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Will Bill C-10 impact what I can post online? Here’s what you need to know

Will Bill C-10 impact what I can post online? Here’s what you need to know
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It’s been weeks of controversy for the Liberal government over concerns one of its bills could result in Canadian TikTok uploads and YouTube cat videos being brought under government regulations.

The legislation, Bill C-10, is the long-awaited update to Canada’s Broadcasting Act, an old law that hasn’t been updated to reflect how the internet has changed the ways that people consume content in the 21st century.

It’s been at the centre of an ongoing controversy over concerns it could infringe on freedom of expression, guaranteed to Canadians through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The bill has content creators worried , experts angered , and politicians scrambling to explain themselves before Bill C-10 gets developed any further.

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s the issue?

Bill C-10 would update the Broadcasting Act in Canada and allow the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate digital platforms on the internet, like Netflix. The act hasn’t been changed since 1991.

But a move by the Commons heritage committee on April 23 to remove a section that exempted user-generated content on social media from regulation has sparked controversy.

Some legal experts have said removing the exemption could result in the CRTC adopting regulations that would impact everyday people and their uploads to social media — including their cat videos and TikTok dances. That, some argued, infringes on freedom of expression.

The other side of this debate said, no, it wouldn’t, because there’s another section of the bill that explicitly states that individuals themselves can’t be regulated by the CRTC.

OK, so what’s happening right now?

Everything is on hold while the heritage committee, made up of six Liberal MPs, one of whom is the chair, four Conservatives, one New Democrat and one Bloc Québécois member, determines whether the bill would infringe on freedom of expression.

After weeks of public outcry and debate during committee hearings, the MPs decided on Monday to halt all further work on the bill and ask for a revised Charter statement from Justice Minister David Lametti. Charter statements are done for all government bills to see if they infringe on Charter rights, but in the face of changes to Bill C-10, the committee has ordered a new one.

The revised Charter statement from Lametti is expected soon and in the coming days, the committee will hear from him and Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, as well as a panel of experts before continuing its in-depth analysis of the bill.

After the section exempting user-generated content was removed and they faced fierce backlash from critics, the Liberals put forward an amendment that proposed limits on what the CRTC could do.

It would only be able to ask social media platforms for revenue information, make them contribute money to the production of Canadian content and also make it easier for users to discover Canadian content.

The idea behind content discovery is that platforms like YouTube and Netflix would be made to promote Canadian content. This, the thinking goes, would help people discover Canadian artists and producers instead of only being exposed to the most-popular American content. This idea has long existed in Canada’s broadcasting framework in order to protect the country’s cultural identity.

What’s the argument from those who say this will impact freedom of expression?

Cara Zwibel, director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says the bill raises the prospect of the federal government “dipping into regulating the way Canadians express themselves online,” even with assurances that that won’t happen.

If and how that plays out is still up in the air now that the bill is on pause. But even with discover requirements being the only way in which user content is impacted by the bill, Zwibel said they create a potential issue for people wanting to express themselves online.

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It does this by shifting responsibility to online platforms, and they may have to make changes to comply with the CRTC regulations, she said.

“Typically, I think of infringements on freedom of expression in terms of the government,” she said. “Here, they’re sort of going through an intermediary… by imposing these requirements, YouTube may decide that they have to promote content and demote other content, which means that the kind of audience that you might get without that kind of interference is different.”

What’s the argument against the notion that this would infringe on freedom of expression?

Janet Yale, chair of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, a group tasked in 2018 with reviewing Canada’s communications framework, said she supports both streaming platforms, like Netflix, and social media platforms coming under regulation.

She argues that the CRTC should be able to make them contribute to Canadian cultural pursuits, a move which the government hopes will level the playing field for broadcasters based in Canada, which already have to do that.

“I strenuously disagree that this has anything to do with freedom of expression, or regulation of the internet,” she said.

“Right now, online undertakings that are monetizing Canadian audiences with advertising and subscription revenues are making all this money off Canadians and making no contribution to Canadian cultural policy and the Canadian cultural sector. It’s just not fair.”
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