from the shifting-stories dept
Update: The Minister has now attempted to backtrack these latest comments and repeated his insistence that the bill will not apply to social media users, though the impact the regulatory powers — which he says will apply to the platforms — will have on users remains unclear.
Throughout the Canadian government’s legislative push to give broadcast regulators power over online services, the story on exactly what the bill would do has continually shifted, and its author, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, has been consistently vague and evasive in the face of questioning from other lawmakers and the media. He has repeatedly insisted that Bill C-10 is designed to target large audio and video services that act like broadcasters, but will not impact individual users of sites like YouTube and Twitch — despite the fact that the clause which would have clearly prevented this was removed and a new amendment confirms that social media will be subject to at least some regulation.
The latest development is another change in the story: in a recent interview, Guilbeault stated that the new regulatory powers can apply to YouTube channels:
“What we want to do, this law should apply to people who are broadcasters, or act like broadcasters. So if you have a YouTube channel with millions of viewers, and you’re deriving revenues from that, then at some point the CRTC will be asked to put a threshold. But we’re talking about broadcasters here, we’re not talking about everyday citizens posting stuff on their YouTube channel,” Guilbeault said.
One of the main points critics of the bill have been making is that, despite Guilbeault’s insistence that it won’t impact individual users, he’s never been able to explain why not given the powers the bill gives to the broadcast regulators at the CRTC. This latest comment just confirms it: whatever the stated intent, the bill leaves it up to the CRTC to decide if and when to extend their new regulatory powers to a user of a platform like YouTube. He frames this as not impacting “everyday citizens” but, of course, many everyday citizens on social media can get huge audiences on par with major broadcasting operations — that’s kind of the whole point, and one of the reasons people are rightfully opposed to the government regulating people’s speech on those platforms. And of course, as always, the bill doesn’t offer any clear, solid protections against overreach — nor does Guilbeault:
Asked repeatedly what the threshold would be for CRTC scrutiny, whether a certain number of millions of followers, or a certain amount of advertising revenue, the minister said it?s something the government will ask the CRTC to determine, but that it would be entities that have a “material impact on the Canadian economy.”
This vague and almost meaningless condition isn’t very reassuring, especially coming from the same person who recently insisted that the bill wouldn’t impact users of these platforms at all.
Opposition to the bill is rightfully growing throughout Canada and across party lines, and there’s a growing amount of speculation about the legal challenges that C-10 is likely to face if passed. If the government really wants to achieve its primary stated goal of getting major audio and video services like Netflix and Spotify to support Canadian content the way traditional broadcasters are required to (a proposal that still raises significant questions that will need to be examined), they’re first going to need to unveil a completely revamped bill that actually addresses people’s very real concerns and places clear limitations on the CRTC’s power to ensure that it won’t curtail Canadians’ freedom of speech, and stop trying to feed the country a vague and shifting story interspersed with desperate promises that the bill won’t do what everyone can see it will.