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

We are continuing our special coverage of the Bill C-11 senate hearings. Today, we are looking at the first segment of the eighth hearing.

Our special coverage of Bill C-11 hearings in the Canadian senate is continuing. The road to get here is fast becoming an incredibly long one, but we are, nevertheless, persevering to provide you with the best coverage we can possibly muster.

First, however, if you are curious about our coverage of previous hearings, here are the older ones:

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, is, of course, the most recent hearing we recently completed our coverage for. The first segment featured a panel of scholars joining senators as witnesses. One of the interesting conclusions was to strip Sections 4.1 and 4.2 from the bill. The reasons ranged from them creating uncertainty and risking the vibrant ecosystem that the internet has created to them being removed because it creates confusion because the goal of the Broadcasting Act is to regulate the largest players.

Meanwhile, the second segment finally features, for the first time, the people this legislation would affect the most – digital first creators. Unsurprisingly, the call was to remove meddling with algorithms and discoverability requirements. If it meant a slight increased cost so that platforms can fund cancon creation funds, then that is a compromise that creators are willing to make. What’s more is that the hearing pretty much debunked the myth that platforms are somehow discriminatory to minority voices. None of them had an appetite to have their content promoted simply because they were technically representing a minority voice.

So, with that, we move on to hearing number 8. Now, going into this hearing, there was quite a bit of controversy over the witness intimidation scandal. We both wrote about this and even recorded and posted a video about this. The shocking details of Chris Bittle demanding investigations into people even remotely criticizing the bill drew considerable condemnation both in online circles and political circles as well. If you want more background on what happened, both the video and our write-up on the incident should give that to you.

With that hanging in the air, we went into the hearing. The recording has been posted online and we’ll be using that video to write our in-depth summary and analysis. As usual, if you want thoroughness of what was said, nothing will beat that video and official transcript. Still, we will do our best to go through what was said and offer some thoughts as well. So, with that, lets dive into this hearing.

Opening Remarks

Scott Benzie of Digital First Canada opened with his remarks. He says he wants to address the bill in four parts: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the doomsday scenarios.

First, the good. He says that the legislation forces platforms to contribute meaningfully to Canada’s culture sector. That is a good thing. He would support provisions pushing for algorithm transparency, solutions for creator burnout, and driving platforms back towards creators that have driven its success. Finally, the intentions of this bill are good.

He says that the bad is that these intentions simply aren’t reflected in the bill. This creates serious problems for digital creators. At a macro level, Bill c-11 looks backwards. It applies yesterdays solutions for broadcasting to today’s digital success story. This raises serious concerns. First, it raises concerns over which voices gets heard. Currently, the bill lets the CRTC to decide which content gets put in the front of the line – and not Canadian. It creates an approach where some creators get promoted over others. Platforms are binary. Promotion of one means the demotion of another. By seeking this kind of promotion, you pit one kind of Canadian creator against another.

Benzie also points out that this raises an issue about fairness. It puts an insane amount of regulatory burden on creators that would allow them to qualify for cancon status. He notes that this certification process must be met for every piece of content. It is not simply a question of a creators nationality. For a daily vlogger, a Twitch Streamer, or a TikTok trendsetter, that is practically impossible. This puts them at a disadvantage to the likes of Bell Media and Rogers who have entire teams that do this every day.

He notes that, it is important to note that a vast majority of digital creators do not qualify and do not take any funding from the public purse. Bill C-11 is compelling platforms to contribute funding to a system digital creators who use those platforms have no access to. In practice, it means that emerging voices would lose the level playing field they depend on today and large media companies would have a leg up at their expense.

Benzie says that we’ve heard creators won’t succeed unless they succeed at home. He says that there is no bigger piece of misinformation out there. Creators livelihoods and their businesses are at risk of being stifled because old solutions are being placed on today’s thriving creator economy.

He then goes on to the ugly. Digital creators, he says, are being thrown under the bus. He says that he’s been working with creators for ten years because he is passionate about the content they create. When Bill c-10 was changed at the last moment, they spoke up in opposition. He was told that he needed to organize in order to have their voices heard, so he created Digital First Canada. Since the moment, DFC (Digital First Canada) and digital creators have endured attacks from MPs, hit pieces from the media, and they had been told by legacy media that they have no agency. They attempt to discredit and delegitimize because they represent a different point of view.

Benzie notes that at the Governments National Art Summit, when the topic of digital creators came up, an attendee shouted “that’s not art” to a round of applause. Their efforts have been labelled as “misinformation” despite legal organizations, FPRC, the Internet Society, OpenMedia, PIAC, and, most importantly, the CRTC Chair himself (Ian Scott), confirming exactly what they have been saying all along. Digital creators, he says, are not pawns of platforms. They do not work for them. They are creative entrepreneurs. They do not deserve to have their place on open platforms stolen from them from legacy media companies who feel they deserve top billing. For too long, digital creators have be rejected by the cultural establishment within Canada and creators are being attacked for asking for a seat at the table over legislation that could destroy their business.

He then asks, so how do we move forward? This is the senate, the sober second thought. Their asks are simple. Section 4.2 needs clarity on what is in and what is out because it currently includes the entire internet. Something this critical cannot be left to the CRTC to wade through. Section 9.1 needs to be clear that dynamic algorithms are off the table. This is because messing with them is messing with Canadian businesses and access to their audiences.

