Canada Government Move to Make Digital Content More ‘Canadian’ Comes Under Fire

The lower house of Canada’s Parliament has passed a Bill called C-10 which gives the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the authority to monitor and regulate online platforms like YouTube and Facebook. The goal is to motivate these giant digital platforms to promote the production and financing of Canadian content. The Bill will be sent to the Senate for review in the fall.

As with any potential law regarding the monitoring of online social platforms, this Bill has been controversial since its early stages. Questions have been raised over whether the Bill infringes on Canadians’ Charter Rights, including freedom of speech. There have already been numerous amendments to the Bill until the minute before the MPs voted on it. One amendment says that individual users and content creators will not be affected by the proposed law.

Any review of the Bill by the Senate will have to be exhaustive and check any infringement of the Charter. But the monitoring of algorithms that are used to recommend content to Canadians will be a hard sell against the backdrop of outrage and pushback coming from citizens.

Various political analysts believe the Bill will die out before it is even taken up by the Senate, as the coming election will overshadow the Bill. Besides, the political climate in Canada already has enough on its plate with COVID-19 and indigenous residential school protests.

However, even as there are prospects of the Bill falling by the wayside, steps have already been taken in the direction of more government control over cross-border digital consumption. July 1st, saw an increase in digital media subscription fees as taxes were imposed on the cost of these services. Platforms like Spotify and Netflix will see a 5-13% increase depending on the tax rate in each province. The move also covers all forms of digital cross-border purchases, including short-term accommodation like Airbnb.

The idea of making Canadian content more accessible and prevalent is a good step to promote production within the country that often must compete with the US. The problem arises when the method to push Canadian content to the top of algorithms, and possibly restrict cross-border content being consumed by the Canadian public, becomes a risky tactic in a country that presents itself on the international stage as a country that promotes freedom of its citizens. Overall, Bill C-10 may have positive motives on the surface, but in practice it may cause more backlash and stifle more freedom than it intends to.