Bill C-11 is bad news for Canadians — creators and consumers alike
Ottawa is taking Canada on a headfirst dive into government censorship, with the Senate the only obstacle standing between Canadians and the vast ocean of government control.
Calling Bill C-11 a censorship bill is not hyperbole. According to Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, the bill “would give the CRTC the power to set conditions demoting or applying warning labels to content it considers contrary to Broadcasting Act objectives, which are so broad as to cover a wide range of lawful content.” Geist warns that the bill would see government bureaucrats “force-feed” Canadian content to internet users.
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The bill would give the CRTC power to control what Canadians are exposed to online by filtering our news and streaming feeds on apps like Netflix and TikTok. The government says bureaucrats would only use their new censorship powers to try to promote Canadian content. But C-11 gives them the tools to filter online content on any basis, not just according to whether something counts as “Canadian.”
The only reassurance Ottawa is offering is that bureaucrats won’t use the full power handed to them. At least for now. But trusting a government not to use powers it has is as bad a bet as trusting a gambling addict at a casino.
There are several ways this legislation, if signed into law, could impact Canadians almost immediately.
Do you like to watch shows or films on Netflix on date night? It turns out Bill C-11 will make some Canadian content harder, not easier, to find. That’s because in deciding what counts as Canadian the CRTC focuses, not on the content, but on how it was produced. Thus Bill C-11 would make it harder for viewers to watch content that should be considered Canadian but isn’t, such as the award-winning series based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.
Under the same outdated rules, non-Canadian content could become easier to see. A biopic of former U.S. president Donald Trump, called “Gotta Love Trump,” is currently considered to be Canadian because bits of it were filmed in B.C.
Do you like to watch content streamed from other parts of the world? If you have a favourite show from India or South Korea, for example, C-11 may lessen your ability to watch it. Because the bill would force foreign content-providers to follow all kinds of new rules and regulations in order to enter the Canadian market some providers may decide, as Hulu has done, to simply block the Canadian market altogether instead of following cumbersome rules. That explains why you haven’t been able to keep up with the Kardashians lately. (OK, some of the bill’s costs may not be catastrophic.)
Are you a small-time Canadian content creator? If you have a YouTube channel that has original Canadian content, Bill C-11 could actually reduce your ability to attract viewers from outside Canada. Simply because your content counts as “Canadian” YouTube would be forced to promote your channel to people who may have no interest at all in your content. This could lead to lower click rates, which YouTube would then take as a sign your content isn’t a winner with viewers, which would cause it to deprioritize your content in markets outside Canada. Again, this could hurt small-time creators more that it could help.
“Creators are going to wake up and find the kind of content that has previously been successful in an unregulated YouTube is no longer successful in a regulated YouTube,” warns famed Canadian YouTuber J.J. McCullough. Some Canadian creators could be in for a world of hurt.
The bottom line is that Bill C-11 is bad news for Canadians — creators and consumers alike. If you don’t want the government messing with your streaming feeds, your ability to watch content from abroad or your ability to promote your own Canadian content outside Canada, you have a stake in this fight. It’s time to tell the prime minister to scrap his online censorship bill.
Jay Goldberg is Ontario director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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