Canadian Online Stars Contemplate VPNs, Leaving Canada Over Bill C-11

As Bill C-11 continues to make it’s way through, Canadian content creators are contemplating leaving the country.

The situation is very grim for content creators in Canada. The legislation has passed second reading in the Senate and is seemingly poised, for the time being, to eventually pass without critical fixes that would make the legislation level the playing field for all creators. Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, was seen clinking wine glasses with his lobbyist pals in a sort of preliminary celebratory victory lap over hard working every day Canadians as the establishment sees an eventual financial windfall as well as a perceived chance to regain their captive audience while wiping out all online competition.

The moment followed efforts to brand digital first Canadians as either “not professional” or even non-existent and merely sent by “big tech”. This while some tried to make their voices heard during the Senate hearings only to be seemingly ignored. The message is very clear from the government: Innovation is not welcome in this country. Creators are not welcome in Canada. If you want to be a content creator, go be creative somewhere else. The only people the government cares about are the ones lining their pockets full of cash – which is members of legacy organizations and the establishment. If you are not from the elite, the government will pass laws to ensure your business will never thrive.

As sad and depressing as that message is, online creators are seemingly hearing this message loud and clear and are contemplating drastic steps in order to ensure that their successful careers survive. A report surfaced showing how some creators are considering either using a VPN or leaving the country altogether. From the Globe and Mail (probably paywalled):

Canadian TikTok and YouTube stars say they don’t want to have to fill in forms to prove they are producing Canadian content when Bill C-11 becomes law, with some saying they would be prepared to move to the United States or spoof an online location there to avoid extra bureaucracy.

They say having to certify their work is Canadian to satisfy a regulator after the online streaming bill passes through Parliament could dampen the spontaneity of their craft.

Comedian Darcy Michael, who has three million followers on TikTok, said extra bureaucracy to prove his content is Canadian will “dampen the desire to create” and put Canadians at a disadvantage to Americans “doing similar work online.”

He has already talked with his husband about relocating to the United States, where he used to work, or using a VPN, which allows internet users to spoof an online location. Most of his followers are in the States.

Vanessa Brousseau, an Indigenous TikTok creator who posts videos about traditional crafts, said she shouldn’t have to prove she is Canadian when her Inuk and Ojibwe ancestors have lived here for thousands of years.

Ms. Brousseau, whose @resilientinuk TikTok account, which also features songs and posts about her missing sister Pamela Holopainen, has received 2.6 million likes, said it would be “insulting” to have to prove her content was Canadian.

Under the current broadcast law, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requires producers of films and TV programs to fill out a 30-page form to certify a work is Canadian.

Oorbee Roy, a 47-year-old mother who makes a living posting videos of her skateboarding, sometimes in a sari, said if the paperwork in Canada turns out to be too arduous she might route her videos through the United States, where she was born and used to live, using a VPN.

Now, these attitudes are certainly not new for digital first creators. We’ve seen this before with other YouTube creators such as SomeOrdinaryGamers who posted this a little while back:

Indeed, for months now, online creators have been hitting the panic button for some time now about this bill. They are, of course, right to be afraid because the wording of the legislation does mean that their content will, indeed, get regulated and very likely demoted for the crime of being “not Canadian enough”. Part of this was something I explained very recently on YouTube, building on my original analysis of the bill I did back in February:

When you mix in the general lack of interest by politicians to act on these concerns, outside of, weirdly enough, the Conservative party, and you can understand why so many are considering such actions in the first place. The Canadian government has stubbornly refused to fix the legislation and denied that there is even a problem with the bill let alone worked to reach out to creators who would be negatively impacted. As a result, the actions have resulted in these damaging effects you are seeing these days.

There is, of course, the economic damage this could have. Sure, one online content creator moving operations outside of the country may not be the biggest deal in the world. When you gut a whole sector where all digital first creators either suffer, shut down, or move operations to another country, and you could very easily have damaging impacts on the economy. By one estimate, YouTube creators generate $2.2 billion in the Canadian economy. If one platform can generate that kind of revenue, imagine the entire industry shutting down and moving to other countries around the world. The economy will invariably take a hit as other country reap those rewards of taking in online creator refugees.

Supporters might defend this by saying that there is still the possibility that the CRTC won’t regulate user generated content. Technically, this is true, but take a look at the situation from a business perspective: if you had a regulator with such a horrible track record looking at your business and has the power to completely shut down everyone overnight, what does that do to the whole sector? It creates uncertainty. Would you rather operate in a country where the whole sector could be shut down overnight or work in a country where you don’t necessarily run that risk with the foreseeable future? Chances are, you are going to take the latter option.

So, if anything, the reaction online creators are having right now is very much expected. Without fixing Bill C-11, there will always be that threat of being shut down because CTV or Global executives want another pay bonus. It’s not the kind of environment you really want to work in. Even if the downranking doesn’t happen for another year, people are going to go where there is certainty. For the time being, that certainty can’t really be found in Canada.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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