Before he closes, he is addressing the worst case doomsday scenario. If Canada is takes this approach with UGC, it cannot expect fair and equal treatment abroad. If similar legislation is enacted elsewhere, Canada would be responsible for laying the groundwork that destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadian creators. Access to global markets is not a “nice to have”. It is an imperative and he hopes that Senators understands the gravity of that scenario.

Senators may not like him and may even find him disagreeable, but the concerns he shares are the concerns of Canadian creators across the country. He says he will later circulate a letter that represents 200 million subscribers and 10s of billions of UGC content. This is a small group of 30 creators. Will senators listen to them?

Morghan Fortier of Skyship Entertainment then opened with her remarks. She spoke about her business of creating children’s content. She says that she considers YouTube a platform and not a broadcaster. A broadcaster greenlights shows, give creative notes, and pay for the cost of production. Youtube doesn’t do any of these things because they are a platform. She says that if you are looking for a modern day platform, then you’d be looking at Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+. They take pitches, give notes, and pay for production.

From there, she says that Bill C-11 poses a danger not only to her company, but to thousands of creators who have been steadily building this industry with nothing more than their unique voices and their hard work. Their content is enjoyed by millions of Canadians and many many millions of people outside of Canada. They do it all without a government handout or forcing their content down people’s throats through false algorithm manipulation. She notes that Senator Paula Simons has correctly identified Section 4.2 as the problem child of this bill. She says she’s sure they’ll talk about that as well as whether the bill scopes in UGC (User Generated Content).

Regardless of all of that, she says, the CRTC has already given their interpretation of the bill. They’ve said, quite plainly, that UGC is scoped in and that they would require platforms to artificially manipulate their algorithms. So, we know how the government and the CRTC intends on using this bill. If they do that, then other countries will follow suit and this will be a huge economic blunder on the part of the government.

She says that on September 14, John Lawford was sitting right where she is sitting there today and he suggested that she earns $25 million to $50 million from Canadian views. She corrected that by saying that in 2021, the company only made $371,000 from those Canadian views. What this demonstrates is the unique benefit that digital content has on the Canadian economy. While they only earned $371,000 here at home, they paid $3.1 million in Canadian taxes. This is because they are taxed on their global revenue. Like a majority of other creators, the majority of their views come from outside of Canada. If you factor in the salaries of 35 full time employees, the studio that’s rented out, and the other businesses that is supported here in Canada, the company put $6.1 million into the Canadian economy in 2021. This means that they are contributing 17 times more than they are taking in. With the exception of tourism, she is unaware of any industry that brings in more revenue from more foreign sources than domestic.

From there, she cites the study that points out that $1.1 billion was contributed to the Canadian economy from YouTube alone. More importantly, and perhaps most importantly, they are exporting Canadian culture to the rest of the world. She said that she wished we did that. She wished that the CBC was as widely watched around the world as the BBC. That may be the most disheartening thing about Bill C-11. It’s willing to sacrifice the worldwide reach of all of these Canadian voices for the sake of more regulation and government intervention. On top of that, it could sacrifice all that economic benefit at a time when the economy is already struggling.

She says that we have an opportunity to fix this bill and says that it is important that they do.

Oorbee Roy (AKA AuntySkates) then opened with her remarks. She spoke about how much she grew as a creator and the impact she has had on people all over the world. She says that her journey is truly one of global opportunity. Roy says that she’s not making millions as this is a journey with ups and downs.

From there, she says she understands that the purpose of Bill c-11 is for platforms to pay their fair share for showcasing Canadian talent. She really struggles to understand how Bill C-11 helps her, as a creator, in the Canadian content space. She recalls a minister being asked if content creators would benefit from Bill C-11. The response was that it was worthwhile to consider these creators in the future. She calls this concerning because why are creators being considered for in the future, but user generated content being put in place now? “Aren’t we the very people this bill is supposed to be helping?” she asked. Will the funding that would otherwise be destined for her be funnelled into a fund that will only be used to fund big media corporations and CRTC approved cancon? If she does qualify, will she have to hire her ten year old son to fill out tedious and bureaucratic paperwork for each individual piece of content she produced?

She then asks if she will be losing viewership of her content to CRTC approved companies content because users will be forced to watch CRTC content – even as her viewers just want to learn how to do a kick turn from her. She says that the big media content will get the prime time slot while her content, as well as other creators, will be forced to air their content on that 9PM Friday death slot.

From there, she points out that she has been a witness to the Heritage Committee to get them to understand how the bill will affect creators like her. She was then told that it won’t affect her, only the outcomes. However, the outcomes are the realities and someone has to get bumped. If creators are bumped off into the future, then that someone is us.

Making a living as a digital creator is a growing space, she says, and we are all fumbling through it – some more successfully than others. If someone like her can make a living in this digital space, then isn’t this something to embrace and nurture and be proud of? Don’t suppress creators in order to boost creators you see fit to qualify. Let’s clear up Section 4.2 and move forward together. Make it easier to qualify as cancon or create a new category for digital content creators. Have digital content creators represented at the CRTC and/or work with the platforms to figure out what qualifies as cancon without having to deal with tedious government bureaucracies or regulation.

She then makes the call to ensure that the money that comes from the platforms goes back to the digital content creators so more people like her will have their face on a billboard.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Leo Housakos opened up with questions. He noted that this isn’t the first time they’ve heard from digital creators speak about how this bill determines who is and isn’t viewed. Senators are understanding the holes in the bill as they study this bill week after week. However, something that has disturbed him is something he read in the Globe & Mail and the exchange on social media and Benzie alluded to it with attacks and hit pieces. He is very concerned.

