Inside Next Weeks Senate Schedule on Bill C-11 Hearings

Next week, the Senate will be holding hearings with witnesses to discuss Bill C-11. We look at the current schedule.

Earlier, we reported on the senate rushing forward full steam ahead with the Bill C-11 process. This despite warnings of retaliatory tariffs from the American government as well as the mountains of warnings from ordinary Canadians and consumer and digital rights groups, pointing out the devastating impact the legislation would have on the free and open Internet.

The House of Commons level of government held their own hearings into the legislation. Some Canadian creators were lucky enough to get a chance to sit at the table in these hearings. However, most of those that were invited were those who have a vested interest in pushing this legislation through as-is. After all, the intense lobbying for this bill by the cultural elite and corporate interests is well documented.

The hearings went down about as well as you’d expect. Those who would be most affected by the legislation were largely ignored while the vested legacy corporations and their respective satellite organizations took up a bulk of the hearings. When creators weren’t ignored, they were outright insulted by lawmakers, calling them anti-French or accused of just spreading misinformation – even being openly targeted on social media after by at least one lawmaker.

All of that really shot down the credibility of the hearings at the Commons level. The hearings were widely panned by critics as little more than a box ticking exercise not intended to seek an informed opinion, but rather, to engage in confirmation bias that the government is right and everyone daring to speak out against the bill is wrong or worse. It’s not how hearings should work, but it is the hearings Canadians got. As such, we can only conclude that the government has utterly failed to obtain any semblance of credibility through those hearings.

So, now, we are seeing that the Canadian Senate is about to have their turn. Indeed, unlike the Commons level of government, the Senate has expressed interest in conducting a proper study of the legislation. That would be something that the Commons level has utterly failed to do. So, many observers have had some hope that maybe there would be a process that has some semblance of legitimacy. However, the rushed process that has been going on in the Senate in the last few weeks is casting doubt that this might be the case. After all, if there is going to be a proper and well thought out study of the legislation, rushing through the process would be the last thing you’d want to do – especially in light of what happened earlier.

Still, not all hope is lost as there is still plenty of space to try and keep things from going off the rails. In fact, it is arguable that we are still in the early days at the Senate level. So, maybe there won’t be gag orders or efforts to shut down debate right as things even get started. At least, that is the hope anyway.

According to the Senate schedule, there will be a series of meetings crammed into two days next week. The list of people appearing on those days have been included:

September 14, 2022 2:00 PM ET:

  • The subject matter of Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
    • Philippe Dufresne, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
    • Brent Homan, Deputy Commissioner, Compliance Sector Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
    • Isabelle Ranger, Director, Services Trade Policy Division Global Affairs Canada
    • Darren Smith, Executive Director, Technical Barriers and Regulations Global Affairs Canada
    • Nolan Wiebe, Senior Trade Policy Officer, Services Trade Policy Division Global Affairs Canada

So, this is seems to be a bunch of governmental organizations. The privacy commissioner presence is interesting in that there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of debate surrounding the privacy implications of the legislation, yet they have considerable presence in these hearings. If there was a privacy debate within this legislation, I can fully admit that it totally slipped through the cracks here. It’s possible that the government could be requesting considerable personal information in determining what content to promote and what not to promote on social media. It’s also possible there their presence could be related to another social media issue and that this was an opportunity to at least bring those issues up (and, yes, there are a lot of privacy issues happening with social media). I don’t really know for sure what specifically is going to be addressed here, though.

The other people appearing all have to do with international trade. That angle isn’t that surprising. After all, as mentioned, the United States government has raised concerns about this legislation. Government officials on the Canadian side has remained relatively quiet about this, only making brief comments saying that everything is fine, nothing to see here. Of course, when your largest trading partner is threatening trade tariffs on you over the legislation, then it makes sense that you would want those tasked with keeping the peace with international trade to talk about it.

We then move on to the next meeting:

September 14, 2022 6:00 PM ET:

  • The subject matter of Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
    • Annick Charette, President National Federation of Communications and Culture
    • Tim Denton, Chairperson Internet Society Canada Chapter
    • Dave Forget, National Executive Director Directors Guild of Canada
    • Matthew Hatfield, Campaigns Director OpenMedia
    • Marie Kelly, National Executive Director Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists
    • John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel Public Interest Advocacy Centre
    • Eleanor Noble, National President Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists
    • Warren P. Sonoda, President Directors Guild of Canada
    • Len St-Aubin, Policy Committee Member and Former Director General, Telecommunications Policy, Industry Canada Internet Society Canada Chapter

The National Federation of Communications and Culture is part of the legacy culture sector in Quebec. The Directors Guild of Canada is part of the legacy corporations within Canada. The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (or ACTRA) is also part of the legacy corporate interests who have been pushing for this legislation. So, they are probably going to be pushing shoulder to the wheel for this legislation.

