Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – Concluding Thoughts and Links

We have formally completed our marathon Bill C-11 Senate hearing coverage. So, we thought we’ve offer some links and thoughts.

The special coverage of the Bill C-11 Senate hearings has finally concluded. Indeed, the last two segments were a little bit late, but under the circumstances, that is not entirely surprising considering the pure volume that I’m sure few will be able to read from beginning to end. Still, this marks what has to be the largest journalism project I have ever accomplished exclusively on Freezenet.

For those who want a complete list of links in our coverage, here they are:

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)
Hearing 17 – Indigenous organizations / Digital First Creator (5) / Lobby Group (21)
Hearing 18 – The CRTC (Part 1, Part 1)
Hearing 19 – Canadian Heritage (1) / Canadian Heritage (2)

So, a question throughout all of this might be, did we learn much? For the most part, I’d say, yes, we did learn a lot. Of course, this actually is in the area of actually understanding the internet’s side of the debate more than anything else. You really got to see in these hearings a huge diverse range of perspectives for why there are concerns for this bill.

One key moment was right from the very beginning when the Canadian Privacy Commissioner said that their offices interpretation of the bill is that both platforms and the Canadian government would have to handle private and personal information. As such, his office would avail themselves to the process to oversee that. For a lot of observers, that was quite remarkable because there have been questions for some time about whether or not average every day Canadian content creators would have to fill out 30 page forms and prove that they are, in fact Canadian. Those comments really re-inforced the idea that this is a very real possibility.

Another critical moment for me was when Music Canada, an organization that represents foreign international record labels, was basically sitting there fearful for what is to come with this legislation and begging Senators to listen to the platforms – at the time, he was sitting with at least one platform. Having been a journalist since 2005, the very idea that such an organization would be both afraid of something and siding with a tech company was an incredibly novel sight to see because organizations like them have a long history of butting heads with internet companies in the first place. So, that was really something to witness.

Some observers might dismiss the organization because they are representing the major record labels and not necessarily Canadian business. That criticism was basically shot down thanks to the other hearing that involved Nettwerk Music Group, an independent Canadian record label which also shared concerns that the legislation could have a detrimental impact on their artists. The fear was wrapped around the term geo-locking where if an artist is pigeonholed into a specific region, then it is very difficult to break out of that locked region for that artist, thus hamstringing their ability to become successful on the international stage – comments that basically rebutted the comments from supporters which claimed that Canadians have to first become successful in Canada before becoming successful in the world which was a ridiculous notion alone let alone in the context of what the record labels had to say.

Another perspective came from multiple witnesses that had very different backgrounds. Throughout the early parts of the hearing, we kept about how French and indigenous cultures are being crushed and snuffed out by these large tech platforms. Obviously, that was a lie, but it was, nevertheless, enlightening when a Quebec YouTuber and an indigenous TikToker, and a gay comedian appeared and said that people like them have found success largely thanks to the platforms rather than in spite of it. With exception to that specific Quebec creator, the overwhelmingly common story was that they were constantly told “no” by the traditional broadcasters, so they struck out on their own and found success thanks to these platforms.

With respect to the indigenous TikToker, Vanessa Brousseau, I found her comments, along with the Indigenous Screen Office, to be very enlightening. The Indigenous Screen Office representative noted that many indigenous people see social media has a ray of light when traditional broadcasters repeatedly shut them down or tell them “no” to telling their stories. the TikToker, though she did very clearly point out that the Indigenous Screen Office doesn’t represent her, really bolstered those comments by pointing out that this legislation represents a huge step back in the path of Truth and Reconciliation. Does she, an indigenous creator, have to fill out paperwork to prove that she is Canadian? That, she pointed out, is highly insulting for reasons that should be obvious.

Then there was the former CRTC commissioners/Chair’s speaking about this. They both offered very enlightening responses to the debate.

The first pointed out that the CRTC, or any regulator for that matter, does not have the resources or ability to regulate the internet. This for the simple fact that the CRTC is run by human beings and trying to tackle all the nuances of speech online is an impossible task.

The second had a lot to say about the process of the CRTC where people will not really have the opportunity to follow the CRTC closely and get completely run over by representatives from traditional broadcasters that have massive amounts of experience working the system even if they do jump through the hoops to be heard. Average every day digital first creators don’t have high priced representatives constantly working the halls of the CRTC to look out for their interest. All most of them will know is that, one day, their content is getting downranked for some reason afterwards. Sooner or later, someone is going to file a grievance with the process that will ultimately hurt the digital first creators. After that, the success stories online in Canada will get greatly stymied.

As for the opponents of the internet who are pushing this bill forward, what was notable was how few, if any, are actually truly happy with the state of the bill in its current form. Even they were raising issues – even if vastly different from Digital First Creators. Some Senators, of course, took note of this theme of how a number of them were calling for the “speedy” passage of the bill, but they see certain sections that would prove to be highly damaging to the people they represent and that those provisions need immediate changes. This, of course, stemmed from an 11th hour rush of voting and amendments on the House of Commons side of things which really did not serve the government well in the grand scheme of things.

What was notable was the evolution of talking points throughout the hearings by these internet opponents. In the early stages of the hearings, I heard how Digital First Creators don’t exist and that their concerns are either lies, misleading, or nothing to be concerned about because the problems don’t exist. As time went on, though, you heard them starting to shift tactics. They seemingly learned that their position was proving that the bill was all about shutting down the careers of Digital First Creators and they shifted to how the bill doesn’t touch them or that their concerns were overblown and that they would be safe (even though that was untrue). They probably didn’t want this to turn into another SOPA moment so they were resorting to any talking point to prevent protesters from hitting the streets.

