This article originally appeared in the the Epoch Times.
By Peter Menzies, May 2, 2023
As of April 28, everything audio and visual on the internet is under the control of Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications regulator and its nine political appointees.
It will be their job, as members of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to make sure anything that meets the definition of “programming” (and I’m thinking that will include Jordan Peterson’s shows) is of “high standard.”
If you’re OK with having online content curated by unelected office-holders, you can move on and read something else.
If it bothers you though—if you don’t like the idea of bureaucrats handling complaints about and sifting through the internet wondering if Vatican website videos and J.K. Rowling podcasts are making the internet an unsafe space—here’s what you need to know.
Now that the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) has been given Royal assent and become law, the internet is recognized in law to be broadcasting in Canada. That means the CRTC is obliged to ensure internet “programming” meets aspirations such as serving to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada,” which is either harmless or hopelessly creepy depending on who you trust to interpret that phrase. Right now, that’s nine commissioners appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. You decide.
Those nine people will be expected to be in line with the intent of Bill C-11 which, according to the Government of Canada website, is to “support greater diversity and inclusion in the broadcasting sector. This ensures greater representation of Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, cultural and linguistic minorities, LGBTQ2+ communities and persons with disabilities.”
Never mind that a free and open internet has given everyone a voice without needing permission from anyone, the Government of Canada believes the only way to truly participate is by asking a regulator’s permission to do so.
And yes, that’s indicative of the thinking behind Bill C-11.
But in terms of what you can say, watch, or listen to, it’s unlikely anything will change for at least a year. That’s because Bill C-11 is so vague that it leaves the definition of a myriad of important terms including “social media” and “professional content” up to—you guessed it—the CRTC’s nine Trudeau appointees.
In the days and weeks ahead, the CRTC will get an Order in Council from cabinet telling it how to interpret Bill C-11.
Then the CRTC will hold some form of public process, or hearing, to define terminology and scope. This is where the media and the public need to pay attention. The CRTC can only make its decisions based on what exists on the record of its proceedings.
So if you want to maintain your online liberties—your freedoms of choice and expression—you better pay attention to crtc.gc.ca and urge your favourite media to do the same. Otherwise, you and all your like-minded friends are going under the bus. If you want to be silenced, stay silent.
Because there is an army of self-interested, veteran lobbyists/stakeholders out there ready to drive over you on their way to what they hope is going to be a huge trough of money.
The ink was barely dry on the Governor General’s signature, for instance, before the Coalition for Diversity of Cultural Expression was sucking up with congrats and noting the ball is now in the court of the CRTC to make the rules for each of the new services including “audiovisual and audio services and social media.” (my emphasis)
The Canadian Media Producers Association and the Writers Guild of Canada are already signalling they’ll be putting pressure on the CRTC to ensure what they call a “two-tier system” doesn’t unfold.
These are groups that have a long history of influence with the CRTC and they, along with big cable companies—this will come as no surprise—are focused on their interests (not yours) when it comes to lobbying the regulator.
There are a lot of aspects to this, but for now the things you have to look out for the most are untrue statements. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, for instance, when asked on CTV’s Question Period on April 28 whether Bill C-11 will impact user-generated content, replied, “This is about the platforms, it’s never about the users.” He also said that user-generated content (social media posts) is “nowhere in the bill.”
But of course it is. His own ministry has stated quite clearly that the bill applies to social media.
And don’t pay attention when the chair of the CRTC says her organization “has no intention to regulate creators of user-generated content.”
Because it doesn’t have to. As the previous CRTC chair testified, the organization “has ways” to get the outcomes it wants. And that means regulating companies like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok to make sure they regulate user-generated content (i.e., your stuff) to make sure it meets the CRTC’s standards. The commission can then claim it is not doing something that it is ensuring gets done—just as it gets the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to play crosswalk guard on speech and fuss about whether “Happy Days” reruns are inherently racist and sexist.
The battle for a free and open internet is not over. It’s really just beginning. Pay attention if you care.
Peter Menzies is a Senior Fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a former newspaper executive, and past vice chair of the CRTC.