It’s one thing for the government to try and pass a bill that tries to control what we see and what we post, but it’s another thing when he hears about a witness before the Senate Committee pointed out that his voice is somehow intimidated or is somehow attacked by a Parliamentary process. The allegations that came out against Benzie came from a Member of Parliament who is associated directly with the government – the Parliamentary Secretary to non other that the Heritage Ministry.

He asked if Benzie could elaborate on some of the details because that is very disturbing as someone who is a parliamentarian.

Benzie responded saying that he is happy to elaborate briefly because he doesn’t want to take up a lot of time because he is inspired by Roy and Fortier as he wants to hear more from them. He said that this is the second time he has appeared before a committee – once in the House and now the Senate. Before both times, he had to wrestle with hit pieces in the media and organizations questioning the agency of digital creators all of the time. This specific piece in the Globe said that he wasn’t lobby compliant. He reached out to the lobby group the first time it came up. He reached out again and he reached out again. They confirmed to him that, for the purposes of the act, he in compliance. He didn’t understand. The timing of that article was suspect. However, he prefers to focus on the task at hand.

Senator Housakos said that he appreciates this. As a Parliamentarian, transparency and accountability is very very important to them. He asked about how Benzie reached out to the Lobby Commission and found that the allegations levied against him are not founded.

Benzie responded that the specific allegation was about financial disclosure of a private industry which he never hid. It has now appeared in four different publications and has been syndicated globally. This is not new, he says. They receive funding from their platform partners. The lobbying group responded to them. He then reads out the e-mail. After that, he follows up by saying that he has not received a dime from government funding.

Senator Housakos asked if that letter he received was from the lobbying commission.

Benzie responded with the full e-mail address of who the e-mail is from.

Senator Housakos asked if he’d be willing to table that and Benzie agreed.

Senator Housakos then asked if Benzie felt that he was intimidated, bullied or silenced by anybody.

Benzie responded that it’s on the tape. He can watch his appearance in that committee meeting. It wasn’t just him that was attacked. Digital creators were attacked in a way that they have never seen before. This to the point where a lot of digital creators have refused to come forward and refused to speak because they’ve seen the treatment that they have received. He says he was lied about in committee.

Senator Housakos asked if there are any digital creators who feel that there has been an attempt to silence them.

Benzie responded that he doesn’t want to speak for anyone else, but Senators can look back at Darcy Michael’s testimony on the Artist Act where he had to actually stop because he felt like he was being bullied in the middle of that testimony. Questions that non of their peers get.

Senator Rene Cormier said that he was interested in the relationships creators have with the platform. Is it fair to say that creators are reliant on tech platforms to host their content? What is the negotiating power for creators with those platforms? Further, what could platforms do better to support digital creators?

Benzie responded that there is a big misconception that the creators work for a specific platform. They don’t. The platforms are providing a service. They provide a distribution method and they share the revenues with the creators. So, there is no obligations for creators to use the platforms. They are not in the old world where three or four companies have control. No successful creator is really beholden to one platform. All creators use different platforms in different ways and build community. The platforms are a distribution method.

Senator Cormier responded that there is a lot of money in that. What he wants to know is what is in it for the creators and what is the relation and what can they do better? They do a lot of money. So, he is worried for creators.

Benzie responded that they can be doing a lot more. He says that what Senators should do is take all the money they are asking from platforms and quadruple it. They should be investing more in the creator economy. However, it should be focused on the supply side. Create more creators. Create more funding for them. More programs to enrich creators. More training on how to use lights and cameras and microphones. How to build a better business and merch sales. Invest that way and helping creators build a business. That what makes (audio got garbled).

Roy said that what she was going to say is similar to Benzie. She is mainly on the TikTok platform and she will say as an example of the really big billboard that she was on. She was paid for that by TikTok. TikTok provides her and a lot of creators a lot of opportunities to get out there. She spoke at the Buffer Festival about content creation and she has a lot of opportunities. She’s not the only one. She says that, sure, they could help them more and she thinks that they do listen. That is the continuous conversation that they have. She would like more training as she goes through that space. Maybe managing deals with brands and making sure she understands what she is worth.

Another thing is her being able to work with other content creators. Digital content creation is a very lonely place. That is something that a lot of digital content creators feel. So, yes, she says, they are helping, but they could help more.

Senator Cormier says he understands that TikTok is expanding its creator program in January of 2022. So, do creators have access to that fund today and if not, what’s the delay?

Roy responded that she doesn’t work for TikTok, so she doesn’t have an answer for that. She doesn’t have access to the creator fund and she’s not sure what the answer to that is. She thinks it’s coming, but she’s not sure when.

Benzie chimed in saying that TikTok creators should absolutely have access to the TikTok creator fund in Canada. It cannot come soon enough and if this was written in the legislation, they would happily support it.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene said that she would like to cover the discoverability of cancon, particularly from a minority side of things. They spoke very enthusiastically about their respective content and she really admire these creators. However, it is a broader question that they are addressing. How can they ensure that French language content and minority content in a vastly English market be exposed more the the market? They are there, they exist, but have they given any thought to this question? French language people need to hear that content, they need to hear their language.

Benzie responded that when it comes to Quebec, Quebec content creators have a lot of challenges that the rest of Canada does not have. He then said he would like to direct their attention to something. He then proceeds to list off a huge number of French creators and says that these are all creators that have created a business online. They are not small, they are full time jobs for them. The issue at hand is that do we want to displace them with approved legacy media? He welcomed the Senators to have conversations with them and he would happily make introductions to them. Frédéric Bastien Forrest is coming in next week, so he looks forward with Senators having conversations with him.

