Regulating User Generated Content is the Point: Government Rejects 4.2 Amendment in Bill C-11

The Canadian government has rejected the 4.2 amendment of Bill C-11, proving once again that regulating user generated content is the point.

The free speech hating Canadian government has struck again. Bill C-11, Canada’s social media censorship bill, has long been criticized for cracking down on freedom of expression and destroying people’s lives on various platforms. Despite the near universal condemnation of the bill, the Canadian government flipped the bird to Canadians when it rejected fixing the bills biggest flaw three times. At the time, it was a clear signal that there is no mistake, regulating user generated content and cracking down on free speech online is the whole point of the bill.

At the time, my prediction was that the bill was going to be made into law without fixing this section. That prediction of mine was significantly challenged when senators fixed the bills biggest problem. The amendment survived and headed back to the House of Commons. As the bill headed back to the House of Commons, Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez walked back his comments about accepting amendments that improved the bill and said that he would reject amendments that changes the bill. The signal was seen as a warning shot that the careers of digital first creators aren’t going to see their careers survive so easily.

Now, we are learning that the minister has followed through with his threats to freedom of expression. In a notice, the Canadian government has announced that they have rejected the fix of Bill C-11:

respectfully disagrees with amendment 3 because this would affect the Governor in Council’s ability to publicly consult on, and issue, a policy direction to the CRTC to appropriately scope the regulation of social media services with respect to their distribution of commercial programs, as well as prevent the broadcasting system from adapting to technological changes over time;

So, history has basically repeated itself with the government, once again, rejecting anything that fixes what has caused so many Canadian entrepreneurs to lose sleep at night. Unsurprisingly, digital first creators are not happy with this. JJ_McCullough tweeted the following:

What a truly appalling spit in the face. The creator community of this country rose up in furious opposition to C-11 and the Senate responded with amendments that addressed many of our concerns. But the Liberal government doesn’t care. So maddening. All that activism for nothing.

Digital First Canada, and organization that represents digital first creators, issued a statement in response to this troubling development:

“Since the Bill was tabled a year ago, thousands of digital creators have raised the alarm and shared their concerns with policymakers,” said Scott Benzie, Director of Digital First Canada. “It’s shocking that the Senate’s sober second thought was dismissed, and that the government continues to act as though digital creators are not legitimate artists and entrepreneurs. But the voices of creators and their communities will not be ignored. We aren’t going anywhere – and this government and legacy media are just going to have to get used to it.”

Bill C-11 is the modernization of the Broadcasting Act, that’s currently waiting for a final vote in the House of Commons. After a comprehensive study, the Senate adopted an amendment to section 4.2 (2) of the Bill to more clearly exclude user-generated content and content from digital creators from regulation.

The amendment reflects what the Minister of Heritage has always said – that the government does not seek to regulate digital creators and their “cat videos”.

During the Committee and Senate review, creators testified, contacted policymakers, and shared their concern on social media. To-date, over 50,000 creators, Canadians and concerned global citizens have sent a letter to local MPs and Senators through the Digital First Canada website. For many creators, this was their first time engaging in public policy, and throughout the entire process, creators were met with hostility and gaslit. Today’s motion is a slap in the face to the creators who spoke up and participated in this process, and to the Senators who recognized these creators as the future of Canada’s digital economy. It’s never been more clear that this government is picking winners, and choosing legacy media over new, creative entrepreneurs. Digital creators are now calling on Members of Parliament to protect digital creators, save the Senate amendment to Section 4.2 (2) and #FixC11.

“Policymakers reached out to schedule a meeting, only to ignore my response and follow-ups,” said digital creator Gregor Reynolds. “Rejecting this amendment is another example of creator voices being wilfully ignored. Bill C-11 could impact how I make my money, and the democratization of digital entertainment as a whole. I appreciate the Senate’s work reviewing this, but it’s discouraging that the work of digital creators is still not being considered, or protected.”

