Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – A Look at Hearing 17 (First Segment)

We continue our special coverage of the Bill C-11 senate hearings. Today, we cover the first segment of hearing 17.

We are continuing our special coverage of the Bill C-11 Senate hearings. One thing we did note that we are starting to hear that we are getting to the end of these hearings. We don’t know how much longer these hearings are going to go on, but this is what we happen to know is that we are getting closer to the end of them.

For those who are curious, here is the coverage of the previous hearings:

Hearing 1 – Privacy Commissioner and Global Affairs/Justice Department
Hearing 2 – Digital rights organizations and lobby groups (1)
Hearing 3 – Lobby groups (2) and platforms (1)
Hearing 4 – Lobby groups (3) and lobby groups (4)
Hearing 5 – Lobby groups (5) and lobby groups (6)
Hearing 6 – Music Canada / platforms (2) and lobby groups (7)
Hearing 7 – Scholars/researchers (1) and digital first creators (1)
Hearing 8 – Digital first creators (2) / lobby groups (8)
Hearing 9 – Digital first creator (3) / lobby group (9) / platform (3) / Lobby group (10)
Hearing 10 – Record Label / Lobby Groups (11) and Scholars/Researchers (2)
Hearing 11 – Scholars/Researchers (3) and Lobby Groups (12)
Hearing 12 – Scholars/Researchers (3) / Digital First Creators (4)
Hearing 13 – Statistician / Lobbyist (13) / Canada Media Fund / Lobby Groups (14)
Hearing 14 – CNIB / H264 / Lobbyist (15) and Lobby Groups (16)
Hearing 15 – Lobby Groups (17) / Lobby Groups (18)
Hearing 16 – Canadian Taxpayers Federation / Lobbyists (19) / Lobby Groups (20)

With that, we are returning to the more standard format of interpreting from the video. That video can be found on the Senate website so you can view exactly what we viewed. As always, in terms of thoroughness, nothing will beat the actual video and official transcript. Still, we are happy to provide a summary of what was said and offer some analysis. With that, let’s get into this hearing.

Opening Statements

Jesse Wente of the Indigenous Screen Office opened with his statement. He called for changes to tighten the language to more specifically include First Nations, Inuit, and Métis in the definition of aboriginal people. From there, he called for the bill to be future proofed against new technologies as they emerge to protect the first nations ability to tell their stories.

After, he also called for the bill to not curtail innovation. He mentioned how the Broadcasting Act has been woefully inadequate in allowing indigenous people to tell their stories. As such, many story tellers have sought out new platforms to tell their stories and have found audiences and careers there. We should ensure that this is supported and not limited by this legislation.

From there, he called for indigenous representation at the regulatory bodies and committees to ensure that they are involved in as this bill is acted on. He believes that this legislation is about modernizing the broadcasting system by better reflecting diversity in the definitions and ensuring inclusion. He said that he believes that online platforms, including foreign ones, should contribute financially to support Canadian story telling. There is a global resource extraction happening right now by global telecommunication companies. They don’t want to see Canadian’s access to online platforms limited, but rather that Canadians be provided compensation for the resources from that data.

On social media, he concludes, we are often the product because the platforms wouldn’t exist without us. He then called for the passage of Bill C-11.

(So, a rather interesting balancing act here which is not something we see very often in these hearings. Usually, it’s either online voices begging the government not to silence them or lobbyists demanding the swift passage of Bill C-11, steamrolling those voices in the process in a bid to go back to the bad old days. I admit I cringed when he called for the passage of the legislation towards the end, but he was urged to wrap because he went well over his time, so that might have been a factor in that.)

Shannon Avison, an Assistant Professor then opened with her statement. She called for Bill C-11 to support indigenous language radio broadcasting. Also, she called for Bill C-11 to give strong support for indigenous radio stations including training of staff among other things.

Bert Crowfoot of the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta opened with his statement. He said that he was proud of the programming his organization has been able to do. He said that he agrees that there needs to be more indigenous language support in the legislation.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Leo Housakos opened the question and answer segment. He cited the governments commitments to consult with indigenous people’s and consider the impacts legislation has on the first nations community. Housakos then asked if the witnesses feel that the government adequately consulted with indigenous people in Bill C-11 in regards to the governments commitment to UNDRIP. He also asked if this legislation reflects the rights, voices, and cultural content that they so much want to promote. He asked about amendments the witnesses want to strengthen those principles.

