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Why the WGC supports Bill C-11 – FAQs

What is Bill C-11?

Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act, amends the Broadcasting Act of Canada, which was last updated in 1991. The Broadcasting Act is the federal law that effectively creates and supports a distinctly Canadian broadcasting system. 

Canadian domestic television production is not a natural market outcome—our population is too small for many types of programming to be financially viable. There is little economic incentive to produce Canadian-made content in high-risk and/or high-cost genres like drama, comedy, children’s programming, documentary, and local and investigative news. The Broadcasting Act requires that broadcasters who operate in our market also contribute to it in the form of commissioning Canadian programming, among other things. 

C-11 updates the Broadcasting Act in several important ways:
•    Clarifies the scope of the Act to make it crystal clear that online transmission of programs (e.g., streaming services like Netflix) falls within its ambit
•    Updates the broadcasting and regulatory policies of Canada to better reflect the country’s diversity 
•    Sets out a renewed approach to regulation
•    Modernizes oversight and enforcement tools of the CRTC
•    Creates a new approach to social media by focusing on commercial content

Why is this bill necessary to support Canadian content? I just want to watch what I want anyway—if a TV show is good, I’ll watch it.

You can’t watch something that doesn’t get made in the first place. Canada’s small domestic market, our proximity to the global content behemoth in Hollywood, and our shared language in English Canada (without even a spoken accent) provide strong economic disincentives to create distinctive original Canadian content in high-risk, high-cost genres. Many of the same factors also induce Canadian talent to leave the country, where they become part of the American system, telling American stories and paying American taxes.

These free-market forces and their impact on Canadian media and culture have been widely recognized for decades to undermine the ability of Canadian storytellers to create and distribute Canadian stories and Canadian points of view in the most powerful media, and on some of the most ubiquitous platforms, of the 21st Century. Our national cultural sovereignty is at issue, as are the jobs that remain crucially important to Canada’s economic wellbeing. The Canadian domestic television production sector generated over $3 billion in GDP for the Canadian economy in 2020-2021, along with nearly $2.5 billion in labour income (See Exhibit 1-7).

These jobs and creative voices, built over decades under the current Broadcasting Act, are at risk. There is a demonstrable, documented problem in need of solving. The volume of Canadian television production is in decline (See Exhibit 3-3), particularly in English, which is at an eight-year low (not adjusting for inflation). Private broadcaster licence fees for English-language Canadian television production dropped by nearly 75% between 2013 and 2021, from $456 million to $116 million (See Exhibit 3-17). The number of hours of new programming commissioned under the WGC's jurisdiction by the Bell, Corus, and Rogers broadcast groups dropped by over 68% from 2014 to 2021. Meanwhile, Canadian broadcasters continue to lay off staff and shrink programming hours. Global streamers have commissioned some Canadian programming, but this has by no means offset the declines from traditional broadcasters, and without legislation like C-11 they’ll have no obligation to continue even what they’re already doing. This is unsustainable.

What’s so special about Canadian content? Isn’t content just content? What’s wrong with just watching American programming?

There is nothing wrong with American content. We believe, however, that it is deeply problematic to have only American content, in part because culture and society reflect each other and Canada is not the United States. We cannot say it any better than the late Denis McGrath, former screenwriter and WGC Council member:

A Canada that does not make space for its own storytellers and programs is a country that reflects issues or attitudes that are not in step with the people. In short, you’re inculcating people with narratives that are at odds with what society thinks. It’s profoundly alienating, and potentially distorting. Is crime really that high? Is immigration bad? Is that family with two kids less than you because the parents aren’t married? Everyone says that they’re not influenced by media, though study after study seems to demonstrate otherwise. But on a more basic level, the philosophical question I have is simple. What GOOD is it to give over the vast majority of your broadcast timeslots and media space to programs that don’t reflect an accurate moral compass of your people? What good comes from framing issues that are not controversial here, as still deeply divisive, because your entertainment provider hasn’t caught up?