He says that there is a subset of Quebec digital creators that are doing really well. The issue and the challenge at hand is protecting those creators so that we are not favouring legacy media over them.

Senator Miville-Dechene said that this is larger then that. Are they listened to in Quebec? Is francophone music listened to in Quebec when it’s streamed? This is the difficult part. Yes, they are digital creators and yes they create content and it’s viewed globally. However, it has to be viewed here in Canada to participate to the French culture. (No, I didn’t get that line of questioning either. It seems to make a lot of assumptions.)

Benzie responded that the names that he listed are francophone Quebec creators and their main audiences are all in Quebec. (Now that was a significant beat down!)

Fortier chimed in saying that she does a lot of consulting on the side. She does work with broadcasters that are entering the digital space for the first time. The number one question that all of them have been asking her is who do they phone at YouTube to let them know that they are uploading their content? (LOL) It is a completely understandable question when you work with a central broadcasting distribution model. Her experience has been that there is an education gap that content creators – especially in Canada – could benefit tremendously from (I’m assuming overcoming that gap).

She believed it was Senator Bernadette Clement who was talking about education and she thinks there is something to that in mentioning the Canadian populace. Does anyone else remember the I Am Canadian commercial campaign? (by Molson Canadian and that company being sold to an American company, ultimately killing the campaign altogether in the process. Yes, I remember.) The tremendous pride that we have in Canada – we are spread out and this is an emerging industry in Canada – and supporting every creator in every corner regardless of language – we are not an oddity or abnormality, we are an example of where this can go when there is support in those endeavours. She loves the idea of an advertising campaign across the country that the platforms are supporting Canadian Heritage. It’s a very romantic notion – an I am Canadian campaign for creators.

She says that when parents find out about their channel, Super Simple Songs, the fact that they are Canadian is just the cherry on top. you can’t force it.

Senator Fabian Manning comments that proponents keep talking about removing barriers for artists – especially in indigenous, BIPOC, and Francophone Canadians. However, they have heard from two other witnesses that regulating user generated content, as C-11 will do, will put up barriers for content where there are otherwise are not. He asked if the witnesses could elaborate on the unintentional barriers that would be put up for potentially vulnerable communities and compare that to the low barriers that the internet presents now vs what was there for legacy broadcasters prior to the internet now.

Fortier responded that with respect to the legacy broadcast side. There’s only so many broadcasters and there’s only so many hours in a day. There is only so many opportunities for Canadian content to appear on a terrestrial broadcast – the legacy broadcast.

When it comes to digital media, there is no time like the current time. As long as you have a decent camera and microphone, you are making content. The barrier to digital content creation today is near non-existent. As long as there is inspiration and that there is the commitment and dedication, depending on your output, however, it is 100% of the risk for 100% of the reward. If you can actually get into the system and start manoeuvring and start learning and start growing and learning how your content is behaving, learning who your community is, who your other content creators are, expanding into your community – and to Roy’s point – it’s a lonely industry. We don’t have the time to see each other because we are so busy making the work.

However, she says that there is no green light. There is no pitching. There is no need to phone YouTube to let them know that their content is coming up. The only gateway is the inspiration to do it and the courage to step forward with it. Getting into the cost of it, the scope of it, is definitely the challenge. There is never a situation where a content creator is entering the sphere, quitting their day job, and full on becoming a content creator. It takes years. For them, it takes 3 or 4 years before a channel launches and getting into the system. They are constantly learning and constantly iterating and understanding the community needs. That growth and information, whether it’s from comments and looking at their back analytics, it’s all part of the process.

Canada is about 2.5% of the global audience, she says. It’s a pretty common thing where your number one audience is probably the United States followed by the UK. It’s mainly based on population size and who is active and using the platform. She then threw to Roy.

Roy said that her main platform is TikTok. The way to make sure that BIPOC and Francophone content is preserved and seen is an opportunity to educate these creators in how to make good content. You can’t just jump in, become and expert, and get centre stage right away. You have to work at it and you have to get better at it. To Fortier’s point earlier, education is the key. She does believe that TikTok have accelerated programs to help BIPOC and perhaps Francophones as well.

Senator Pamela Wallin commented that all three witnesses have been inspiring. She thanked them in directly explaining the difference between a broadcaster and a platform. They are not the same. One of her hobby horse is the transparency of algorithms. She says that she does think that’s important and it would solve some issues. Can Benzie briefly talk about how that might actually happen? What would a platform have to say to make it transparent to her?

Benzie responded that there is a big misconception about algorithms for one. They are not really a sacred unicorn that can’t be broken or some guy behind a curtain that is magically picking things for people to see. Everyone gets a kind of identity and they cater content to you. He thinks that transparency in how that happens would be a good thing. The challenge is that that’s not in this bill anywhere. It doesn’t exist. Creator clarity is something that they are always advocating for. It’s challenging when the rules change quickly when something happens without knowledge.

He says that most YouTube creators know that there is shareability and quality of content and watch time are the three biggest things that are going to help them out. He noted that Steve de Eyre from TikTok is opening up the algorithms for study. He thinks all platforms should follow suit.

Then, he says that we spend a lot of time talking about YouTube and TikTok. There are other platforms like Twitch and Spotify. There are so many platforms out there that we haven’t even cracked the surface of what we are talking about. He wanted to caution everyone that algorithms are not some sort of panacea that is going to solve everyone’s problems once we figure this thing out. In terms of transparency, he is all for it in legislation. He’s all for it.

