The Liberal government’s online streaming bill is heading to the Senate, after passing in the House amid a Conservative MP’s allegations that it received insufficient debate.
If the bill is passed in the Senate and receives royal assent, it will update the Broadcasting Act and bring streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon under the regulating powers of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
It would also apply to platforms such as YouTube and Spotify in order to have them promote Canadian music artists by law.
Critics have said the current wording of the bill could also apply to amateur videos and user-generated content posted on YouTube, which raises concerns about the regulations involved and its implications for content creators.
Conservative heritage critic John Nater condemned the government’s approach, saying the rushing of Bill C-11 through Parliament is not only “heavy-handed” but also “irresponsible.”
“The Online Streaming Act is a deeply flawed bill that was forced through the House of Commons through an undemocratic process,” Nater said in a statement Wednesday.
“Conservatives were clear that the provisions that enable the inclusion of User Generated Content need to be removed from this bill. Unfortunately, at every attempt, the Liberals and their partners in the NDP rejected this common-sense amendment.”
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez differed. Testifying before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on June 6, Rodriguez insisted several times that Canadians who post content online should not be worried about falling under the purview of the CRTC.
“Absolutely, it is not,” Rodriguez answered when asked by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather if content is regulated by Section 4.2 of the bill.
“There’s people that try to make others believe that the CRTC is there, and the government through the CRTC, that we want to know what people produce, and if the videos are fine or not, and if we’re not happy with it, we’re going to take it offline. No, no.”
NDP MP Peter Julian, who sits on the Heritage Committee, said that the Conservatives have “impeded, at every step” the passage of the bill.
“For weeks and weeks, the Conservatives filibustered the committee and blocked witnesses from appearing,” he said in Parliament on June 17.
“Even though all the other parties had submitted amendments, the Conservatives refused to move to have amendments discussed to improve the bill.”
“We had five weeks of witnesses,” Julian added.
Debate Got ‘Shut Down’
Nater countered that argument in his statement, saying the Liberal government “shut down debate at every step of the legislative process.”
“In order to pass this bill, they shut down debate in the House of Commons, ended witness testimony while dozens of voices were yet to be heard, and forced votes on over 100 amendments without any discussion or explanation,” said Nater, who is also a member of the Heritage Committee.
On June 14, the Heritage Committee was forced to rush through over 150 amendments to Bill C-11 to meet a deadline set by the Trudeau government, prompting accusations of secrecy and legislative bungling.
MPs on the committee, who sat until midnight voting on amendments, say they were only made aware of the text of all of them that morning.
The deadline, which was 9 p.m. that night, imposed a restriction that prevented MPs in the committee from continuing to debate line by line changes to the bill, and proceeded to a vote.
The Liberal government managed to rush the bill through the committee that night, and also subjected the Senate committee on transport and communications to a pre-study of the bill.
But senators had signalled they would not be pressured to speed up consideration of the bill, claiming they had thwarted government ploys to push it through to the upper house.
“The Trudeau gov’s attempts to circumvent the democratic process and ram through flawed censorship Bill #C11 with no discussion or debate should outrage every Canadian,” said Sen. Leo Housakos in a tweet on June 16.
“The Senate must and will conduct a full and transparent study of the bill.”
Concerns Labelled as ‘Misinformation’
Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, echoed Housakos’s sentiment.
“The government’s decision to ignore the overwhelming majority of testimony on the issue of regulating user content damages the credibility of the committee Bill C-11 review and makes the forthcoming Senate study on the bill even more essential,” he wrote on his blog, published on June 18.
“But the government went beyond just ignoring witness testimony yesterday in the House of Commons. It now claims those views constitute ‘misinformation.’”
Geist was referring to Liberal MP Tim Louis, also a Heritage Committee member, who said in Parliament on June 17 that there has been “a lot of misinformation” about Bill C-11.
“The bill explicitly excludes all user-generated content in social media platforms and streaming services,” Louis said.
“In plain language, that means that users, even digital-first creators with millions of subscribers, are not broadcasters and therefore they will not face any obligations under the act. Any suggestions otherwise are simply untrue.”
On May 31, CRTC Chair Ian Scott testified before the Heritage Committee, echoing Rodriguez’s and Louis’s remarks that the CRTC is not interested in regulating user-generated content, but contradicted them on what powers the bill provides.
“[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act,” he said, with Louis present at the time.
Noé Chartier and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.