A Senate committee yesterday rejected by a vote of 10-4 a proposed amendment to narrow the scope of the Liberal government’s internet regulations bill, which has passed the House of Commons and is currently awaiting Senate approval.
If passed, Bill C-11, “An Act To Amend The Broadcasting Act,” will grant the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) authority to regulate online content available in Canada on streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix. The bill’s stated objective is to promote Canadian content for viewers within the country.
The amendment proposed and rejected in the Senate transport and communications committee yesterday was to exempt from CRTC regulation all online content creators and programmers unless they had yearly revenue of $150 million or more, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
“The government opposes this amendment and thinks it’s not necessary for reasons that it set out,” the government’s Senate representative, Marc Gold, told the transport and communications committee.
“Setting a threshold like this makes it possible whether corporations structure themselves in different ways to split income … it creates incentives for people to avoid the regulation.”
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez last week told the Senate transport and communications committee that the bill’s aim is to regulate large streaming platforms, but not individual online content creators.
“The bill is quite simple,” he said on Nov. 22, adding, “There is no obligation for the creator. The obligation is only for the platform, not the creator.”
CRTC chair Ian Scott told the House of Commons Canadian Heritage committee in May that C-11 would grant the commission power to regulate the content of individual creators, but said the CRTC would not use them.
Some senators yesterday expressed concern that the pending legislation, if unamended, could grant the CRTC too much regulating power over internet content.
“If there’s no actual bright line, if there is no actual number, then you [the CRTC] can pick and choose and say, ‘Oh, well the CBC won’t be subjected to this, but this private operation over here will be subject to it because I’m the chair of CRTC and I can just make that choice arbitrarily,’” said Sen. Pamela Wallin.
“I wouldn’t share the characterization that it’s arbitrary,” responded associate assistant deputy heritage minister Thomas Owen Ripley. “I acknowledged the act as currently constructed does not have a bright line revenue threshold. That is true.”
Ripley said the CRTC will not be making regulatory decisions “behind closed doors.”
“The task is for them to assess which services are well placed to make that material contribution to the policy objectives of the act.”
Wallin asked, “So you just want to leave this totally as the judgment call on the part of the Commission?”
“It is a determination made through regulatory proceedings,” said Ripley.
“All Canadians could potentially be targeted,” said Sen. Denise Batters, sponsor of the amendment. The bill “is so vague it could include everything from Amazon Prime to everyone with a website and a podcast,” she added.
The Canadian Press and Noé Chartier contributed to this report.