Liberals’ Internet Regulation Bill Must Provide ‘Flexible’ Definition of Canadian Content, Media Executives Say

Liberals’ Internet Regulation Bill Must Provide ‘Flexible’ Definition of Canadian Content, Media Executives Say
A file photo of logos for streaming services Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and Sling TV on a remote control. (Jenny Kane/AP)
Peter Wilson

The Liberals’ pending internet regulation bill must provide a “flexible” definition of what it considers to be “Canadian content” if it is going to successfully promote Canadian culture and creators for the country’s viewership, several media giant executives say.

“The rules defining what qualifies as Canadian content should be updated and related obligations should reflect the audio streaming model,” said Nathan Wiszniak, Spotify’s head of artist and label partnerships, during a Sept. 15 testimony before the Senate communications committee.

“Given the scale of streaming libraries, the industry will benefit if platforms can make good-faith, commercially real reasonable judgments to identify Canadian content using the expertise and information available to them,” Wiszniak continued.

Bill C-11, which is awaiting Senate approval and royal assent before becoming law, would amend the Broadcasting Act to bring major streaming and content-creation platforms like Spotify and YouTube under the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) control.
If passed, C-11 will grant the CRTC the authority to ensure that all internet content available in Canada through major streaming and social platforms promotes Canadian culture and artists.

An Imperfect Definition

David Fares, Disney’s vice president of global public policy, said that C-11 provides an imperfect definition of Canadian content and that “flexibility” needs to be considered in the legislation.

“No single factor should be determinative in determining what constitutes Canadian content,” Fares told the Senate communications committee.

Fares said that Disney has produced three Canadian films and TV shows—Barkskins, Turning Red, and Washington Black—but none of them count as Canadian content in the definition of C-11 because Disney owns their intellectual property.

“On the flip side, there are situations where content will be identified as Canadian content even though it doesn’t tell a Canadian story,” Fares said. “It’s not produced in Canada. However, it meets the point system and the [intellectual property] is owned by a Canadian.”

Fares said that Turning Red, a 2022 Disney animated film set in Toronto, “had a whole host of Canadian cast and crew on it” and was even directed by a Canadian, but still doesn’t strictly qualify as Canadian content.

“Therefore, what we’re trying to do is rectify that anomaly ... so that there’s a flexible definition such that works like Turning Red, Barkskins, and Washington Black can actually qualify as Canadian content,” he said.

“The mere fact that we own the intellectual property shouldn’t disqualify that when the work is produced in Canada [and] telling a Canadian story,” Fares continued.

Regan Smith, Spotify’s head of public policy and government affairs, said that C-11’s aim to regulate audio streaming “is a first of its kind in the world.”

“We think there should be also specific guidance for this sector giving the uniqueness of this side of the industry,” she said, adding that the bill should “accommodate some business-reasonable judgments” in its requirement that media platforms promote Canadian content.

Wiszniak said the government should realize that some Canadian artists make their music outside of the country, thus adding to the need for a nuanced definition of Canadian content.

“Some [artists] in the country music industry are moving to Nashville to create country music and writing with potentially international writers and collaborating with producers and recording in studios that may not be in Canada,” Wiszniak said.

“However, that artist is from Canada based on country of origin; we would still call them the Canadian artists.”