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A person in a face mask uses their phone in Montreal, on Aug. 16, 2020.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government is proposing new amendments to Bill C-10, which outlines changes to the Broadcasting Act, aimed at requiring YouTube and other streaming platforms to recommend Canadian content and divert a share of Canadian revenues toward cultural production funds.

The Liberals say the amendments make it clear that the legislative changes related to social media platforms are not focused on regulating the individual posts of Canadians – but some critics of the bill remain unconvinced.

The government said the intention of Bill C-10 is to bring streaming platforms such as Netflix under the existing regulations that apply to traditional broadcasters, such as TV and radio stations. The Liberals say the bill and its latest amendments are to ensure new regulations only apply to online platforms such as YouTube when the service is acting like a broadcaster – for example, by streaming professionally made content such as music videos.

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One of the government’s new amendments would alter a section related to the powers of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal broadcasting regulator. That amendment states that the new regulatory powers “do not apply in respect of programs that are uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service by a user of the service – if that user is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them – for transmission over the internet and reception by other users of the service.”

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault should start fresh on Bill C-10

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Former CRTC chair says Bill C-10 ‘should not be passed in its present form’

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has said these amendments make it “crystal-clear” that the new law will not regulate personal social media posts.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Friday that he disagrees that the amendments resolve the issue. Mr. O’Toole notes that several academics and former CRTC leaders have expressed broad concerns about the bill, including an earlier Liberal amendment that removed a line that would have excluded user-generated content from the regulations.

“These amendments that have been suggested do not protect the freedom of expression and the concerns that not only the Conservative Party has, but thousands of Canadians have,” he said. “It’s not just us – several former commissioners of the CRTC have also called this act an attack on free expression and they really want the minister, who has poorly explained this bill from the start, to pull his bill and start fresh.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party supports the main premise of the legislation, which is that companies such as Netflix should be providing financial support to Canadian content in the same way as traditional broadcasters. However, the Liberals have “totally mismanaged” the rollout of the bill, he said.

“We want to level the playing field,” he said. “But they’ve been so unclear and have done such a poor job of this that we’re at this point.”

Mr. Singh said he’s hopeful that a planned update on how the bill fits with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will help address concerns. The NDP leader did not take a firm position on the amendments proposed this week.

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“The problem is that it’s still raising some contradictory concerns by experts. We’re hearing different opinions. Some are saying that this does fix it, and some are saying it doesn’t. We want to make sure that there is full confidence that people can express themselves on social media,” he said.

Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux, who sits on the committee reviewing the bill, said the new amendments are generally “quite reassuring.”

“It reinforces the safeguards and it makes sure user-generated content is not submitted to regulation by the CRTC,” he said, adding however that the Liberals are now trying to fix legislation that could have just been done better from the start.

Janet Yale, chair of the broadcasting and telecommunications legislative review panel, also said the new amendments help clarify what was already in the bill to protect user-generated content. “I think the legislative intent was clear even before these new amendments,” she said. “The reaction [to earlier changes] led the government to make it even clearer.”

Ms. Yale said the concerns around freedom of expression have been “very overblown,” and that Bill C-10 is necessary for the culture sector. “This is not about restrictions,” she said. “It’s about the promotion of Canadian content and making sure there are Canadian choices.”

In response to questions from the Conservatives on Friday in the House of Commons, Mr. Guilbeault listed off the names of various cultural organizations that support the bill.

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“We want social media platforms to fairly financially contribute to our cultural industry, just like Canadian companies do, and make our Canadian artists discoverable like suggested playlists on YouTube,” he said.

“We continue to stand with our artists and creators, and it pains me to see the Conservatives work for the interests of foreign tech companies.”

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