On April 27, Bill C-11 — Canada’s Online Streaming Act — received royal assent and became signed into law after years of deliberation in the House of Commons. The purpose of the bill is to encourage innovation in broadcasting services and public online streaming services such as Netflix, in order to promote more patriotic Canadian content. The bill gives the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) unprecedented regulatory power over the streaming platforms to determine what content is sufficiently “Canadian.”
The CRTC stated that it would only regulate broadcasters, not content creators. In spite of this, prominent Canadian content creators argue that the bill restricts freedom of speech and encourages widespread censorship. While the objective of the bill to cultivate a stronger Canadian identity may seem harmless, I believe the bill is dangerously authoritarian and that our freedom of speech should supersede patriotism.
Setting a dangerous precedent for Canada
Among the critics of this bill are popular Canadian YouTuber J.J. McCullough and American journalist Bobby Miller. In one of Miller’s articles, McCullough described this bill as an “act of an authoritarian-minded government seeking greater control over independent media for purely ideological purposes.” McCullough further remarked that this bill could only be justified by the “imperious” belief that politicians and bureaucrats alone should determine what is best for citizens.
Miller attacked the bill by writing that the CRTC will be able to remove whatever content it deems harmful or insufficiently nationalistic — all without “proper oversight or due process.” He highlighted that broadcasting companies can be fined for not abiding by the CRTC’s mandates, which is another feature of the bill that I see as clearly authoritarian. Altogether, these commentators worry that the authority Bill C-11 gives to the government to police Canada’s online streaming services can set a dangerous precedent that might compromise Canadians’ fundamental liberties.
Justification of Bill C-11
In response to the immense disagreement toward the bill, the Canadian government issued a news release on its website defending Bill C-11 by emphasizing its positive features. The news release states that the bill offers an attempt to “support Canadian creators and storytellers by increasing investment in Canadian culture and supporting jobs in the industry.” Furthermore, it emphasizes that the bill will lead to a better reflection of Canada’s diversity and provide Canadian artists and producers greater success.
The CRTC also debunked a series of myths surrounding the bill on its website, attempting to reassure Canadians that the bill isn’t authoritarian. A common myth about the bill is that it will regulate social media users and content creators, but the CRTC emphasized that this is not the case. It notes that a regular social media user is not a broadcaster under the modernized Broadcasting Act and their content is safe from regulation. The bill will only regulate public broadcasters who fall under the Act’s definition, and will “put in place a modern and flexible regulatory framework for broadcasting.”
The CRTC clarified that it will not alter algorithms on any streaming services or regulate prices for these services.
Broad, ambiguous, and difficult to implement
In my view, there are positive features of the bill. I appreciate how the bill strives to expose Canadians to more patriotic content. It’s important that Canadian content creators and artists get more opportunities for success. The bill will also support Indigenous languages and culture by strengthening Indigenous broadcasts.
Nevertheless, I am opposed to Bill C-11. Although McCullough and Miller exaggerate the extent to which the bill will censor streaming services, the bill still seems dangerously authoritarian because it gives the government broad and ambiguous authority over information. It could lead to an attack on our constitutionally protected rights and set a precedent for future government abuse.
Moreover, I see this bill being too difficult to implement on a technical level. It is not easy for streaming platforms to censor or prioritize certain content over others based on the content’s ‘level of patriotism.’ Given that the bill does not identify what are considered “Canadian attitudes, opinions, values, and artistic creativity” — which are what it claims to promote — I believe the vague standard of censorship it creates will lead to broadcasters and mediums being unfairly penalized.
The bill’s authoritarian nature coupled with its disregard for our fundamental right to free speech is why I believe it is bad legislation. Going forward, we must carefully observe how the CRTC exercises its newfound power and determine whether we need to fight for a constitutional challenge to Bill C-11.
Rubin Beshi is a third-year student at Woodsworth College studying political science.