The former chair of the CRTC said controversial changes to Canada’s Broadcasting Act should be paused and entirely rewritten.
Konrad von Finckenstein, now a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, said the legislation “should not be passed in its present form” and he rejected the Liberal government’s claim that issues with the bill can be resolved with simple amendments.
“I thought from the beginning this was a very awkward way of approaching this issue,” he said in an interview Thursday. “The priority has to be making sure we can get the maximum benefit of the internet, not how can we harness the internet into the broadcasting net.”
Mr. von Finckenstein, who was chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission from 2007 to 2012, said the bill was flawed before the controversial amendment was made.
“I don’t think the CRTC wants to limit freedom of speech,” he said, adding that the bill is too broad. “You don’t want to discourage people from being innovative and finding better ways to use the internet. You should only deal with it to the extent it’s necessary to protect Canadian cultural institutions, not more.”
He made his comments as Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is promising that the Liberals will soon amend the legislation, known as Bill C-10, in a way that makes it “crystal clear” that the government is not planning to regulate Canadians’ social-media posts.
Mr. von Finckenstein also expressed his concerns in The Globe and Mail in an opinion piece he co-authored with Peter Menzies, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the former vice-chair of the CRTC.
“Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault should fully retreat and refocus,” they write. “Fiddling with amendments is not the answer.”
Mr. Guilbeault introduced Bill C-10 last November. It’s called an act to amend the broadcasting act, and is meant to update Canada’s broadcasting legislation so that internet streaming giants, such as Netflix, will also fall under the regulation of the CRTC. That would mean streaming companies would have to play by the same rules as traditional broadcasters. Those rules include promoting Canadian content and making financial contributions to Canadian creators.
Last month, Liberals on the committee reviewing the bill amended it and removed a section that would have excluded user-generated content from the regulations. This amendment led some to express concern that it opened the door to government regulation of posts uploaded by Canadians to social-media sites.
The Liberals have since said they made the change so that music streamers such as YouTube would also be included under the regulation. They’ve since promised to introduce a new amendment to the bill that they say will ensure the rights of individual Canadians are not affected by these rules.
Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin moved an amendment late Thursday evening that she said “helps to clarify” that the legislation will not lead to the regulation of Canadians’ social media posts. She said the amendment “shows clearly that the CRTC’s order-making powers would be restricted when we’re talking about social media web giants who are acting as broadcasters.”
Conservative MPs said they needed more time to review the amendment. One of the bill’s critics, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, reacted immediately on Twitter saying the amendment is “not even close” to addressing public concerns with the legislation.
Bill C-10 was the first topic raised in the House of Commons during Question Period on Thursday. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the bill a “direct attack on free speech,” and asked the government when they were going to “listen to Canadians and scrap C-10.”
Mr. Guilbeault responded that the Leader of the Opposition should “actually read the bill,” and said the legislation would not regulate individual users as broadcasters. He also accused the Conservatives of siding with web giants instead of Canadian creators.
Though the controversial amendment to the bill has raised questions, some still think it was an important change to the legislation.
Jérôme Payette, director-general of The Professional Music Publishers’ Association, said the amendment was necessary to ensure that music streamers such as YouTube would fall under the regulation, and said he’s frustrated that C-10′s progress has been stalled. He said Canada needs to update its broadcast legislation in order to protect Canadian producers.
“This is an important bill for the future of the cultural sector, and it’s very sad to see it’s being used in a political game,” he said, adding he thinks that the concerns over how the bill could apply to individual social-media users have been blown out of proportion.
“It’s not a misunderstanding, it’s disinformation,” Mr. Payette said. “It’s never been about cat videos. It’s really about the future of our culture, and that’s what’s at stake.”
Members of the heritage committee were scheduled to review the bill again at a meeting on Friday afternoon.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.