Another talking point throughout the debate was how support systems are in place to help Canadian creators of all shapes and sizes. If you are a creator, financial assistance and support was waiting for you. Things came to ahead when the Canada Media Fund appeared and said that they are looking for Canadian content creators everywhere, even going so far as to contact YouTube and TikTok to ask if any creators need financial help. This story, of course, was suspect for obvious reasons, so I ended up making waves when I put those claims to the test by sending a message directly to Canada Media Fund asking if I should consider applying for a grant through their experimental fund. The response was an overwhelmingly not surprising refusal to respond to my inquiry which led to the organization ghosting me in the process. So, we pretty much proved that that Canada Media Fund has no interest in helping smaller Canadian creators working online despite what they told Senators. Ultimately, the fund was set up to financially assist projects by the establishment media organizations who are already receiving a host of financial aid from the government. Either way, the talking point went down in flames courtesy of yours truly.

The internet opponents struggled to really push a talking point that justified the existence of this legislation. Talking point after talking point kept going down in flames as reasoning behind this bill proved to be non-existent. At the 11th hour, towards the end of the debate, the CRTC Chair, Ian Scott, suggested that manipulation of algorithms wasn’t the only way platforms can meet their obligations under this bill. In a real Hail Mary throw, Scott suggested that advertising and festivals could count towards those obligations. Because these comments happened so late in the debate, it was difficult to really fact check it. Of course, Scott did point out that they don’t know and can’t make a decision on whether or not that would be a substitute for algorithm manipulation, but tried to sell the idea as a possibility while begging Senators to pass the legislation.

The last ditch effort talking point was picked up by Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez as he tried to use that to sell the legislation to Senators. Unfortunately, he was unable to really convert that talking point into his arguments and it was obvious that this talking point was stapled in to his comments at the last minute as he desperately tried to find some way of convincingly sell the legislation. His whole appearance, however, backfired as pretty much all of his talking points really failed to be convincing enough for some Senators. So, he fumbled on a miracle last minute effort to salvage the situation.

A big problem for Internet and free speech supporters, however, is the fact that Internet opponents hold the trump card of votes. So, this debate wasn’t really about trying to convince the right people and have a battle of wills, logic, or reason. This was more about at least exposing what a rotten bill this truly is to the public. That effort, while more of a PR effort, proved successful. So, whenever this bill gets passed, Canadians will know that a horrendous bill was rammed through at the behest of the powers that be who spent exorbitant amounts of cash on lobbying to scream poverty in front of lawmakers in a highly hypocritical way. For Canadians, the question will eventually become how we, as a country, undo some of the damage caused by Bill C-11.

Indeed, this whole process had more highlights than I can keep track of – even in the podcast format. So, many more highlights then I was expecting. While there were a few more or less dead moments in the debate, there were enough highlights that make the hearings worthwhile to watch. At the very least, I found myself to be much more informed about this bill thanks to listening to these numerous different perspectives. So, if you want to be informed about this bill, and have, what? 36 hours to spare? I’d suggest giving a few of these hearings a watch. There’s only one of them missing, but I link to the interim transcript as a substitute.

So, an incredibly long road and a project that wound up being significantly bigger then I was expecting. Still, I’m proud to have somehow found the time and energy to push through all of it. I’m not entirely sure how I did it, but here I am closing out a massive journalistic project. I can only hope you found this coverage to be useful in some way even if it’s only small parts of the debate. It’s been a long journey for myself and, as I was told by Senator Paula Simons, it was a long road for the Senators as well to get to this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



2 Comments

  • DB says:

    To me these sessions showed a government unwilling to discuss or acknowledge issues with this Bill. Instead, all we got were lies, denials, flag-waving, and paternalistic re-assurances that we should trust them.

    Basic questions were never answered. Examples include:

    1. What benefits do streaming services get from the Canadian broadcast system that they do not pay a fair price for?
    2. Will the definition of Canadian content be the same across all platforms or will there be different definitions for social media and streaming services?
    3. Will all creators of Canadian content have to register with the CRTC? Will there be different classes of creators (ie – social media creator, TV/movie creator) with different registration requirements for each class?
    4. What type of content and/or creators is section 4.2 meant to cover? Provide some examples of existing YouTube channels that would be covered.
    5. How will the discoverability requirements apply to YouTube and TikTok? Will they have to promote only CRTC certified Canadian content? Will they have to promote registered Canadian content creators? Will it be some hybrid model?

    This Bill is horrible. It wants to impose all the worst elements of the current Canadian broadcast business on the internet.

    Finally, thank you Drew for all the time and effort you put into producing these posts.

    • Drew Wilson says:

      You’re welcome! I’m glad someone found some benefit to these posts!

      Indeed, almost every critical question was left unanswered. At most, we got a bald-faced lie in response (i.e. “platforms are in and users are out” in response to the question about users content being captured in the bill). I still find it unfortunate that it’s looking like those lawmakers who chose to stand on the right side of history of this will simply get outvoted in the end anyway. It basically means that it didn’t matter how sound the arguments against the bill were (and they were very sound as far as I could tell), common sense may not prevail in the end. Still, it’s not to say that these hearings weren’t valuable. Unlike the House of Commons level, I felt that people were actually able to discuss what the issues were as opposed to being told “what if I told you that you are wrong” and getting straight up gaslighted in response to the questions (I’m thinking about what happened to Darcy Michael in particular when I say that).

      Even if these hearings don’t change much in the bill, at least we got something that resembled a thoughtful discussion and debate in the Senate here with a number of witnesses like the former CRTC Chairs/Commissioners, digital first creators, the Indigenous Screen Office, Nettwerk Music Group, Digital First Canada, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, and a few others. So, a minor win in my books.

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