Bill C-11 – The Online Streaming Act



March 4, 2022

Bill C-11, also called ‘The Online Streaming Act,’ amends Canada’s Broadcasting Act. This broadcasting act from 1991 provides the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) with its mandate, including the power to regulate the Canadian broadcasting system (cable, tv, radio, etc.). It is also intended to “support Canada’s creators, artists, and creative industries, and ensures that Canadian music and stories are available and accessible.” The details of the Broadcasting Act are challenging, and while this is not ARPA’s area of expertise, there are some concerns about the scope of Bill C-11 that need to be addressed.

Expanding the scope of government

The Government of Canada explains their reasoning for Bill C-11 in this way: “The rise of online streaming services has dramatically changed how we watch series and movies and listen to music. We all enjoy these services, but a number of foreign companies stream into Canada without regulations and without the obligation to contribute to and distribute Canadian stories and music.” While that may be true, the solution as proposed in Bill C-11 gives the government sweeping powers far beyond the scope of this problem.

Bill C-11 seeks to give the government power over the internet. The CRTC, with this new bill, would be given an immense regulatory scope with almost no limitation. The government is seeking to move oversight of the internet under the CRTC in the same way it currently regulates cable, television, and radio.

Will this affect individual users?

Bill C-11 does nothing to protect the individual online content creator. Small Canadian content creators will suddenly be subject to a plethora of rules and regulations that they are ill-equipped and underfinanced to properly engage with. Small content creators will face many more hurdles to being seen online by other users. The onus is taken off the government and placed on the individual user to prove that exemptions to the regulations apply to them.

As MP Aboultaif said in a speech in the House of Commons,

This flawed legislation, Bill C-11 does nothing to provide Canadian listeners with the best programs. If anything, it discourages creative programming… We all know that the Internet bears no relation to traditional broadcasting…The Internet is narrowcasting not broadcasting, as content creators can reach smaller segments of the population, which have not been served by traditional broadcasters.

The government responded to similar critiques of a previous bill (Bill C-10 – 2021) by adding exceptions for individual users. However, these exceptions are subject to a further set of exceptions – users are exempted from the exemption if they generate any form of revenue. This leads to nothing but confusion.

Bill C-11 will also change the relationship that social media companies have with their users. The government will be able to require social media companies to promote certain types of content, and in doing so they are automatically also supressing and reducing exposure to other forms of content.

Big benefits for traditional media organizations

Bill C-11 tilts strongly in favour of more traditional media interests and against more innovative, online-only types of media organizations (whether news media, or movie streaming etc.). It is worth noting that the large traditional producers and broadcasters are all in favour of this legislation, and actively promoting it. The ‘cable cutting’ generation is one that alarms these companies, and the government is promising regulations to ensure that traditional media are competitive once again by seriously handicapping the internet.

Michael Geist, one of Canada’s foremost experts in this area and a vocal critic of the bill, points out that the government is intentionally helping traditional media.

Broadcasters such as Bell and the CBC were already vocal proponents of the bill. When the minister responsible for regulating the sector calls on the same sector to lobby his government and the Canadian public in support of his own legislation, the wall between regulated and regulator is obliterated.

There is certainly a conflict of interest here that should concern us.

What is the impact on Christian organizations?

The inclusion of language like ‘gender expression’ in the bill raises questions about how far the government will be willing to go in regulating faith-based content creators or others it disagrees with. Bill C-11 adds the following wording to the Broadcasting Act:

Through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests of all Canadians — including Canadians … of diverse…sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions… and reflect their circumstances and aspirations, including equal rights.”(Subparagraph 3(1)‍(d)‍(iii))

Giving the CRTC the power to promote and regulate content in this way provides the potential for supressing organizations that defend the pre-born, or share positions on sexuality, gender, and family that differ from the government. What the government doesn’t seem to understand is that the tools of prohibition, regulation, and restriction are negative tools, not positive ones, and will almost certainly make restriction on freedom of expression likely.

Bill C-11 could foreseeably apply to the ‘broadcasts’ of organizations like ARPA Canada, as well as other Christian organizations that produce content for the internet. There is also nothing exempting churches or other faith-based organizations from being considered broadcasters. The reality is they are claiming some level of control over all internet content – so your Sermon Audio feed could be subject to the same kinds of broadcasting rules as your local radio station.

Bill C-11 gives too much power to the CRTC over the internet, it discriminates against individual and small content creators, puts pressure on social media companies to supress or promote certain types of content, and subjects faith-based content creators to the scrutiny of the Canadian government. It needs to be opposed.

What can be done?

Below is an EasyMail for you to use to let your MP know that you do not support Bill C-11 and would like to see them vote against it.

The regulation of internet content in this way by amending the Broadcasting Act will result in the reduction of freedom of expression and will unfairly pressure individual and small up-and-coming content producers.

As this bill progresses, we will share more information and action items as needed.

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