Senator Wallin said that she raised the question because the chair of the CRTC did make that very point to them. He said that we’re not going to censor or control content, we are going to make the platforms do it by altering their algorithms. Is that a simple process because even defining how they would alter them to achieve these goals is beyond-?

Benzie responded, saying that it is actually bonkers trying to even think about how we would even do it. He said that he mentioned early on that the only way they can achieve that goal is through algorithmic manipulation. Some have said that they will just have a tab on top. All platforms are different. That doesn’t happen on TikTok. That doesn’t work in Instagram. There’s no screen realestate for that. The only way to do it is through algorithmic manipulation. Once you start picking winners and loser in that, people like Roy suffer. People like Fortier suffer. People like the creators they work with every day will suffer.The CRTC is literally picking the winners and losers here – and it’s not going to work. That is the truth of the matter.

Senator Wallin commented that this is a very old model and they saw it attempted in the broadcast model and it didn’t work there either in terms of picking winners and losers. She then thanked Fortier for the clarification on how all of this works.

Fortier then said that if it helps, she has an anecdote. They are in the kids and family space. What they have available to them as tools on YouTube is different because of COPPA compliance that took control in 2020. Something happened to the algorithms in 2019 where they reportedly changed the algorithm where she believes that the goal or the attempt was to get quality kids content out onto the platform so that parents could easily find it. What ended up happening was that everyone suddenly started getting recommended kids and family content. The majority of it was in a non-English language and coming from other countries.

On forums like Facebook an Reddit, people were trying to figure out why they were being recommended kids and family content especially if they didn’t have a child in their universe. She says that it was brutal to be a part of it because the popular opinion or perception of it was that YouTube was forcing content onto people. So there was distrust on the platform, there was a sentiment that kids and family content were trying to do a money grab which is not a good look when you are trying to have trustworthy quality content. There was a general sense that people’s viewing habits were violated because regardless of what they were doing on the platform – what they were watching – suddenly, content was forced to them. It ended within a day or two. The algorithm got adjusted and it stopped. Everything went back to normal. (time ran out at that point)

Senator Paula Simons commented that they have heard from a lot of single producers. Fortier, however, is a multi-million dollar company and they are giving their content away for free. Could Fortier explain how big of the organization is, how it is monetized, and how big the operation is. (19:29:47)

Fortier responded that she genuinely invites the Senators to visit their studio. Everyone loves playing with the puppets. There’s also animators and it’s fantastic to see someone animate. As YouTube content creators begin to grow in the platform, it is very common that they start to branch out into other endeavours and operations (I actually did that this last month). Much like how you probably don’t want to pick just one stock, you also don’t want to pick just one platform you’re operating on.

She says that the goal is that once you start getting success on one platform, such as YouTube in her instance, allows content creators to expand into other operations. you see that with content creators all of the time. There are a lot of lifestyle content creators that go to book publishing, it’s not uncommon for artists who make music video’s to go into streaming. The success on one platform help to expand those aggregates. So, they operate on a couple of different avenues. They really are an animation studio when you walk in the doors to look at them. That’s really who they are, they just happen to self-distribute. It’s very cash driven. They do Adsense exclusively as they don’t do brand deals. They reinvest that revenue back into the animated content. They produce music video’s and animated series.

She also says that they have recently expanded their operations by being part of the Scholastic book club. They also work with Warner Chapel to help distribute their music online. The success on their music is definitely co-related to their work on YouTube. They are slowly getting into consumer products. Every step of the way, they are learning. It all goes back to that core sensibility. It’s step by step baby steps. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Senator Simons commented that when you look at Section 4.2 (2) which exempts user generated content unless, unless, unless, it seems to her that Roy and Sharpe would be exempt (Roy for sure wouldn’t be exempt because money is being made). Fortier, however, is in a different class. What are her concerns about 4.2 (2)?

Fortier responded that it’s been often talked about how they look like a broadcaster. However, they don’t control the operations of the platform they distribute to. They don’t negotiate the advertising content that runs against their content. They don’t license other people’s IP and don’t distribute other people’s content. The activities are very different. They are a production studio that distributes. That model exists in the legacy industry.

She says she has a couple of concerns about 4.2. First, she’s not sure why a broadcasting bill is dropping down to the level of the production of things. That concerns her because she doesn’t know any production studio and pretty much every production studio is doing something digital. If they are not, they will be soon because the broadcasters are going to be participating there. Why production is being scoped in seems very strange to her. She knows because she’s been watching the Senate for several weeks.

Senator Donna Dasko says that she is interested in algorithms and she wanted to get back to that. For her, the issue is not the issue of transparency – as interesting as that is. For her, the issue is how they are used with audiences. She is trying to understand what the concern is. The legislation says that the CRTC can’t direct a platform to use an algorithm. The bill excludes the idea of forcing platforms to use a specific algorithm. So, is Benzie looking for better language in the bill with respect to algorithms or is he fine with the language because when the CRTC chair came, he muddied the waters. Is the language OK or not OK in the bill in his point of view?

Benzie responded to the previous question by noting that 4.2 (2) absolutely scopes in Roy and Sharpe. It does not exclude them.