I get that it’s popular. But is it good? Is it really what we want? And considering that a well-produced Canadian show can now routinely draw over a million viewers, even starting with a severe handicap in terms of PR and advertising, why do we blindly accept that this is the way it has to be?

Bill C-11 massively expands the CRTC’s jurisdiction over the Internet. Shouldn’t we be concerned about these new powers?

Actually, C-11 doesn’t expand the CRTC’s jurisdiction on the Internet. The CRTC already has jurisdiction under the existing Broadcasting Act to regulate with respect to content on the Internet, and that includes on social media. It has simply never acted to use them.

The 1991 Broadcasting Act is “technologically neutral”, and was intentionally so from the start. This means that Parliament had always contemplated the possibility that broadcasting would evolve as new technologies did. At the same time, the CRTC has legal authority to determine its own jurisdiction, subject to review by the courts. In 1999, the Commission considered whether the then-nascent presence of audio and video on the Internet constituted “broadcasting”, and decided that it did. Today, Netflix and others operate pursuant to what’s now called the Digital Media Exemption Order. In 2020, a panel made up of leading legal experts and professors agreed, stating in its final report that, “There is an urgent need to proceed quickly to address the inequities in the audiovisual sector caused by the rise of unregulated programming services delivered over the Internet with no Canadian content obligations,” and, crucially, “there is ample jurisdiction for the CRTC to act as proposed, without any amendments to the Act.”

 Simply put, the CRTC already could regulate audiovisual content on social media if it wanted to. The fact that it hasn’t touched virtually anything on the Internet to date helps demonstrate just how unlikely an overreaching approach by the CRTC in the future would be. The current CRTC Chair stated earlier this year, “It is not our intention to do anything that would harm, restrict or impede [Canadian digital-first creators’] ability to create and share their content.” The Chair further stated:

Put another way, the CRTC issues about 250 broadcasting decisions annually. Not a single one has ever been successfully challenged on the basis that it somehow infringed Canadians’ freedom of expression.

If any of you has studied the work of the CRTC over the years, you’ll see a clear and simple truth about our work. We have always strived to adopt a light-handed approach to regulation, even as online broadcasters have become increasingly prevalent, and important, in Canada’s broadcasting system.

Bill C-11, like the existing Broadcasting Act, fundamentally works by setting out cultural policy objectives (Section 3) and then giving the CRTC the tools and responsibility to implement them, while specifically directing the Commission to take a hands-off approach where regulation is not necessary (Section 5(2)(h)—see below for more). Nothing about the bill or the CRTC’s historical approach implies that they will “overregulate”—if they were going to do that, they could have done so a long time ago.

Also see here.

If the CRTC can already regulate on the Internet, then what’s the point of C-11?

The main purpose is to give the CRTC the right tools to regulate online effectively. Traditional broadcasting contemplated a licensing approach, whereby you couldn’t broadcast without pre-approval to do so in the form of a broadcasting licence. That is not an Internet-friendly approach, so C-11 will replace licenses for most broadcasting entities with “conditions of service” where the CRTC chooses to regulate. 

That “light-handed approach” stated by the CRTC Chair is also the issue. Online services like Netflix started having major impacts on the broadcasting system years ago, yet the Commission has so far failed to act in a meaningful way. C-11 will send a clear message to the CRTC that it’s now time to regulate major online entities like streamers. Long hesitant to act in the online ecosystem, the regulator actually needs a push to use the powers it has to support Canadian creators on the Internet in the places it makes sense to do so.

Ok, but there are still a lot of particulars that aren’t in the bill. Why leave so many details up to the CRTC? Why can’t C-11 specify exactly who will be regulated and how?