Wente responded that much of the changes they called for has been retained from the previous instalment of the legislation to this version. He reiterated the call that indigenous people are appropriately defined. He cited Section 11 (1) (a) and said that there should be specific recognition of indigenous peoples.

Crowfoot said that more should be done to understand the state of languages today.

Senator Paula Simons asked about whether they should be careful about indigenous programming to not be too limiting.

Crowfoot responded mentioned how the spectrum of language people speak is right across the board. He mentioned that he doesn’t like relying on government funding because it is not stable.

Senator Simons commented that we are watching the Twitter meltdown happen in real time. There is a danger. When Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 was drafted, it was with the presumption that these dominant platforms were going to exist for a good long time and we are seeing before them the ephemeral nature of these platforms in which thousands and thousands have built their model. So, what does Wente think we need to do in Bill C-11 to make sure we are not basing their entire edifice on a paradigm that could shift at any minute.

Wente responded by saying that indigenous creative content is defined by creative content that is created by indigenous people. He then says that we have to be very careful about crafting legislation designed for current technological innovation because the last time this legislation was opened up was 30 years ago. If we were to open up the legislation 30 years from now, you can guarantee that some of these large tech corporations will not exist and there will likely be other ones that do. This is why he is more focused on resources coming into the country as opposed to worrying about algorithmic or other kinds of changes because those are going to shift depending on the platform and they are not even consistent between the current platforms because they surface content quite differently. He called for a bucket to catch all of the platforms to ensure their commitments to funding content as well as onboarding them in the current system.

Senator Fabien Manning then noted that Wente expressed general support for the legislation. however, like many others who have expressed support the legislation in broad strokes, he expressed many concerns with respect to the authority of the government to direct the CRTC. Others have expressed concerns about the accountability and independence of the CRTC being undermined by Bill C-11. This with respect to Section 7 (7). He asked if there is concern, what policy direction should they take.

Wente responded that there is always a challenge when interpretation of policy is left up to policy directions from the government and interpretations from the community about how the law should be applied. He also values the CRTCs independence and ensure that the regulator be at arms length in the decisions that they make. He thinks there should be indigenous representation at the CRTC. In terms of Section 7, he doesn’t think that is of particular concern. He would be more concerned with Section 4.2 and Section 9.

The concern, he explains, is with indigenous people being locked out of the traditional broadcast sector in Canada have found new audiences and new business models in these emerging technologies. Some of them do make money and do have careers based off of them. He’s not sure if those content creators should be treated in the same way as a large corporation or a large cable TV channel. So, he would just be cautious around any of that. Algorithm changes, there shouldn’t be any challenge to that. Section 7 didn’t get any positive reviews from them either.

Senator Manning asked if he believed it would be more productive to have the policy directives from the government as we consider this bill – have some idea on where they plan on going.

Wente responded with a “yes”. He admits that this is where is expertise is going to fall short. Ideally, however, they’d like to see all sorts of things before this legislation is passed in terms of how it would be interpreted. So, yes, he believes that would be useful for sure.

Senator Rene Cormier commented that it is his understanding that Wente’s organization already has an agreement with Netflix in terms of content creation. He said that he’d like to know more about the agreement with Netflix.

Wente responded that Cormier is correct that they do have a partnership with Netflix for, he believes, four years now. He said that Cormier is quite right in that it supports two parts. One is for mentorship. He notes that they don’t have to be on Netflix after, either. The second part is the cultural mentorship. Before that, such funding opportunities didn’t exist through existing programs. In order to tell their stories before that, they would have to pay out of pocket. This program not only allows them to extend their early development time, but also allows them to compensate those elders and knowledge keepers as well. This has been hugely valuable for them.

He added that they’ve also had partnerships with Amazon with pitching to these services. They found that these streamers have been very receptive in a way that they often struggle with with traditional broadcasting.

Senator Cormier then asked about the bills distinction of hiring between traditional broadcasters and foreign streamers. He asked about his view on this.

Wente responded by talking about the need for reciprocity.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene noted that Wente commented how it’s often simpler to work with online platforms than it is to work with traditional broadcasters. She said that she worked in journalism for a traditional outlet. So, she asked about the obstacles he’s seen with working with traditional media.

