Canada Free Expression

Government’s C-11 policy direction is a step forward with lingering concerns

Direction scopes out social media, notes importance of user choice

JUNE 8 2023 — Today, the Government of Canada issued their long-anticipated policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regarding Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act. The binding direction mandates that the CRTC exclude social media users and user-generated content from regulation, a highly controversial part of Bill C-11. The bill, as it was passed in April 2023, continues to allow for the regulation of user-generated content.

"Today’s policy direction did two important things: it clearly excluded social media users and their content from the CRTC’s regulation, and it instructed the CRTC to respect and even increase user choices through any promotion of Canadian content they mandate for online platforms,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “User choice and protecting user content were key asks of our community that are finally being acknowledged as important in implementing Bill C-11. We’d far prefer to have seen them in legislation that could not be changed by a future minister, or not adequately considered by the CRTC; but some user protections at this stage is better than none at all.”

“However, today’s direction is completely out of sync with the CRTC’s extraordinarily tight consultation deadlines on C-11, two of which expire this coming Monday,” continued Hatfield. “Given that the release of the policy direction directly impacts the interpretations Canadians and stakeholder groups will make of the CRTC’s consultations, it's imperative that the CRTC extend their deadlines to allow for meaningful comments that reflect these new developments.”

The policy direction acknowledges that under Bill C-11, the CRTC cannot mandate changes to algorithms. It also introduces additional guidance that CRTC-demanded platform outcomes should minimize changes to algorithms, and user choices should be actively increased where possible. However, the direction continues to support modifications that can only be achieved through algorithm manipulation. How the CRTC strikes a balance between these objectives will be a key subject of future CRTC consultations and public attention to Bill C-11’s implementation.

Since December 2020, OpenMedia community members have sent over 200,000 messages to our MPs, Senators, and the Department of Canadian Heritage, calling on them to protect user content and respect our online choices in Bill C-11 and its 2020 predecessor, Bill C-10. The government has opened a public consultation on the policy direction for 45 days. OpenMedia will soon be launching a new tool for the public to share thoughts on the government’s policy direction.

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