OTTAWA—Does Steven Guilbeault even understand the internet? Do any of his advisers?
Minister of Heritage Guilbeault proved on a disastrous May 9 appearance on CTV’s Question Period with Evan Solomon that he doesn’t understand how the greatest media and communications revolution of our time, or its impact on society, works. Bill C-10, currently in committee, is this government’s attempt at bringing the archaic Broadcasting Act into the 21st. century. As explained by Peter Mazereeuw, for this paper, “The purpose of the Broadcasting Act is to ensure that Canadian broadcasters—traditionally, radio and television stations—are showing Canadian-made content to Canadians and supporting the production of that content financially. The purpose of Bill C-10 was to ensure that internet based streaming services such as Netflix, Crave, YouTube, and Spotify follow those rules as well, something Canada’s ailing broadcast companies have been pleading for.”
The Liberal government has never met a corporation they didn’t mangle policy for.
This bill concerns two issues: updating the revenue model for funding Canadian content by expanding the eligibility requirements for financial contributions for Canadian creators and opening the door open to regulations over content. The Liberals say the CRTC won’t be moderating content with this bill, however it is a foundational piece for the overall moderation of hate speech in online content down the line where they will have to do just that in one form or another.
The Digital Services Tax is set to be applied on January 1, 2022, and according to this year’s federal budget, it “proposes to implement a Digital Services Tax at a rate of three per cent on revenue from digital services that rely on data and content contributions from Canadian users. The tax would apply to large businesses with gross revenue” of $1-billion or more. How “large businesses” are determined is yet to be seen.
GST/HST is to be applied to streaming services as a consumption tax (as per the Fall Economic Statement), where consumers pick up part of the tab for the government’s approach, “to be fair to streaming services that are Canadian,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked at a May 4 press conference, as reported by the Toronto Star. Let’s not quibble about the fact that a lot of these streaming services are complementary, where you can’t easily swap one for another. If you’re like me, you subscribe to Crave and Netflix because only Crave has the rights to stream HBO titles.
The content piece is what is causing cries of “free speech” from the Conservatives who have made quite a meal out of deleted Section 4.1, which read: “This Act does not apply in respect of (a) programs that are uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service by a user of the service—who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatory of either of them—for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service; and (b) online undertakings whose broadcasting consists only of such programs.”
Somehow this translates into, “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!”
Guilbeault, however, has been utterly incapable of countering this narrative. To say that the CRTC hasn’t regulated broadcasters’ content and therefore won’t regulate online content, as he did on Question Period, is not the winning argument he thinks it is. He later had to clarify to say that “an individual—a person—who uses social media will never be considered as broadcasters and will not be subject to the obligations or regulations within the Broadcasting Act.” There are many questions that should be put forth in this bill, such as: what constitutes a broadcaster? And at which threshold does a content creator become a broadcaster, to be regulated under the Act?
Guilbeault has failed to articulate the overall strategy for social media platforms that Canadians can get behind, which includes: an update to the Broadcasting Act, hate speech legislation (and possibly misinformation) legislation, and compensating news platforms for content, as Australia has done. Throw in privacy and you have a quartet, as spelled out in the Financial Post: “The key areas where Canada is moving to regulate foreign tech platforms fall into four main buckets: harmful content such as hate speech; consumer and data privacy; taxation; and broadcasting/telecom and content.”
Had the heritage minister stuck to these talking points, he might’ve come across as more iPhone, less BlackBerry.
Let me be clear: the internet needs some form of regulation. If you’re a woman, racialized, LGBTQ2S+, person with disabilities, or belong to any marginalized group and the intersections of such, you have probably been targeted with hate speech. The impact of social media on elections, Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, the impact on politics, the rise of white nationalism and the use of these platforms for purposes of domestic terrorism, in addition to the radicalization of youth, are all reasons to have some oversight over these platforms that is public-led.
However, without social media there wouldn’t have been the robust and transformative movements that we’ve seen: Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, Wet’suwet’en, student climate strikes, student walkouts over anti-Black racism that were all covered on social media before they were a blip on the radar of traditional broadcasters; these broadcasters have long treated our movements with contempt and reported on a narrative of power.
The Liberals’ poor communication on this file has created a vacuum of confusion that misinformation, ironically, is happy to fill. Let’s hope they find a way to close that loophole without destroying marginalized voices and the content that supports them.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.