“At Skyship, it’s a source of pride that our Canadian-made content is exported and viewed across the globe,” said Morghan Fortier, CEO of Skyship Entertainment, with 37 million subscribers on channel, Super Simple Songs. “But it’s pretty evident that the people who drafted this bill did not understand how it could impact digital creators across the country. It was incredible to see the Senate’s willingness to hear our concerns, and there’s a real opportunity for MP’s to push back against the rejected amendment and stand up for digital creators.”

“I appreciate the intent of Bill C-11 in trying to help Canadian artists and creators,” said Oorbee Roy, with 179,000 followers on TikTok. “But the Bill as currently written, does not help digital creators. Rather, it hurts us, and it hurts all creators who aren’t the right fit or the right mould. If my video is suppressed because the CRTC decides that someone else’s content should be artificially pushed over mine, I lose my ability to get in front of my audience. That directly affects my bottom line. The simple clarifying language to the Bill could make a huge difference for thousands of creators like me.”

Senator Paula Simons was seemingly disappointed in the decision as well, one of the authors of the amendment.

So, after all is said and done, there is no doubt that regulating user generated content was the entire point of the bill. Despite the lies that user generated content wasn’t affected or that “platforms are in and users are out”, the governments actions well and truly spoke louder than words. This view is widely shared among many observers including university law professor, Michael Geist:

While the decision does not come as a total shock – Rodriguez suggested last month that he would reject any substantive amendments – it still stings. The Senate amendment crafted by Trudeau-appointed Senators Simons and Miville-Duchêne took the government at its word that their objective was to ensure sound recordings on services such as Youtube were caught by the bill. Their amendment did that, while scoping out user content on sites such as TikTok that might be captured by virtue of the inclusion of indirect commercial revenue as a criteria for the CRTC to consider in the regulatory process (the irony that the government is both banning TikTok from its devices and views the power to regulate user content on the platform as a cultural priority should not be lost on anyone).

The government’s official response to the Senate amendments, posted as a motion that will be voted on by the House before heading back again to the Senate, accepted some amendments, rejected others (notably new age verification requirements), and even amended some amendments.

The rationale behind the rejection finally removes any pretense of the government’s true Bill C-11 intent. Rather than citing misleading lobbying claims opposed to the change, it calls it like it is: the government wants the power to direct the CRTC on user content today and the power to exert further regulation tomorrow. Regulatory power over user content today is confirmed by a bill that covers user TikToks, many Youtube videos, podcasts, and other content and future regulation is plainly framed as “adapting to technological changes”.

While the government may seek to provide assurances that it will issue a policy direction that addresses some of these concerns, that is neither strictly binding on the CRTC nor a substitute for providing legislative certainty that user content regulation falls outside of the bill. There are still several steps left for the bill including a House vote that will likely make the NDP and Bloc complicit in making Canada the only country in the democratic world to engage in this form of user content regulation and a return to the Senate for a final review. But regardless of the upcoming legislative steps, the government has left no doubt about its position. On its way to rejecting the concerns of thousands of Canadian creators and dismissing the fears of authors such as Margaret Atwood and Senator David Adams Richards, its real mantra is platforms are in and user content regulation is in.

So, freedom of expression is currently on life support in Canada. The only thing really standing in the way of freedom of expression being effectively abolished in Canada is the Canadian Senate standing up for the little guy and pushing back on the Section 4.2 amendment rejection. That really seems to be the last reasonable obstacle before this bill becomes law. Some are hoping that the bill will get scrapped at the House of Commons level, but the NDP has already signalled that they are going to reject the voices of Canadians and support the Liberal government in its quest to destroy freedom of expression and bankrupt smaller Canadian creators in the process.

At any rate, the situation is looking grim at this point. With hope fading fast, all eyes will eventually be on the Senate to protect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We all hope that they will be the ones to do the right thing because the House of Commons have made it crystal clear that it has no intention of doing the right thing.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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