UPDATE: Senate passed Bill C-11– what happens now?
Bill C-11 passed the Senate; here's everything that went down
On February 2, 2023, the Senate of Canada voted to pass the Online Streaming Act, Bill C-11. The Senate made 26 amendments to Bill C-11 before passing it — for more info on earlier iterations of the bill, check out our FAQ. Bill C-11 will now go back to the House of Commons, where MPs will vote to pass or reject the amendments made by the Senate. Below we’ve highlighted key amendments proposed by Senators and what they mean for you.
Are my posts going to be regulated?
Maybe not! We’re celebrating a BIG win for our community: Senator Paula Simons and Julie Miville-Dechêne proposed an amendment that narrowed the scope of Bill C-11 to only apply to professional sound recordings — NOT your audiovisual posts. So what does that mean?
There was widespread concern with Section 4.2 of Bill C-11 because it granted the CRTC the power to regulate posts from everyday users – meaning that any content you posted on platforms like Youtube, Spotify, and TikTok could be regulated by the CRTC. It was based on three criteria, for example, whether the content “indirectly or directly generates revenue,” meaning any video with music attached to it would be regulated under the bill. The new criteria would remove the revenue generation test from the bill.
The Simons and Miville-Dechêne amendment removes most of our content from the CRTC’s control; it's explicitly spelled out to ONLY apply to professional sound recordings. If passed in the final bill, it would achieve the bill's original aim, which was to only apply to professional commercial content while excluding content posted by ordinary Internet users. It's a slam-dunk amendment for us and for the bill's purpose – as long as MPs and the Ministry of Canadian Heritage accept these changes.
But it could quickly go sideways; on February 2nd, the Minister of Canadian Heritage said that the Ministry would reject many changes to Bill C-11: “There are amendments that have zero impact on the bill and others that may have [impact] and we will not accept them.” The government MUST pass this amendment to ensure that everyday users like yourself are never at risk of being regulated by the CRTC. If they don’t accept the changes to Section 4.2 (2), any audiovisual content we post on TikTik, Spotify, and Youtube would still be at risk of being regulated by the CRTC.
A super sneaky new age verification clause — not on my watch!
Not all the changes were good. The Senate snuck in a last-minute requirement for all platforms that host adult content to verify the ages of their users before granting access. How should they do this? The amendment doesn’t specify: but in the worst case, this could require Canadians to show their personal government IDs to access not only dedicated “adult” content websites, but mixed-use mainstream platforms like Twitter or Reddit, or even mainstream streaming platforms that feature some nudity like Netflix.
The amendment reads as follows:
“(r.1) online undertakings shall implement methods such as age-verification methods to prevent children from accessing programs on the Internet that are devoted to depicting, for a sexual purpose, explicit sexual activity;”
The privacy and freedom of expression implications of a poorly implemented verification system that links our online activity to our government-issued identification would be devastating. It would create barriers for people to access information on the Internet and express themselves without compromising their anonymity it incentivizes tech companies to harvest MORE of your data, and requires the use of flaws age verification methods like facial recognition technology which risk exposing your biometric data without your knowledge or consent
While we agree that protecting kids online from inappropriate content is essential, there are better ways to do this that respect freedom of expression and privacy than a late-stage injection to the Broadcasting Act. With carefully designed legislation that includes rights-protecting safeguards, we can work together to make the Internet a safer space for kids online.
Not only should an amendment this profound and far-reaching be thoroughly debated by elected officials and NOT the appointed Senate, but it also should never have been adopted in the first place as it threatens the fundamental rights of Canadians. There need to be proper democratic standards at play when considering this amendment which includes time to properly debate, call on witnesses, and assess the full rights involved.
How will Bill C-11 affect the content I see?
A key fix to Bill C-11 was unfortunately not passed: the Senate made no amendments that would limit the CRTC’s power to make content “discoverable” - that is, promote official Canadian Content over the content in your feed or search results that you’d otherwise see. According to the government, Bill C-11 will ‘increase visibility’ for some officially recognized Canadian content– but through manipulating our playlists, feeds, and algorithmic recommendations.
As passed by the Senate in Section 9.1, the government bars the CRTC from explicitly requiring platforms to use a particular source code or algorithm to construct their feeds. However, forcing platforms to manipulate their algorithms is the only way to achieve the government's requirement to promote official CanCon content first.
In the worst case, when Bill C-11 is implemented the CRTC will clutter your feeds with officially recognized Canadian content that might not fit your search criteria or preferences. We’ve been promised an update to who qualifies as “Canadian enough” — and we’ll fight hard to make that fair to all creators. But day one of Bill C-11, it’ll be tired legacy media content that will qualify, and we’ve no guarantee the new CanCon system will be fair, and not cherry-pick select creators or productions that have hurdled past the CanCon red tape and promote them to you over other Canadians. Creators that don't live up to the CRTC’s to-be-determined definition of Canadian content won’t just miss out — they’ll be downranked in your feed.
Promoting Canadian content is a worthy objective - but it shouldn’t come by overruling our content choices. OpenMedia proposed an alternative approach to promoting diverse Canadian Content during our numerous testimonies before the House of Commons and the Senate. We suggested an opt-in system that users can switch between, alongside updating the “CanCon” criteria to be more inclusive of content creators today. This would allow users to freely choose when they’re looking for Canadian content or stick to their regular curated search results while giving ALL Canadian creators a platform. Alternatively, we supported calls from PIAC and others for a gentler requirement for passive promotion of Canadian content, that would require platforms to find ways to profile our creators, but stop short of manipulating all of our search results and feeds. Unfortunately, none of these alternate approaches were adopted in the final text of Bill C-11.
While we may have lost this fight at the Senate, we’ll press the government and the CRTC to respect our choices as they implement the Bill.
So…did C-11 pass?
Not yet. Bill C-11 passed the Senate vote after a full review at the Standing Committee on Transport and Communication, where the Senate met with dozens of witnesses (including OpenMedia). This was when the above amendments were proposed, along with many others less critical to the health of our Internet. NOW, Bill C-11 will return to the House of Commons as early as the week of February 13th for its final consideration. Once it hits the House, MPs will vote to either pass or reject these amendments. They could accept the improvements the Senate made while filing the age verification amendment for later consideration and debate. Or, they might reject positive amendments and re-include ALL your audiovisual posts as ‘broadcasting’ content, subject to regulation by the CRTC. The choice is theirs.
Now is the time to fight tooth and nail. MPs MUST PASS the Simons-Dechêne amendment, address the discoverability concerns, and strike down age verification in this legislation. We only have a small window to email our Members of Parliament to ensure they pass Bill C-11 to respect your expression and your privacy. Will you email your MP today demanding they fix Bill C-11?