The Broadcasting Act works as part of a two-stage approach to regulation: 1) The Act sets out cultural policy objectives—Section 3, the “Broadcasting Policy for Canada”—and gives the CRTC the tools and responsibility to implement that policy; and, 2) the CRTC does so, with specific regulation. This two-stage approach is fully intentional and appropriate. For one thing, moving specific content regulation rules to an arm’s-length, independent regulatory body like the CRTC minimizes the potential for political interference in the broadcasting system. Given the vital importance of content and information in a democracy, it makes sense to keep these detailed-level decisions out of the hands of politicians.

For another thing, this sector is constantly evolving, and regulation needs to evolve with it. It was only a few years between the introduction of the streaming service Netflix into the Canadian market and its significant impact on the sector. It has been more than 30 years since the Broadcasting Act was last updated. Expert regulatory bodies like the CRTC can move more quickly than government to adjust to changes, ensuring that what makes sense in 2022 doesn’t become outdated by 2030 or beyond. For both of these reasons, it makes eminent sense of Bill C-11 to continue this structure and leave the details to the CRTC.
Certain critics of C-11 play on this distinction, often unfairly, in our view. Rather than say, for example, “C-11 will result in X negative outcome,” they say, “C-11 opens to the door to X negative outcome.” They confuse what could hypothetically happen with what will happen or what is reasonably likely to happen. The CRTC will not have carte blanche to do whatever it wants. It will be guided by policy objectives in Section 3 of the new Act and regulatory objectives in Section 5. Given this, references to what could be done with its powers, irrespective of that legislative guidance, is not how any legislation is ever interpreted, and is misleading in the extreme. Again, a complete reading of the Act and the history of the CRTC paint a very different story.

One key section of the bill that is often left out of the discussion is 5(2)(h). Bill C-11 would add the following to the Act:

5(2) The Canadian broadcasting system should be regulated and supervised in a flexible manner that
(h) takes into account the variety of broadcasting undertakings to which this Act applies and avoids imposing obligations on any class of broadcasting undertakings if that imposition will not contribute in a material manner to the implementation of the broadcasting policy set out in subsection 3(1).

This essentially codifies a “light touch” approach to regulation, which can be expected to result in widespread exemption for a large number of smaller services and activities where the market is already working well to foster and support Canadian creative voices. Indeed, the CRTC already effectively exempts all online content from substantive regulation by choice. We at the WGC worry that the CRTC will over-rely on this section to actually exempt from regulation larger services and activities that should be regulated, just like it has avoided regulating Netflix and other streamers that are some of the largest corporations in the world for many years now.

In any event, the notion that the CRTC will take a maximalist approach to regulation is unfounded, both looking at the words of C-11 and from a historical perspective. The details are intentionally left to the CRTC, and that makes sense, both to avoid political interference and to ensure regulation is nimble and responds quickly to change.

Does the CRTC have the expertise to deal with Internet-based media?

Much of what will be regulated under C-11 are activities that are essentially the same as what traditional broadcasters do. CTV or Global commission original content production from producers and creators and then make it available on their services. Netflix or Disney+ commission original content production from producers and creators and then make it available on their services. Their fundamental activities are the same, have been regulated for decades as broadcasting, and the CRTC has extensive expertise in this area. The fact that production executives and talent have moved seamlessly back and forth between broadcast television and streamers for years demonstrates this. The same crews work on a broadcast show one month and a streaming show the next. Streaming shows are nominated for, and win, television awards like Emmys. It’s fundamentally the same sector.

Further, the CRTC is an organization, not a person. If the CRTC does lack expertise in any given area, it can and will obtain that expertise by hiring, retaining, or consulting with the people who have it. Just like any organization would to adapt to change.

C-11 is supposed to support Canadian content, but I’ve heard that’s an outdated definition, and some things like the TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale don’t count. Shouldn’t we fix that first?

Reasonable people can disagree on the precise definition of “Canadian content”, and that’s a debate that needs to be had, but it’s no reason to defeat or delay the bill. C-11, like the existing Broadcasting Act, delegates to the CRTC the ability to define Canadian content, and working out that definition is something that will undoubtedly follow its passage into law. 