He says that with respect to Section 9.1, no, the language is not OK. It takes YouTube as a platform and extrapolates it on all platforms. That’s not accurate. So, the bill says that the CRTC can’t tell platforms like YouTube or TikTok, ‘here, use this algorithm instead’. What they are going to do is tell them ‘this is what we want you to do’. In a lot of cases, the only way to achieve that outcome is algorithmic. TikTok and Instagram, for instance, don’t have the screen realestate. Watching YouTube on mobile, there is no screen realestate to do it any other way. So, the only way to achieve those goals is through algorithmic manipulation. The chair pretty much confirmed it when he- (audio cut off. No one on the floor or in the feeds could be heard. Technical difficulties. Senators start browsing on their phones and talking to each other. Engineers/IT no doubt received a ticket and things got interesting for them.)

(Someone turned it off and on again and unexpected intermission ended.)

Senator Dasko commented that the language for Benzie was not OK. She asked about language that would solve the problem.

Benzie responded that, yes, theoretically, it could solve the problem, but it creates another problem. In the spirit of compromise, the idea of static vs dynamic discoverability is interesting. It is an interesting rout. However, it raises another issue about discoverability of cancon because it is still screen realestate and someone is going to get preferential treatment over Roy over that screen realestate. That is not OK. So it leads to a question of cancon right after that.

Senator Dasko said that there are non-algorithmic solutions that could be applied to this. Static vs dynamic, it is there. The platforms can make displays and curate these lists and it is possible to do that outside of the algorithm.

Benzie asked who are they promoting.

Senator Dasko responded that its presumably the promotion of the same artists in the algorithm, only they have a subset of Canadian artists.

Benzie responded that the challenge is the definition of Canadian. Right now, Roy doesn’t qualify.

Senator Dasko said that the thing is that after the bill is implemented, these companies will be able to present their proposals to the CRTC to say that here are the ways that they propose that content be discoverable. (by then, it would be too late. If no solution is found, the only choices are that user generated content gets killed in Canada or platforms block Canada and still kills user generated content in Canada.)

Benzie responded that, with all due respect to the senator, we are talking about tens of thousands of creators all with competing needs and wants. A lot of them individuals. If you think of Roy taking the time out of her day to talk to the CRTC, it’s not going to happen. When they do try to organize, well, he doesn’t think the CRTC is going to listen to him. So, it is a real challenge. We are talking about real individuals without representation and without lawyers.

Senator Dasko responded that she does take his point, but she does think it’s possible and she chooses to remain optimistic that we can find a way to do it without touching the algorithm. Those algorithms can still continue to operate the way they are. There is yet another process that can be put into place that will deal with the discoverability.

Benzie responded that he will say it’s a better starting point then we have already, but it is not without challenges.

Senator Donald Neil Plett commented that he is not a regular member but he came there because of what he heard and read and Benzie has done a good job and explaining that. He won’t belabour the point, but to express his frustration and disgust that the Minister of Heritage Parliamentary Secretary would do what Chris Bittle has done that the witnesses would be bullied at committee over in the other place. He says he is certainly sorry to all the witnesses that have been bullied in any way. This is, again, an indication of the NDP Liberal government does when they want their way and what they do when they want to move stuff through without anybody asking any questions.

He then notes that it doesn’t look like Section 4.2 will be removed and that the government doesn’t have any intention of accepting any real amendments to this bill. If Section 4.2 is not removed from the bill, will that confirm that the government does intend on regulating user generated content and what would the consequences of that and how would creators respond?

Benzie responded that if 4.2 is passed unamended, then we passed a bill that includes the entire internet. Happy to go into details, but there is no argument against it. He thinks it puts livelihoods of creators at risk. They’ve heard time and time again that this isn’t about cat video’s. He doesn’t think that the government wrote this bill with digital first creators in mind. They exist and they are here. Roy and Fortier’s channels matter and their livelihoods matter. To leave that up to the whims of an unelected bureaucratic body is a mistake.

Senator Plett noted Roy throwing her hands up in the air and asked he she would like to respond.

Roy responded that if section 4.2 stays in, then she has to look for a full time job. It’s a depressing reality to see that her content is going to be pushed aside. She’s just got this platform. She’s not young, she’s almost 50. So, she’s been working really hard where she can do something like this. She hasn’t done this with a lot of help, so for someone to come in and push her aside and dictate what her audience wants to see, she can’t fight that. So, she’s very discouraged. That’s how she feels.

Senator Plett thanked the witnesses for coming there and standing up to a bully government.

Senator Marty Klyne said that a witness has an opportunity to fix this bill. Does the witness want to elaborate?

Fortier responded that what keeps her up at night about this bill is the potential to gate content that is not “Canadian” from coming into the country. The re6taliation of other countries should this law come through – we are done. We don’t need to talk about this bill any more because it’s over. It’ll affect regional content creators. It’ll affect small content creators and larger content creators. The world is watching. Australia will follow as well as the UK. If the US says ‘what’s fair is fair’, that is a complete game changer that no one is talking about which scares her. It’s a very real potential here.

She says it’s the free and open internet for a reason. Putting through a bill where the government insists on the internets behaviour and intentionally gates content of a particular nature is exceptionally problematic. So, they would need to make sure that they are offside. Whether that’s trying to set up a VPN or setting up a head office in Ireland, she doesn’t know how that works. She would have to find some way to make sure that they are out of scope with that. That is probably the least investment you can do to innovate an industry. It’s a reverse process. If Canadians want to see Canadian content, shouldn’t we be making an environment where they are making it instead of making what is a hostile environment where content creators have been vilified. She’s dumbfounded by the whole situation.

