Bill C-11 and Mixed Opinions

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Recently, the Senate passed the controversial Bill C-11, otherwise known as the Online Streaming Act. The National Post and Canadian Press reports the Senate has implemented “a dozen amendments following a lengthy study by senators.”

According to the National Post and Canadian Press, the bill is intended to update Canada’s broadcasting rules to online streaming platforms including YouTube, Disney+, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify. It requires these platforms to contribute to Canadian content and make Canadian content more accessible to Canadian users. These new regulations would be similar to content requirements akin to traditional broadcasters, which is overseen by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

If the online streaming giants fail to implement these changes, then they could face monetary penalties for violating the act, as mentioned in the bill, which has been made available on Feb. 2, on the Parliament of Canada’s website.  

Bill C-11 intends to make amendments to the Broadcasting Act, to add an online component for the “transmission or retransmissions of programs over the Internet,” says the Parliament of Canada on their website. 

“The legislation would give the CRTC greater powers, including the ability to impose financial penalties for entities who violate parts of the Act”, reports CTV News in an article published in January.

An intended goal of Bill C-11 is to promote and create Canadian content that reflects the diversity of the Canadian identity.

According to the Parliament of Canada, the bill intends to “serve the needs and interests of all Canadians” including Canadians that are from racialized communities, with different socio-economic statuses, disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and those belonging to Indigenous groups. 

Reactions to Bill C-11 are mixed. Some fear the bill will limit freedom of speech, artistic expression, and give more power to established legacy media organizations, big corporations, and governments. 

In an interview with The Globe and Mail earlier this month, internationally renowned writer, Margret Atwood, stated that “all you have to do is read some biographies of writers writing in the Soviet Union and the degrees of censorship they had to go through – government bureaucrats. So it is creeping totalitarianism if governments are telling creators what to create.”

Atwood is not alone in her sentiment. Senator David Richards, an acclaimed Canadian writer and screenwriter, openly spoke against the passing of Bill C-11 in his address to the senate. He began his speech by stating, “I think it’s censorship passing as national inclusion. 

Richards says in his address: “The idea of any hierarchical politico deciding what a man or woman is allowed to write to fit a proscribed national agenda is a horrid thing. I am wondering if anyone on the staff of our Minister of Canadian Heritage understands this. In Germany, it was called the National Ministry for Public Enlightenment, and every radio was run by Joseph Goebbels.”

These passionate responses parallel some of the student reactions at York University. 

Shyamal Singaravelu, a fourth-year political science student questions intentions behind Bill C-11. Singaravelu sees the bill as “trying to limit what citizens see under the guise of Canadian content”, and fears that Bill C-11 “gives reason/precedent for the government to stop any media that goes against their policies.”

Mahdeen Ski, a second year student studying computer science, believes the bill includes “a number of changes to Canada’s copyright laws that are intended to better reflect the digital age.” She believes the bill’s changes would positively result in the wider use of copyrighted content for remixes, as well as educational and research purposes.  

However, Ski argues the cons outweigh the pros of the bill. She’s concerned that it will impose limitations on freedom of expression, stifle innovation, and favour larger corporations and conglomerates. “Critics argue that the bill will favour big corporations, who will be able to use their resources to take advantage of the new exceptions, while smaller creators and users will be left behind,” says Ski. 

But not everyone opposes Bill C-11. Many believe concerns are blown out of proportion.  

Those supporting the bill argue that it’s essential for the growth of Canadian culture and Canadian content in the internet age. In the eyes of some, Canadian content might diminish without government intervention. 

“At the end of the day, this bill is about making sure streaming platforms that benefit from broadcasting to Canadians contribute to our culture,” says Laura Scaffidi, the press secretary for the Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in a CTV News article in January 2023. 

A recent graduate in communications and media studies at Carleton University, who wishes only to be referred to as Sean, supports Bill C-11.  Sean believes that the bill is appealing to Canadians who want to see more Canadian content. 

“The general idea is to modernize Canada’s broadcasting rules to actually apply more to our new online realities. That, in general, shouldn’t be controversial in and of itself. Wanting to better promote Canadian content online (as we actively see on TV and Radio, and have for decades) also shouldn’t be so controversial,” says Sean. 

But Sean also raises some important concerns, saying, “I do understand the worry about messing with algorithms – even though big tech companies actively mess with algorithms to their liking anyway.”

Other organizations, including Québec-based Coalition For Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE), believe the bill will support and uphold smaller, independent content creators. They say it will “allow Canadian creators to better reach their audiences, which will allow them to generate more revenue and reach more people here and abroad.

“Bill C-11 will require online broadcasters to invest in the creation and production of Canadian content. It will also increase the availability of Canadian content on foreign platforms and thereby offer greater choice to Canadian audiences,” writes the CDCE. 

Whether you support or condemn Bill C-11, it’s safe to say that opinions vary. 

Those supporting Bill C-11 feel the policy protects and preserves Canadian identity amid the growing internet age. Those in favour of it hope that it would enhance Canadian culture, uphold smaller independent content creators, and give a voice to underrepresented minority groups. 

However, those concerned, say the bill gives too much power and oversight to the government, which could ultimately benefit large corporations, as well as, legacy media outlets. They argue such a power imbalance could stifle the growth of small independent artists and could censor artistic freedom of expression. 

For now, Bill C-11 will remain a contentious subject within Canadian Politics. 

About the Author

By David Clarke

Photo/Video Editor

David is in his fourth year, studying English at York University. He has a keen interest in filmmaking, writing, literature, video-editing, and ideas. When he isn’t working on his next project or studying, you can catch him watching film-noirs on Turner Classic Movies.


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