The Liberal government’s online streaming bill—which some fear will serve as a handle for censorship—was pushed through the House of Commons by the Liberal-NDP alliance and is heading to the Senate.
At least one Conservative MP says the bill is “deeply flawed” and was forced to a parliamentary vote under an undemocratic process.
Bill C-11—also called the Online Streaming Act—passed third reading in Parliament on June 21 with a vote of 208–117, with the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc defeating the Conservatives, who were joined by Green Party MP Mike Morrice, in voting against it.
With the bill, the Liberal government attempts to compel digital platforms—including streaming companies—to prominently feature Canadian artists on their services when users log in with a Canadian internet protocol address. It was contemplated that under the new measures, users who search for music, videos, television programming or movies would get results that have incorporated a certain quota of Canadian-made content.
Bill C-11 seeks to put streaming services under the terms of the Broadcasting Act. If passed by the Senate, it will update the Broadcasting Act and bring streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime under the regulatory powers of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
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C-11 would also apply to platforms such as YouTube and Spotify and compel them to promote Canadian music artists by law. The CRTC would be charged with developing the specific regulations, such as a quota on Canadian content and what exactly constitutes Canadian content.
The legislation can be thought of as a foundational piece of legislation from which all future digital legislation is to be based.
Critics have argued that the current phrasing of C-11 would also see it apply to amateur videos and user-generated content on YouTube, which raises concerns about the regulations involved and its implications for content creators.
The bill’s predecessor, Bill C-10, which did not become law before the 2021 Election, had become controversial after Section 4.1 was deleted, which contained a crucial provision that the act would not apply to individuals who upload content to various social platforms.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who is responsible for Bill C-11, told the House on Feb. 16 that, “Bill C-11 clearly outlines that the regulator would have no power to regulate the everyday use of social media by Canadians.”
“Let me be clear. We will not regulate users or online creators through the bill or our policy, nor digital-first creators, nor influencers, nor users. Only the online streaming companies themselves would have new responsibilities under this act,” Rodriguez claimed.
However, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, a critic of the bill, said during a Heritage Committee meeting on May 24 that many issues and concerns about the previous C-10 “remain intact.”
“While the section 4.1 exception for user content was reinstated, the addition of section 4.1 sub 2 and 4.2, which together provide for the prospect of CRTC regulations on user content, were added,” said Geist, the UofO’s Canada Research Chair in internet and E-commerce law.
“The bottom line is that user content is treated as a program and the CRTC is empowered to create regulations applicable to programs that are uploaded to social media services,” he said, adding that no other country in the world regulates user content in such a manner.
Geist called for those sections to be removed from the bill.
Liberal MP Tim Louis, also a Heritage Committee member, told Parliament on June 17 that Bill C-11 “explicitly excludes all user-generated content in social media platforms and streaming services.”
“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,” Louis said.
Earlier on May 31, when testifying before the Heritage Committee, CRTC Chair Ian Scott said the CRTC is not interested in regulating user-generated content.
While Scott’s words echoed Rodriguez’s and Louis’s remarks, they were contradictory on what powers the bill provides the government.
“[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act,” Scott said, with Louis present at the time.
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 June 22 statement.
“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 administration, which prompted 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 9:00 p.m. that night, imposed a restriction that prevented MPs in the committee from continuing to debate line by line changes to the bill—many of the amendments were thus voted on without debate—and proceeded to a vote.
That night, the Liberal government managed to rush the bill through the Committee and also subjected the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications to a pre-study of the bill.
“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.
YouTube, TikTok, and some big streaming companies including Netflix, as well as legal experts and some Canadian artists, have either opposed the government’s move or warned of unintended consequences—such as hurting the people the new policy proclaims to help.
“Canada would start the process of erecting international trade barriers to the current free exchange of cultural exports on open digital platforms that Canadian creators depend on,” YouTube wrote in a brief submitted to Parliament.
Montreal-based artist Justin Tomchuk said forcing his content on Canadians with no interest in his work could result in a lower-audience retention rate. He said fewer Canadian clicks could drive his videos’ global ranking downward and lead to fewer foreign viewers, because over 90 percent of his audience is from abroad.
“I’m relying on the international audience, that’s where my fans are. I don’t really control it,” he said. “If I was put at a disadvantage on a global scale it could really affect my viewership.”