Roy chimed in saying that she is concerned about being able to compete against big media in this space. Like she says, it’s just her and her daughter when she feels like getting up in the morning and she is really hustling to get out there. She feels that her content is going to get suppressed and she is not going to be able to compete in that space. Just on a larger scope, she feels that this is very dangerous territory to start regulating the internet in any shape or form. Forcing people to watch content that they don’t want to watch is going to be at the detriment to those platforms and it’s going to spread around.

She says like Fortier said, what’s going to happen when the US retaliates? 70% of her followers are from the US. What if they start promoting US content over her content? Not only is she in trouble in Canada, but also in the US. She’ll have to visit her mom in New York to build her content there. So, it is getting into these waters that are very muddy and without understanding the needs. It’s supposedly a quick fix and we’ll deal with it later, but it’s going to come at a great cost.

Benzie also commented that 4.2 is a misconception. It’s not a small sandbox dealing with direct or indirect revenues and platforms. That’s the internet. Direct or indirect revenue literally includes the entire internet. Content is being monetized somewhere. Roy uses a song in her video, she is absolutely captured. Sharpe shows a clip from the CBC, he is absolutely captured. 4.2 is a problem and we have to scope it down.

Senator Bernadette Clement commented that it is absolutely thrilling to hear Roy refer to the gardener expressway. It’s thrilling to hear Fortier saying that when they find out her content is Canadian, it’s the cherry on top. So, she says we have to assume that Canadians want to engage with Canadian content and not assume the opposite. She says that she’s heard about the dangers of manipulating algorithms. That danger currently exists in the hands of private companies that are manipulating algorithms. How do Canadian’s balance than out? Should Canadians not trust the CRTC to balance out how much power the private companies have on manipulating algorithms? We don’t have that transparency on how those algorithms work. From a Canadian perspective, what’s a regular Canadian supposed to do?

Benzie responded that the challenge is with Canadian businesses that require access to an algorithm based on a niche and based on what the next person has said what they are going to like. We’re not talking about just ‘somebody is going to like this, let’s give it to them’. We’re talking about somebody who earns a living in getting to the right audience. Yes, platforms are making money, but they are making money on retainment of eyeballs. That’s, in turn, how creators make money. Roy wants her content to be in front of audiences that would like Roy’s content. The point is that we can’t be willing to mess with individual Canadian’s businesses. We have to make sure that they are getting to the right audiences so they can monetize.

Fortier responded that her concern is (microphone issues). When we talk about algorithms, what then happens? Does that content creator then just continue to rely on the algorithm manipulation or is there investment and education to allow that content creator to stand on their own two feet and create content and evolve and grow? The problem in manipulating the algorithm is they are being cut short on receiving information, how their content is entering the marketplace. It would be like preventing the broadcasters from having ratings access and not knowing if their content is resonating with the community properly or if their video is doing bad. Is it because of the manipulation? You need that information to accurately understand the situation and to strategize for your content.

She says that is with a single content creator who is just starting. That is with a seasoned content creator and maybe has an infrastructure like they do. The manipulation of algorithms isn’t even a band-aide solution. It has no solution process because there are no investment and growth opportunity past that point. It hobbles the information and does a disservice to the content creator to have access to actually grow and learn themselves. That is where she gets stumped with it. What happens next? How do they grow? How do they stand on their own two feet?

There are examples all over the world where they don’t have that content manipulation and they are able to do it regardless of how niche their content might be. When we have examples everywhere, it’s achievable. That’s where she is stumped outside of the algorithms in general. What is the purpose if we are not talking about growing and investing in that sector? Could you imagine the success story we could have talking about a content creator rising above outside of the broadcasting sector? That’s an amazing opportunity that we could be doing now.

With that, the hearing adjourned.

Concluding Thoughts

For me, there are two points in this hearing that don’t sound related, but are absolutely related. The first point is when Benzie was asked about Quebec content creators – the part where he lists off content creators who are successful in Quebec. The other point is where Benzie noted the other platforms that haven’t even been discussed – namely platforms beyond YouTube and TikTok. The reason these points are related is because few really understand the scope and complexity of social media platforms in general today.

Part of this seems to have to do with an attitude I have run into with older people myself when it comes to music. That attitude is this: “If I haven’t heard it, then it’s not valuable.”

For a time, that was not an unreasonable attitude to have. In the 80’s (and before), during the heyday of radio, if a song resonated with enough people, it would get played non-stop on radio stations everywhere. So, it was easy to get that complacency in that if something is worth experiencing, it would come to you.

That system ultimately died when the internet became popular. The system of obtaining great content changed from the user just having it brought to them through some convoluted system to the user seeking that content out. Thanks to the internet, I can seek out content that really resonates with me personally and you get that personalized experience that is ultimately going to be better. I like music by Miikka Leinonen, Redline, Martin Roth, The Qemists, Mike Shiver, Sean Tyas, Psy’Aviah, Caravan Palace, Daddy’s Groove, Wolfgun, Keldari Station, DJ Kristoff, and Sub Focus to name a few. I can guarantee you that 99.9% of anyone reading that list will see at least one artist they haven’t heard of before. However, talk to fans of the music and they’ll consider many of these artists valuable contributors to their respective genre’s. This is not a bad thing that you haven’t heard of them before. In fact, I’d argue that this is entirely expected. Why? Because the internet is just that big of a space today.

You could have over a hundred million people subscribed to your YouTube channel and still have plenty of people not even hearing about you. At those levels, they are not poor by any stretch of the imagination. It if a case of how they found success. We have gone through a very fundamental shift where it is not about the gatekeepers, it is about the end user, the consumer, and what that consumer wants.