Anybody can have any personal definition of Canadian content that they wish, but “official” definitions generally serve a purpose, usually to determine what content can receive public funding, what should count towards meeting certain regulatory obligations, or both. This in turn is driven by the purpose of the funding or regulation. As discussed above, the Broadcasting Act generally exists to support Canadian content that would not exist otherwise. Canadian content that does not require, or would not benefit from, such public funding or regulation need not be within the regulatory sphere and therefore need not be specifically defined under it. In this sense, the definition follows the purpose of regulation, and not the other way around.

In addition, different definitions must differ by medium and type. It makes no sense to define a Canadian painting the same way we define a Canadian novel or a Canadian piece of music. A painting can have an identifiably Canadian subject matter, like a Canadian landscape or historical figure. The same cannot be said about piece of music (without lyrics). A Canadian novel is “complete” and can be experienced by a reader immediately after being written and published; a Canadian play typically needs to be performed and can therefore change through its staging. A painting is generally done by a single artist, while a film or television show requires collaboration amongst multiple artists. These kinds of differences are already reflected in broadcasting regulation, with one definition for audiovisual content that uses a 10-point system, and another for music using what’s called the “MAPL” system. Even within the 10-point system for audiovisual content, there are distinctions between animated and live-action production. Different distinctions would be made if and when new media or types of content were to become subject to regulation.

For this reason, saying that, “This type of content doesn’t fit into the current system, so C-11 is flawed,” is a poor argument. Is it a type of content that will benefit from regulation? Are its Canadian creators seeking the benefits of regulation? Will it contribute to the broadcasting policy of the Act? If not, then s. 5(2)(h) will stipulate that it not be subject to regulation, and therefore needs no official, regulatory definition. But if regulation is appropriate, then there will be an open consultation with Canadians to determine what definition is best. There is no reason to believe that content will be shoehorned into an existing definition that doesn’t make sense. There are already multiple definitions and these will continue to evolve.

But what about traditional television series for which the 10-point system already exists? What about The Handmaid’s Tale TV show, based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood? That show isn’t certified Canadian under that system. Isn’t that a problem?

For many who actually make Canadian content—or any professional audiovisual content—the fact that the nationality of a novelist does not and should not determine the nationality of a television show based on that novel is self-evident. That is because novels are adapted by screenwriters into scripts before being shot, and that adaptation process requires as much hard work and creativity as writing an original script from scratch. No producer on any major film or television production makes an adaptation by bringing the novel onto set and handing it to the cast and crew. Actors do not read dialogue directly from novels, production designers do not design sets from literary descriptions (alone), and production managers and coordinators do not work from the novel’s pages. A novel to be made into an audiovisual production is first adapted into a script, which necessarily involves many creative decisions. These include fitting the novel’s length to the running time of the finished show, translating literary storytelling devices into visual ones, adapting dialogue that is meant to be spoken rather than read, and ensuring the whole thing can be done on the budget that is available to the production. 

That is why they give Oscars and Emmys for adaptations. That’s why 2020 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit, and not to Christine Leunens for the novel it was based on. That was why the HBO television series Game of Thrones was able to continue to its conclusion—unsatisfactorily, many fans might add—despite George R. R. Martin not having finished the books it was based on. If all that mattered was the source material, then Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of Stephen King’s The Shining would be virtually the same as the 1997 ABC miniseries of the same novel starring Rebecca De Mornay and Steven Weber, instead of the former being a film classic and the latter being so forgettable that you probably didn’t even know or remember it existed until just now.

The claim that nationality of an adaptation should be dictated by the nationality of the novelist leads to absurd results. By that logic, the 1954 Disney film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason, is not American but a French film, because it was based on a novel by Jules Verne. Similarly, the 2006 Oscar-winner, The Departed, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, directed by Marin Scorsese, set in Boston and made entirely in English, is a Chinese movie, because it was based on the 2002 Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs. Both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Departed were Hollywood productions, produced in the English language primarily for an English-speaking audience. They are American films. 