Meanwhile, you have OpenMedia who has been actively pushing to fix Bill C-11 through advocacy and letter writing campaigns.

There is also the Internet Society Canada Chapter who has been a vocal opponent of Bill C-11, saying (PDF) “ISCC is fundamentally opposed to the regulation of the Internet as broadcasting: it is neither possible nor beneficial. Internet streaming services are simply not broadcasting. A level playing field between over-the-air broadcasters and online streaming services is illusory.”

Finally, there is the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). That organization has supported removing small undertakings from the bill by saying (PDF), “However, the Bill grants the CRTC discretion to set the financial and potential other obligations of “online undertaking” registrants, no matter their size or type, provided they distribute any ‘programs’, which is overbroad. To solve this, we support an amendment to the Bill exempting small online undertakings, below a high Canadian revenues threshold (~$150 million), from financial or other conditions. This threshold would not affect the registration or financial information requirements.

So, by our count, we have 5 for the legislation and 4 who are pushing for reform. It’s technically tilted slightly towards those pushing for this legislation, though not to the degree we’ve seen at the Commons level committee meetings.

The next day, we see this:

September 15, 2022 10:00 AM ET

  • The subject matter of Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
    • Witness(es) to follow Anthem Sports and Entertainment
    • David Fares, Vice President, Global Public Policy The Walt Disney Company
    • Garrett Levin, President and Chief Executive Officer Digital Media Association
    • Pierre Karl Péladeau, President and Chief Executive Officer Quebecor Media Inc.
    • Troy Reeb, Executive Vice President, Broadcast Networks Corus Entertainment Inc.
    • Regan Smith, Head of Public Policy, Government Affairs Spotify
    • Peggy Tabet, Vice-President, Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Quebecor Media Inc.
    • Nathan Wiszniak, Head of Artist and Label Partnerships Spotify

So, this meeting is very corporate heavy.

Anthem Sports and Entertainment is an organization that represents television, so part of the corporate establishment probably pushing for this legislation. Quebecor Media Inc. represents a legacy corporate interest from Quebec that is probably pushing for this legislation. Corus Entertainment represents radio and television sectors in Canada, so also part of the corporate establishment likely pushing for this legislation.

Meanwhile Digital Media Association (or DiMA) represents tech companies like Amazon, Spotify, Google, and Apple. They would probably not be a fan of Bill C-11 and might hammer the position that the platforms shouldn’t be asked to fork over money or completely alter their system just to satisfy some unproven deficit of Canadian representation. Spotify, similarly, would probably share those concerns. Walt Disney Company, thanks in part to their offerings of Disney+, might be opposing this legislation, though it’s difficult to say as we know so little about their position.

The math is a little fuzzy on this one because we don’t know if there is going to be one or two witnesses from Anthem Sports. On the assumption that it’s only one witness, we wind up with this: 5 probably pushing for this legislation with 5 who might be opposed to it? It sounds technically balanced on paper at least, but we could be easily wrong on that.

Finally, in the schedule, we have this:

September 15, 2022 1:30 PM ET

  • The subject matter of Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts
    • Kevin Desjardins, President Canadian Association of Broadcasters
    • Catherine Edwards, Executive Director Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec
    • Joel Fortune, Legal Counsel Independent Broadcast Group
    • Amélie Hinse, General Director Fédération des télévisions communautaires autonomes du Québec
    • Reynolds Mastin, President and Chief Executive Officer Canadian Media Producers Association
    • Hélène Messier, President and Chief Executive Officer Association québécoise de la production médiatique
    • Luc Perreault, Strategic Advisor, Stingray Group Independent Broadcast Group
    • Carol Ann Pilon, Executive Director Alliance des producteurs francophones du Canada

This one pretty much speaks for itself. It’s literally an entire slate of those who would probably be supportive of the legislation.

What is especially telling in this is that this is literally the entire schedule for the Senate. We weren’t sifting through unrelated bills to dig this up. From the Senate perspective, this is literally everything that has been scheduled so far this year. Put it another way, there is nothing else happening in government except Bill C-11.

As for the scheduled witnesses, the schedule looks to be tilted towards those who are supporting the legislation, though not comically so like what we saw at the Commons level. At the Commons level, we saw maybe one or two people either representing themselves as a YouTuber or TikToker or maybe OpenMedia and PIAC, but everyone else wound up being trade organizations representing legacy corporations actively pushing for this legislation.

So, on the one hand, you have this seeming rushed process where meetings are scheduled at the earliest possible moment in time with nothing else being scheduled in. That’s a bad sign. On the other hand, you have a somewhat more balanced looking schedule (though still tilted towards those pushing for this legislation). That is a somewhat promising sign all things considered. I guess we’ll see what happens next week when these meetings actually take place if balance is actually respected or not.

(Hat tip: @mgeist for noting the existence of the schedule)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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