Goliath story.

By bringing big tech under the Act, corporations such as Facebook and Google would be forced not only to make Canadian content more visible on their platforms, but to start paying into the Canada Media Fund. Currently, only Canadian broadcasters, radio stations, and TV networks pay into the fund, to which they are required to surrender 5% of their revenue. As of now, these large, American-based tech companies aren’t required to pay taxes to the Canadian government; and as they are based outside of Canada they also don’t collect the Canadian federal GST on ad sales.

The CRTC has imposed strong regulations on Canadian radio and television providers in the past, mandating that radio stations broadcast at least 35% Canadian content, and that television stations must devote no less than 50% of the evening broadcast period to Canadian programming.

The Liberals’ bill originally excluded user-generated content from regulation. This means that the Instagram reel of your Sunday brunch, or prank video from your favourite YouTuber wouldn’t need to conform to CRTC standards. But a recently passed amendment will now evidently grant the CRTC power to regulate such user-generated content (though MPs who’ve been questioned on this say that’s not the case, as — in fact — the misinterpretation is due to sloppy wording within the bill).

Jérôme Payette is the general manager of the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale, a group that represents French-speaking music publishers in Canada. He suggests that this new amendment was introduced to correct a loophole that would allow for YouTube to avoid regulation. (YouTube content is generated exclusively by users.)

Guilbeault has stressed that government wants “to make sure that the content that people upload on social media won’t be considered as programming under the [Broadcasting Act] and that it won’t be regulated by the CRTC.”

Opposition from politicians and legal experts alike claim that this amendment would infringe on Canadians’ freedom of speech. Other critics have gone so far as to call the C-10 Bill an attempt at using state power to rob Canadian citizens of individual choice and force nationalistic propaganda on them.

For now, the Heritage Committee is in the midst of a debate as to whether or not the bill should be paused. That pause would allow the government to further investigate Bill C-10’s impact on Canadians’ charter rights. The debate will resume on Friday (May 7).

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