It’s entirely possible for any national content certification system to lead to debatable results, particularly at the margins, in part because any such system must be clear and predictable enough for content commissioners to write multi-million-dollar cheques on. The rules must not be so broad as to count virtually anything as “Canadian,” nor so narrow as to result in only biopics of Canadian historical figures and ice hockey teams to count. Do you think a “Canadian” show must be visibly and unmistakably Canadian? Okay. Then what about science fiction? Is a certified Canadian sci-fi show therefore an impossibility? What about if the astronauts put Quebec maple syrup on their pancakes in the morning and there’s a shot of the Canadarm out the window? Would that a satisfactory result? Is that what being “Canadian” means?

If the results of the current system are debatable then let’s debate the current system. The WGC’s view is clear: Art is made by artists, and Canadian art is made by Canadian artists. In the “writer’s medium” that is television, the screenwriter is the authorial voice that is at the creative centre of that artistic form. And it is the screenwriter, not the author of the source material, if any, that is that authorial voice of the TV show. We can have that debate. But it should come after the passage of Bill C-11, because that is the framework under which such a definition is meaningful to begin with, and nothing about the debate should prevent its passage.

Why does it seem like it’s only Canada doing this kind of thing for Canadian content? I don’t see this happening in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Actually, a significant number of other countries are doing this kind of thing for their own national content. The European Union updated the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) in 2018, which governs EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media, from traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services. The goals of the AVMSD include creating a level playing field for emerging audiovisual media preserving cultural diversity, just like C-11 does. And specific countries like France have gone further than AVMSD minimums, requiring streamers to invest 20-25% of French revenues in local content.

And what about the United States? Well, this is not a priority there because they are the market-dominating player that virtually every other jurisdiction is seeking to protect their cultural sovereignty against. Yet even in the U.S., state-level tax credits direct millions towards film and television production. Even in the land of the free market, the market is not entirely free.

Isn’t this just a bill the Liberal Party is trying to push through, and goes against what the other parties—and the Canadian people—actually want?

All four major federal political parties proposed reforming the Broadcasting Act to include online services in their 2021 election platforms. That includes the Conservative Party of Canada (pg. 153), the NDP (pg. 87) and the Bloc Quebecois (pg. 14). The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois currently support Bill C-11 (though they seek amendments, as does the WGC—the bill can always be improved).

Canadians also broadly support the regulation of online services to support Canadian content. A Nanos poll from 2021 found that 78% of Canadians agree that foreign companies like Netflix broadcasting into Canada via the Internet should be subject to the same rules as Canadian broadcasters. This year, the Globe & Mail reported that the majority of Canadians support federal government’s plan to regulate internet, including Bill C-11.

If C-11 is a good bill, why does it seem like everybody is always criticizing it?

With the majority of Canadians and federal parties supporting C-11, if this exists then it’s an issue of perception rather than reality. In addition to the numbers above, the WGC joins over 35 other Canadian cultural and public advocacy organizations supporting the bill, including those who are a member of the broad-based organization the Coalition of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Of course, there are a number of vocal critics of the bill who appear to have gotten disproportionate exposure in some media. No doubt, this is in part because everybody likes a good controversy, and there are some techno-libertarian throwbacks who still act as if we live in the age of the Internet as it was in the 1990s, before dominant platforms came to concentrate so much in so few corporate hands. There is also evidence that seemingly grassroots opposition to C-11 is actually driven by concerted lobbying efforts from Big Tech themselves, which of course don’t want to have to be subject to any regulation. Regardless of the source, however, critics are free to their opinion, but they are not “everybody,” nor are they even the majority. We believe that the prominence of their criticisms is out of proportion to both their popularity and their accuracy.

