New Brunswick Sen. David Adams Richards says he is concerned that the federal government’s proposed internet regulation bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate, will bring about a culture of censorship of Canadians.
“This law will be one of scapegoating all those who do not fit into what our bureaucrats think Canada should be,” Richards said in the Senate on Jan. 31 during the third reading of Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act.
“Stalin again will be looking over our shoulder when we write.”
The bill, which was sponsored in the House of Commons by Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, will give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) power to regulate the content available to Canadian viewers on large streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify if it is passed into law.
The bill’s stated purpose is to promote authentic Canadian content for viewers within the country.
“I do not know who will be able to tell me what Canadian content is and what it is not, but I know it won’t be in the Minister of Heritage’s power to ever tell me,” said Richards, an acclaimed Canadian novelist, screenwriter, and poet appointed to the Senate in 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We have filled the world with our talent, but not because of the Minister of Heritage. We have better books and movies across the world, but it’s not because of some formula. We have insulted so many of our authors and singers or actors and painters by not paying attention to them, and then claiming them when they go somewhere else.”
Richards named several past and present Canadian musical artists who have achieved international fame, such as singers Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen, and Toronto-born rapper Drake.
“Drake is known worldwide, but not because of the CRTC,” he said. “Thank God, Drake was not up to them, or Leonard Cohen or Gordon Lightfoot either.”
“We have gone back to the age of Cicero without even knowing, and that is scapegoating was considered a blessing and mob-action against one person was considered justice.”
Other senators debated whether the pending legislation will grant the CRTC power to regulate individual Canadian content creators on platforms like YouTube.
“This bill is in the public interest. It is about making sure that we continue to uphold Canadian values in our society,” said Sen. Dennis Dawson.
“I believe that we have been patient enough. Now it’s time to pass this bill.”
Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos asked Dawson if he would be in favour of amending the legislation to clearly state that individual digital content creators will not be put under the CRTC’s regulating authority.
“We have said that the digital creators are not going to be controlled by the government,” Dawson answered.
Housakos countered with: “Why is there a hesitation when it comes to putting it in the legislation instead of just giving Canadians a ‘trust us’ promise?”
He pointed out that CRTC chair Ian Scott previously told a Parliamentary committee that Bill C-11 contains a provision that would allow for individual creators to be regulated in certain situations.
“People have been trying a little bit of fear mongering, saying we’re going to take away the right of people to express themselves,” Dawson replied. “This is not the objective of the bill. It never was.”
Noé Chartier contributed to this report.