Wente responded that one of the biggest challenges is one of relationship. If you are a First Nations or Inuit screenwriter, you probably had the traditional broadcast sector say no to you many many many times. “No” so many times that you probably stop asking at some point and you turn to create your own thing. The relationship with these new streaming platforms? They have not said “no” to our communities for generations and generations. So, there’s opportunity that their community sees there. That vision of opportunity has been met with actual opportunity.

Wente continued by saying that those online platforms have been much more open to their story telling than in the Canadian broadcast sector which has been, if we are being honest here, very slow to include First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people. They are still mostly not present in the Canadian screen sector despite his office being there for almost six years and despite all the progress in recent years. He would say that part of it is the fact that those broadcasters have such a damaged relationship with their community. They are going to continue to struggle to recruit from them because their community is seeking opportunities in other venues. That is the biggest barrier is the history of just saying “no” that their communities have sought refuge elsewhere.

He then pointed out that, although he’s not sure it’s still true, but Netflix was, at one point, the largest distributor of indigenous content around the world. There’s no broadcaster other than maybe APTN and small indigenous radio broadcasts. No other entity can make that claim.

(The aspect of traditional broadcasters saying “no” repeatedly is a terrifyingly familiar theme. They don’t just reject first nations, but darn near almost anything regardless if it’s a good idea or not. This truly is one of the biggest problems with Canadian traditional broadcasting and why the internet has taken off like it did.)

Senator Miville-Dechene then noted that he has referred to social media, indicating that there is an indigenous presence. They are content creators and soon they will be hearing this from Vanessa Brousseau. Still, she liked to know if he had a more general idea of the presence of indigenous people on TikTok, YouTube, and other platforms. Is it exceptional/unusual for them to be there? Are they present and is that presence sufficient to have an impact on the community? What would he like to see in article 4.2?

(I’d like to see 4.2 gone, personally. Leave the original Section 4.1 – which explains that user generated content is out – and strip out the rest.)

Wente responded that there is a significant presence of indigenous people on all social media platforms. Any one you can name, there is significant indigenous presence on there. In many ways, it’s quite inspiring to see what indigenous people do when they gain access to these platforms. For instance, they’ve seen YouTube be instrumental in language learning – especially during the pandemic. There’s huge opportunity there for indigenous people outside of the Canadian broadcast sector to disseminate their stories and connect, yes with the broader public, but with ourselves.

Wente explained that, Facebook, as an example, so many of his relatives, and he means that in the broadest sense, are on Facebook. It’s where the communities share its stories. It’s where they share a lot of information. He is a believer in that storytellers who are able to use those platforms to reach an audience may graduate to other forms of media in the future and we should be trying to capture and encourage that transition. We should also be satisfied if they just want to remain to be on YouTube or a TikTok creator and find a way to support that. The Indigenous Screen Office does not discriminate on platform. They will happily fund a TikTok creator if their story is good and is valuable. (Time ran out.)

Senator Bernadette Clement quoted an article written by Wente where he discussed C-11 offering unpredictability. She found it interesting that Wente noted how much harder it was for indigenous people to work with traditional broadcasters and how online platforms are much easier to work with. She asked him to lean in to the unpredictability part.

Wente responded by saying that he used the forest and the farm metaphor a lot and the examples are obvious in this instance. So many Canadians have found voice on these platforms in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to on this. He says that as someone who has worked at the CBC and had that opportunity to have that voice. That democratization of access is the most valuable thing social media platforms have done. As he was saying earlier, the challenge has been that being outside of that sector for so long, they are looking for any beam of light. The beam of light that they could find in that forest is social media.

Wente then said that he would warn against rewarding business models that are antiquated and shifting away. We should be encouraging of business innovation and communications innovation which isn’t to say he loves everything that occurs on social media, it’s just that the traction points for Canadians and the government should really lean towards contributions that go back into the system for a variety of things including story telling. He thinks it’s the best way to get us back to the forest that has that unpredictability that will surface talent that is otherwise unheard or stories that is otherwise unheard. Those can be utterly transformative.

(I’m actually kicking myself a little now because I had thought about writing a separate piece on Bill C-11 which was loosely inspired by David Suzuki. Basically, it revolved around describing how a forest of trees is basically millions of science experiments to see if a tree would grow there or not. This as opposed to reforestation efforts that are only capable of thousands of similar experiments which doesn’t have a hope at keeping up with the pace of nature. Similarly, social media in its current “chaotic” form is a bit like nature doing these millions of experiments and naturally growing that talent. This as opposed to tree planting which is broadcasting where a couple thousand saplings are put into the ground with a specific human idea in mind of what the outcomes should be.)