So, when I heard that senator doing this big panic thing about how Quebec Canadians are not being heard, it was only natural that the response was ultimately going to be how Quebec creators are, in fact, making it and being heard. Just because the Senator hasn’t heard of them doesn’t mean they aren’t being heard. What she fundamentally experienced, in that moment, was word of mouth. She was told who some of these creators are. She now has the option to seek out these artists and understand how they are making it. Even better is knowing that one of those Quebec artists are going to speak and if he knows the business in any reasonable manner (and I’d be shocked if it is otherwise), then he can explain himself why his voice, is, in fact, being heard. Hearing about an artist through someone else is a very internet thing. This over top of the fact that Benzie utterly destroyed the argument that Quebec voices aren’t being heard by naming them was absolutely priceless.

Then there is the other point raised by Benzie about how the Senate hasn’t even scratched the surface of what platforms are even out there. This is absolutely true and feeds into the pure size and scale of the internet today. There’s a lot of talk about YouTube and TikTok (understandable given that people in those hearings happen to be more knowledgeable about those platforms), but there isn’t even discussion about the many other platforms that are out there today. Examples include SoundCloud, Mixcloud, RadioPublic, Breaker, and countless others. Have we honestly even begun to take into account the pure scope that we are talking about with Bill C-11? I very much doubt that.

Some might think that these platforms are just their own little world with a handful of video’s or audio files people might be interested in experiencing. The truth in the matter is we are talking about a multi-verse style scale with each universe being it’s own platform. Every platform has their own set of rules, their quirks, their niches, their strengths, their shortcomings, and everything else in between. So many contain at least millions of media content, if not, tens or even hundreds of billions of pieces of media content. Just trying to understand it all for a single person is impossible. By the time you understand a lot about them, they start changing anyway, leaving you back at square one half of the time. What is so incredible about it all is how easily you can slip from one universe to another at will.

So, just because you haven’t heard of a particular creator doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t valuable in anyway. It more than likely means that their signal simply hasn’t reached you yet. It is for these reasons that when politician’s say that they have this simple bill that will fix whatever perceived problem is out there, they get laughed at. If it’s a simple fix, then it’s probably not a fix when we are dealing with the internet. This is especially so when we are talking about algorithm meddling.

When you think of platforms at that scale that is so allowing of new creators to join, possibilities wind up being endless. How can you, as a person, contribute to this ever expanding multi-verse super structure of human experience and human expression? How do you want to be a part of this? So, when you talk about people being forced to move or use a VPN just to circumvent these restrictive laws, that is why. It is that seeming infinite possibility that exists out there in the world today. I could almost get a sense of just contemplating how creators are going to lose access, I thought the creators on the panel here were going to break out in tears. I don’t blame them because the loss to this connection to such a vast amount of possibility is extremely difficult for the human mind to even comprehend. The threat Bill C-11 poses is very much real and it is set to ruin tens, of thousands, if not, over 100,000 lives just on the creator front alone.

The unfortunate problem in all of this is conveying the nature of the internet to these senators – a number of whom have this set inaccurate image of how it works in mind and truly believes that anything outside of this false image is just fake news or misinformation. This is plain frustrating to see because it’s one thing to have someone not understand this sort of thing, but it is another when that person is barrelling ahead, bent on destroying careers in the process whether they even realize it or not – hence the panic.

It is also frustrating to see how little concern there is over the idea that other countries will pass similarly insane bills in their respective systems. It’s a very real threat and that threat risks splitting the internet down to geographical borders. When we do that, we tear this multi-verse super structure apart. If that happens, the only question on people’s minds is ‘how could this happen? What have we done?’ We are here and in the now today at a very big crossroads. What happens with this legislation can very easily dictate how innovation, free speech, and creativity moves forward – if at all. The hope here is that the appeal to reason that these creators are expressing will be heard over lobbyist money. It’s hard to say if a mistake here will ever be reversed.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – A Look at the Eighth Hearing (First Segment)”

  1. Hi Drew,

    It’s great that you are covering the TRCM hearings in such detail. I just wanted to mention that I don’t hold a Doctorate.

    I do hold a BA (French & German + Spanish), another BA (couldn’t get a job with 3 languages, so did Poli Sci, focussing on quant’v research methods), an MA (Poli Sci, because STILL couldn’t get a job 😉 ), and then finally landed at the CRTC. Then in 2000, did a law degree and then did a Master’s in Law. Unfortunately, after the LL.M. I again needed work more than the Doctorate.

    I think Dr. Berkowitz very flatteringly referred to me as Dr. Auer – but I have not earned the degree, while she certainly has!.

    Hope you keep following C-11!


    Monica (

    1. I guess when I heard Berkowitz refer to you as doctor, that’s where I got confused. Apologies for perpetuating that mistake, but the article in question has been fixed. Thanks for pointing that out. I will most certainly keep following the debate.

      Also know all about unable to land a job with my education. Got a BA in English and then added a new media and publishing diploma so I could specialize in publishing and advertising. Couldn’t land a job either. One newspaper even told me during a job interview to “come back when you write real news” (the newspaper in question is now facing shrinking subscriber rates and massive financial problems). So, now I work for Canada Post. People often ask me what the heck I’m doing there with all this education and experience behind me and my answer is that there is no work, so by night, I follow my passion of writing news about digital rights and technology.

      Anyway, thanks for reading my site!
      – Drew

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