The pandemic made one thing clear. Many Canadians don’t trust the government to control the truth of what they hear through their digital media feeds.
Ottawa is now pushing to allow the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate the internet and to determine what qualifies as Canadian content. Again, we see a stab at fundamental freedoms where Canadians get to determine for themselves what they consume and why as the government seeks to bind our digital tongues.
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced Bill C-11 on February 3, 2022. A new class of internet regulation would provide an umbrella over “online undertakings.” This would include registration, possible payments, disclosure of confidential information and significant financial penalties. The government policies on diversity and inclusion would likely come to play on what it means to have Canadian content.
Jay Goldberg, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says “it is clear that the legislation is not only dangerous, but also unnecessary.” He sees Canadian content as thriving and not demanding of special protection or treatment. The government seems determined to regulate “freedom of expression. Laws, including hate speech, defamation, and child pornography, have always applied to online content and efforts to ensure their effectiveness in the online environment may be needed. However, the government’s regulatory shift envisions applying additional laws that invoke broadcasting-style rules or envision the establishment of new regulators with mandates that could include takedown requirements or website blocking.”
Response to the Online Streaming Act
John Carpay, president of the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms, sees the Online Streaming Act as “a significant and dangerous first step towards government control of the internet.” In a May 31, 2022 blog in the Post Millenial, Carpay writes that “Since March of 2020, most Canadians have embraced authoritarianism by unquestioningly accepting as true whatever government-appointed and government-funded “experts” deem to be ‘science.’… Authoritarianism has raised its ugly head in Canada, where federal and provincial governments have violated our basic constitutional freedoms to associate, assemble, worship, and decide for ourselves what medical treatments to accept or reject.” He cites Carleton University journalism and communication professor Dwayne Winseck as saying “while individual social media users will not be regulated by the CRTC, their expressions, pictures, messages, life history, etc. will now be defined as a broadcasting program and in some cases regulated as such.”
Silencing critics and free speech
If nothing else might raise the hackles of Canadians, it is the procedural manipulation underway where debate is limited and other tactics are pushing this through in a rush. While all the right words are being said in public it is the hidden potential of silencing critics and therefore free speech which alerts political pundits. Is this more overreach?
For churches who have recently jumped into the digital world with both feet, Bill C-11 assumes control over all audio-visual content. This would include messages, blogs and other content. Do we want bureaucrats determining what is allowed to come from our pulpits? The scope and guidelines of the legislation are being concealed until it is accepted into law. More reasons for suspicion arise through the lack of transparency.
While the wording is targeted at commercial content it is broad enough to encompass individual user generated content. Verbally, the targets are Netflix, Amazon, Disney and others like them but we’ve seen with legislation on MAiD and Bill C-4 that once doors are opened and left to our courts many of our Charter freedoms also get compromised. The new bill adjusts previous protections offered for social media uploads and all content may now fall under the title of programs – including YouTube presentations if the program “directly or indirectly generates revenue” or if the program is broadcast by an undertaking registered with the CRTC.
Virtually limitless regulation
Goldberg states “The government paints Bill C-11 as about making the web giants pay their fair share, yet documents later revealed that the department recognizes a far broader regulatory reach. The bottom line is that the potential scope for regulation is virtually limitless since any audio-visual service anywhere with Canadian subscribers or users is caught by the rules. Bill C-11 does not contain specific thresholds or guidance. In other words, the entire audio-visual world is fair game, and it will be up to the CRTC to decide whether to exempt some services from regulation.”
Enough hackles are being raised that clear thinking Christian leaders should pay attention on what could be coming soon to our internet regulations.