(With social media, you never know what kind of content is going to surface and people who you are close friends with are going to venture out and find completely different content which is unlike traditional media where you have that captive ‘everyone watches the same thing’ system going on. Most content that is popular on social media would never even be given the time of day on traditional broadcasting. If it becomes successful on social media, why stifle that? It’s healthy that we have that alternative content creation growth where you are not trying to please executives first before producing your content.)

(Because of that natural growth on social media, I find platforms like YouTube and TikTok to be infinitely more entertaining than big broadcasters who boast of spending millions on each individual production. Setting aside my efforts to expand in video format on various platforms – which is, admittedly, going to be a slow process unless my efforts blow up at some point – it is an infuriating aspect of this debate where the government is basically going to burn the whole forest down to the ground and that others are not going to have the same opportunities as others a few years ago on those platforms because the government is going to decide who wins and who loses in these environments. We are destroying a really good thing here through Bill C-11. If you do well on social media, the government has no right to arbitrarily take that all away.)

(At any rate, it’s cool to see someone else use that analogy. I apparently had a good idea, but never had the chance to really write it down up to now. Glad someone else is using such comparisons because it’s a really good analogy.)

Senator Marty Klyne asked Avison about the range of students they teach.

Avison responded that the youngest students are coming out of high school. The oldest student she’s had was someone who worked in the media industry for decades, but had a stroke and is trying to relearn everything and learn new story telling methods. Also to be around young people. So, 72 is the oldest.

Senator Klyne asked if any of her students followed Bill C-11 and if any of her students expressed any opinion on the bill and whether the legislation would have an impact in their decision to have a career on social media.

Avison admitted that the answer is “no” in that they are not following it very closely. She does try to teach about the importance of legislation both good and bad. They are mostly focused in on exams.

(This is an understandable response. Most in the student role are focused on the studies and trying to get a good grade. There is that fear some have that they should do well in these courses because some know that the job market isn’t that good. Others are just trying to land a top job somewhere as well. I, personally, was very unique in that I was not only following technology debates while writing for Slyck and ZeroPaid all those years ago, but it was overwhelming at times and I had to take a step back from time to time for time management sake and studies was always more important. I got better at that by the time I was on ZeroPaid where I would take months off for studying, but once those holidays kicked in, the floodgates flew open for my writing. That adjustment in time management helped me graduate multiple times from different institutes.)

Senator Klyne then turned to Wente and went back to the comment about how social media has become a beam of light for creators. Yet, they have heard many times in the studying of this bill that creators don’t necessarily see this as a beam of light. They see this as more of a death ray. (I suspect he was confusing what was said here) It’s going to curtail their futures and their reach. What’s the difference where indigenous creators have found platforms accepting?

(My understanding is that the beam of light was social media, not the bill necessarily. The bill is, indeed, a threat to online creators. As far as I could tell up to this point, it’s why he brought up the concerns around 4.2.)

Wente responded that he was speaking beyond the legislation. They’ve certainly heard concerns around the legislation in terms of social media creators. He would certainly not want to curtail them in any way. It’s been really valuable. He would like to see contributions for the data. Beyond that, he wants to make sure that that pathway for career development and career success is still open for indigenous creators.

Senator Klyne asked Crowfoot if Bill C-11 would have a meaningful and positive impact. If this bill becomes law, would it become easier or more difficult for them to reach and grow indigenous audiences.

Crowfoot responded that he thinks it does. As he mentioned earlier, he doesn’t rely on it. He makes things happen himself. They use their Bingo revenue to support their infrastructure. He then apologized, but he is a different animal when it comes to this.

Senator Jim Quinn asked about whether or not it would be helpful to add a check and balance for the CRTC.

Wente responded that it’s rare that you would find him arguing for more bureaucracy. He’s not quite sure, but there needs to be some assurances, some way that those directives are actually going to be fulfilled. Whether that’s an oversight body or- he’s not sure he has an answer to that. It would be nice to have those measurables and how they are interpreted by the CRTC.

Crowfoot responded that he would agree that it would be nice to have those checks and balances for them to address any issues that they might have.

Avison commented that we have a tendency to ignore the little people in broadcasting.

With that, the hearing adjourned.

