What is Bill C-10, and what does it do?
Will it pass?
What is the purpose of Bill C-10?
Why was the controversial amendment introduced?
Is this the end of free speech? The installation of censorship? Or a backhanded power grab? Like all rhetoric surrounding even the blandest of divisive issues, the burner has been turned to high on Bill C-10, and perhaps unnecessarily so. Opponents contend that the bill will grant the government sweeping powers to regulate user-generated content on the internet, and that isn’t far from the truth, though not in the ways you may first think.
Bill C-10, which serves to apply the Broadcasting Act to internet-based services, remains on most fronts uncontroversial and supported by all federal Canadian Parties. That was until the heritage committee voted to remove a portion of the Act exempting user-generated content from the Act, upon which certain interest groups started raising alarm bells that were taken up by some opposition parties. The removal of this amendment means that the content you upload to social media could be subject to CRTC regulations. Committee members claimed that the section was redundant as another section of the act already exempts users themselves from CRTC regulation, but experts have proven that exempting these users vs. their content are two different things.
Ever wonder why the radio plays so much Alessia Cara and Shawn Mendes? It’s not just because they’re uncontroversial Toronto-proud mall pop, it’s because they’re Canadian. Due to the geographic and cultural proximity of a certain media powerhouse, there is a consensus among the political and media establishments that Canadian cultural industries need to be given protection and preference in Canada. These protections are even baked into our free trade deals like the USMCA and the CPTPP.
So, in 1968, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was established to enforce rules to protect those cultural industries. The CRTC mandates that a certain percentage of programming on radio and television must be “Canadian Content”. They also mandate a certain amount of revenue to be invested in Canadian production, disallow hate speech and promote discoverability of Canadian content, among many other functions. To enforce these rules the CRTC has the power to fine and remove uncompliant producers from the airwaves.
The Liberal government’s ostensible goal with Bill C-10 was to apply the Canadian content rules to internet services like Spotify, Netflix and YouTube. Therefore, these providers would have to reinvest a part of their Canadian revenue to Canadian productions, and even the playing field for traditional broadcasters like television stations, which must abide by these rules. This is straightforward for a platform like Netflix, which curates its own content and recommendation algorithm, but becomes more complicated when dealing with user content driven sites like YouTube. These services could thus exempt themselves from many of these regulations by claiming that their content is user-uploaded. Thus by adopting this controversial amendment, these sites could not claim exemption.
The main criticism is that subjecting user-generated content to CRTC regulations could limit free speech, and that it’s a slippery slope from here to government censorship online, though it remains unclear how exactly this could happen. All CRTC rulings are subject to judicial review, and the organization only has the power to enforce rules granted by its statute. Some other critics argue that Canadian content is already succeeding at home and abroad on these platforms. They contend that these new regulations and red tape could have a chilling effect on investment and ultimately hurt consumer choice and raise prices.
So will it pass? Yes. The Liberals who introduced the bill need the support of just one party to pass a bill through Parliament, and given the predisposition towards cultural protections in Québec, the Bloc Québécois has been a willing partner. The Liberals have gone as far as to use time allocation to give the bill a deadline upon which it will be automatically removed from committee and sent to parliament for a vote, a rarely-used procedure. This has been done to make sure the bill gets through before the House of Commons before summer recess, though it must still pass the Senate and receive royal assent, both of which are largely formalities. Unless we have an election before the fall, expect Bill C-10 to become law.