None of this is to say that C-11 cannot be improved. It can, it should, and the WGC has its own ideas in this respect as well. Amendments are expected with just about any bill and some proposals may be good ones. But we do distinguish between commentary that seek to improve C-11 and those that oppose it and its fundamental objectives altogether, which some critics ultimately do. 

Why doesn’t an expert like Michael Geist support Bill C-11?

We know what Michael Geist thinks. He’s not an expert on cultural policy or audiovisual content creation, and even where he does have genuine expertise, we disagree with him.

Michael Geist has consistently opposed virtually any form of regulation of Big Tech for Canadian content. He issued a 20-part blog series against C-11’s predecessor, Bill C-10, before the government made the amendments to section 4.1 that raised questions around social media, demonstrating quite clearly that the inclusion of social media in the bill has little or nothing to do with Geist’s overall opposition to the legislation. 

Part of his critique cited data on film and television production levels in Canada in an attempt to demonstrate that there’s no problem in need of fixing. Geist stated there, in November 2020, that “spending on film and television production in Canada is at record highs.” Yet his analysis misleadingly omitted that the lion’s share of the growth in the cited data was from foreign service production—i.e. generally Hollywood production shooting on Canadian locations—which is not Canadian content and has nothing to do with either the Broadcasting Act or the bill. Additionally, more recent versions of the same report Geist cited have since shown two successive years of worrying declines in Canadian content production, yet Geist has now gone largely silent on this data. According to Michael Geist, it seems, when production volume goes up, it’s relevant and shows there’s no problem; but when production volume goes down…what? It’s not relevant anymore? It doesn’t prove anything? Don’t look over there anymore, now look over here?

This is not the only instance of Michael Geist being incoherent and self-contradictory. As discussed above, there is a difference between the jurisdiction of the CRTC under C-11 and what is reasonable or likely to be done with that jurisdiction, given a complete reading of the Act, and that is by design. Geist clearly recognizes this, given his careful language about “opening the door” to specific outcomes rather than claiming that they are inevitable. Yet his rhetoric often carelessly drifts beyond this into the absurd. He begins this blog post by calling C-11 a “regulate-it-all approach,” but then immediately has to contradict himself by recognizing the likelihood of “thresholds exempting some services from regulation” set by the CRTC. By definition, if the CRTC is exempting some services from regulation, it is literally not “regulating it all.” Words matter.

Moreover, Geist has repeatedly stated concerns about a lack of such thresholds in the bill itself. Let’s set aside the fact that it makes imminent sense to leave such threshold-setting to the CRTC, because such thresholds will almost certainly need to adjust to the forces of inflation and other changes in the sector, and the CRTC can react to such changes much more quickly than legislation that was last updated 30+ years ago can. In this blog post, Geist chooses the title, “The CRTC Provides an Advance Preview of Bill C-11 Regulation: Pretty Much Any Service, Anywhere, Any Terms and Conditions.” The words, “pretty much” are doing so much heavy lifting there that they’re going to pull a muscle. Geist’s blog post is about this CRTC decision, which relies on its existing jurisdiction to require data from digital media broadcasting undertakings—remember above, re: the CRTC can already regulate on the Internet?—and requires certain online audio and audiovisual services to provide data on their Canadian operations to the Commission. And what do we find in it? Thresholds. Geist is forced to admit it himself: $25 million in Canadian revenues for audio services and $50 million for audio-visual services. Geist states that this decision, “likely provides an advance preview of how it will address Bill C-11 if it becomes law.” And it includes thresholds. The threshold for video streaming services is revenues of $50 million a year. Yet this somehow also means, “pretty much any service” to Geist. Who exactly are all these people making over $50 million a year from video in Canada alone? And we’re still to believe that the CRTC will go after individual YouTubers and TikTokers? These are claims that simply do not hang together.