Concluding Thoughts

I think Wente was definitely quite interesting during the panel. In a way, his testimony reminded me a bit of the testimony given by Nettwerk Music Group. That is that the different perspective on the same point in the debate. That, of course, being the impact this bill would have on user generated content. At the time, Nettwerk said that 4.2 would have a negative impact on their artists as they try to break out into the industry.

In a different, yet all too familiar perspective, here you have Wente talk about how many in his community actually use social media to tell their stories and that 4.2 could hinder that access to tools that would allow them to tell their stories, teach their languages, and more. This is ultimately the side of the internet that I always found attractive and what I see that media outlets try to ignore. It’s that the internet doesn’t necessarily discriminate. It doesn’t ask for a resume or pitches to executives to be able to produce something or to tell those stories. All it really asks for is an internet connection (and, yes, that is still a huge barrier to entry in rural and indigenous communities that needed to be addressed ages ago similar to access to clean drinking water.) and motivation and enough dedication to continue to produce content. So, hearing that indigenous people are, in fact, utilizing the internet and seeing how much of a positive influence its having on their communities puts a smile on my face.

Knowing that indigenous people are using the internet to better themselves and others, it really isn’t a surprise hearing that there are those that view social media as a ray of sunlight. How Senator Klyne interpreted those comments as viewing Bill C-11 as a ray of sunlight, I have no idea. This combined with how traditional media constantly told them “no” to telling their stories really only further compounded the positive response people in his communities have towards social media. What was an even bigger bonus to hear is how the larger platforms are much more open to carrying their content and nurturing their producers than traditional broadcasts. That is an opportunity I’ll probably not have, but if they are finally getting those opportunities, I can say I’m definitely happy for them.

Another point I thought was interesting is Wente talking about how indigenous people are on pretty much every platform imaginable and telling their stories. That point really went against the notion pushed by supporters of the bill and senators that Canadian culture is being snuffed out by YouTube and TikTok. It’s a repeat of what happened when they brought in a Quebec YouTuber where the YouTuber said that they are able to utilize social media to be able to have their voice in this world. That, of course, went against the narrative that Quebec voices are being silenced by the big bad platforms. So, here we see the narrative failing to hold up again.

So, it’s not really a surprise that Wente actually went after Section 4.2. Like so many other voices that actually use these platforms, the fear is that those voices are going to be hamstrung by regulators deciding who should and shouldn’t win. If anything, Section 4.2 would have an even bigger negative impact on indigenous voices in Canada because their audience is going to be largely within Canada. If the platforms are being compelled to downrank their content, it can be harder for those voices to find an international audience when the audiences most likely to consume the more traditional story telling would be within Canada. Obviously, there will be exceptions to that, but the potential impacts of 4.2 would certainly be there for a number of creators in that community.

I also mentioned that Wente had that interesting balancing act. To elaborate on that, I could tell that there are voices he is representing that is on both sides of the spectrum of multi-media production. On the one hand, there’s probably voices that he is representing that is based more on the traditional broadcasting sector. Meanwhile, there are other voices in his community that are more based on being producers on social media. What I found particularly interesting is that he ended up speaking to the point that seems to be where real compromise on both sides can happen: who receives the benefit if platforms are required to pay into the system.

Who receives those benefits of added funding has been an off again, on again theme throughout the hearings that seemed to be where compromise was most promising. The calls have generally been that everyone who creates should have access to that added funding and not just the largest players in the broadcasting sector. As Umami earlier pointed out, why should digital first creators be excluded from receiving benefits from a system that platforms must pay in to? Should the big broadcasters be the sole beneficiaries of those added funds when they had little to nothing to do with the growth of those platforms? It’s a concept that never seemed right. Yet, at the same time, it seems like that this is a situation that is destined to come to fruition because it looks as though that the point of the legislation is to end the careers of those who work outside of the traditional broadcasting sector and redirect funding derived from success to the big outlets who don’t exactly drive a lot of the growth in the sector as a whole.

So, all in all, a really fascinating hearing this time around. The part that saddens me is that indigenous voices are likely going to join the ranks of others who will end up being ignored outside of the Conservative party. Digital first creators, Quebec creators, and others are going to get screwed over when the votes are tallied at the end of this. When senators ultimately flip the bird to Canadian’s, what I heard during this hearing is going to add yet another reason why I’m going to be frustrated about our voices being ignored in the process. After all, the whole point of this bill is to regulate user generated content and the lobbying money will overrule common sense at the end of the day.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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