Canada Free Expression

Bill C-11 passes the Senate with a huge fix

But will the House of Commons respect it while fixing a new problem?

February 3, 2023 — Yesterday, the Senate of Canada voted to pass Bill C-11, “An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act.” Due to the significant concern raised by witnesses, experts, and critics, Bill C-11 received dozens of substantial amendments at Senate, including an amendment from Senator Simons and Miville-Deschêne that considerably reduces the risk of ordinary Canadian user-uploaded content being regulated as broadcasting content. Bill C-11 will now head back to the House of Commons, where MPs will decide whether to accept any or all of the Senate’s amendments.

“We applaud the Senate for their hard work and due diligence examining Bill C-11,” said Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “The Simons and Miville-Deschêne amendment to section 4.2(2) is a critical win for ordinary Canadians. By focusing the CRTC on commercial audio content, the Senate has removed most of our content from the CRTC's control. It’s a careful and effective change that responds directly to the over 108,000 people in Canada that asked the Senate to not treat our content like broadcasting. Now the House must join them and put the prospect of the CRTC regulating ordinary Canadians to bed for good.”

“Unfortunately, the Senate introduced a new problem – a sweeping age-verification requirement  that could lead to Canadians having to provide their real-life identification to access large parts of the Internet,” Hatfield continued. “Protecting children online from inappropriate adult content is important, but 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. Yet of the hundreds of witnesses that testified on Bill C-11, none were asked about this amendment or how its objectives could be accomplished safely. The House must strike this amendment and study its implications fully in future legislation if it wishes to move it forward.” 

As initially passed by the House, Bill C-11 included a section that excluded some user posts from CRTC regulation. However, a broad set of exceptions to that exemption meant that a great deal of ordinary user content could still be regulated, including content on popular platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and TikTok.

Missing from the Senate’s amendments was tightening of heavily criticized Section 9.1. The ‘discoverability’ measures in this section used to promote officially designated “Canadian content” could lead to comprehensive manipulation of the algorithms behind feeds and search results that Canadians use daily, promoting approved content while downranking other content. 

Bill C-11 was initially introduced as 2020’s Bill C-10, which drew immense controversy for including all user audiovisual content under the CRTC’s regulatory control. Since December 2020, OpenMedia community members have sent over 200,000 messages to our MPs, Senators, and the Department of Canadian Heritage, calling on the government to make changes to Bill C-10 and Bill C-11 to protect our user content and respect our online choices. OpenMedia has recently launched an action calling on MPs to support the Miville-Deschêne/Simons amendment while striking the age verification requirement. 

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