There’s so much more. For example, despite the crucial importance of section 5(2)(h) to understanding the implications of C-11, Michael Geist makes no mention of it. This is profoundly troubling coming from a law professor. The dominant approach to statutory interpretation, sometimes called the Driedger Principle, is that the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament. This “purposive approach” does not involve skipping over sections that one finds inconvenient.

Michael Geist also comments extensively on the definition of Canadian content. Here is one recent post of his on that. We’ve already discussed many of the main substantive points above, but it’s worth pointing out here that nothing in Geist’s training, background, or expertise qualifies him to be treated as an expert on the nature of culture, artistic creation, or film and television production. Michael Geist is a law professor with a focus on the Internet and e-commerce. He is not a filmmaker or cultural critic. He has no body of work on cultural theory or practice that we’re aware of. Simply because audiovisual content exists on the Internet does not make Geist an expert on their production on that basis. Lots of things are on the Internet. They sell scissors and shampoo on the Internet—that does not make Michael Geist a barber. 

Why should I trust the government or the CRTC to have anything to do with the Internet?

Firstly, the Internet, as it is today, exists in significant part because of the government and the CRTC. Net neutrality, for example, is a government policy that intervenes on the Internet to prevent private actors—Internet service providers—from using their power to manipulate, interfere, prioritize, discriminate or given preference to content or services for no justifiable purpose. In Canada, it was and is the CRTC that establishes and enforces net neutrality.

Secondly, when it comes to matters of trust, it cannot be a question of “trusting nobody”—society is literally impossible if you literally have zero trust in everybody around you. It is, rather, a question of trusting whom, about what, how far, and on what basis. Bill C-11 does not ask that we, “Just trust the CRTC.” C-11 consists of 38 pages and over 12,000 words of not “just trusting” the CRTC. It consists of 38 pages of detailed legal delineation and instruction to the CRTC, every word of which has meaning and will ultimately be subject to oversight and interpretation by courts of law. 

The alternative to something like C-11 is not to simply not trust the CRTC—the alternative is to trust massive global technology companies that are not subject to any comparable legal transparency, accountability, or oversight. Canadian users don’t control Netflix, YouTube, or TikTok. Netflix, YouTube and TikTok control Netflix, YouTube, and TikTok. Those for-profit companies can only be expected to do what they perceive to be in their best interests—generally their financial best interests. “Don’t trust the CRTC,” inevitably means, “Please trust large corporations…even though they don’t have anywhere near the same transparency or public accountability as a public institution would.”

This is particularly notable with respect to their decision-making processes. To make major regulatory decisions, the CRTC frequently goes through a detailed consultation process that seeks or requires regulated undertakings like broadcasters to provide data and arguments, places their submissions on the public record for all to see, and provides an opportunity for all Canadians to respond and participate. The CRTC has Rules of Practice and Procedure that provide a kind of due process for regulatory decision-making. Canadians who want to participate in this process can do so by making their views known to the Commission.

Where is this comparable process for Netflix? For YouTube? What right of access to data do their corporate policies provide? What if members of the public disagree? Can they appeal those corporate decisions to courts, as many decisions of the CRTC can be? Where is the comparable level of transparency and procedural fairness for these private corporations?

In our view, those who oppose Bill C-11 or similar legislation are also opposing corporate transparency and an open process for some of the largest platforms in the world as a result. These critics of the bill don’t propose alternatives, in our experience. They propose nothing but killing the legislation. In the process, they propose keeping the corporate veil firmly in place. “Pay no attention to the multi-national behind the curtain,” they effectively say. “Everything’s working fine, there’s nothing to see here and you shouldn’t look.” We disagree. We think Canadians should be able to look.

The WGC does not have blind faith in the CRTC either. There are any number of CRTC decisions which we feel have insufficiently supported Canadian creators and storytellers. But if the idea is that we should have blind faith in international corporations instead, without recourse to our public institutions in a liberal democracy and subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, well, we disagree.

This information was last updated on June 20, 2022.

This information was last updated on June 20, 2022. 

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