Big U.S. movie studios including Netflix have warned that Bill C-11 could allow Ottawa to meddle in the menu of films offered to Canadians to watch at home.
The Motion Picture Association, which represents studios including Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal and Paramount, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that filmmakers fear the online streaming bill could give the broadcast regulator “the power to micro-regulate” content on their platforms in Canada.
The bill, which the Senate transport and communications committee is examining, would modernize Canada’s broadcast laws.
It would make streaming platforms, along with traditional broadcasters, promote a certain amount of Canadian content.
Netflix Canada’s director of public policy, Stéphane Cardin, warned the committee that the bill, although it has “a noble objective,” could let the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) force Netflix to serve up Canadian films and TV programs people might not want to watch.
He said Netflix tailors a menu of films and programs to people’s tastes, based on their viewing habits.
The Netflix executive said the bill, as currently worded, could “create a situation where you will force a certain content option onto a viewer and it is something that they are not interested in: It’s a Canadian horror film and someone is only interested in Canadian romantic comedies. That results in that show being viewed less favourably, and that has an impact.”
Wendy Noss, president of the Motion Picture Association, said in a written submission to the Senate committee that broad wording in the bill needs to be changed so it does not “provide the CRTC with the power to micro-regulate” what platforms offer.
Mr. Cardin also said the current definition of what counts as a Canadian film would mean that many productions made in Canada with Canadian actors and crew might not count as Canadian, because Netflix or a company from outside Canada owns the intellectual property rights.
Since 2017, Netflix has invested $3.5-billion in Canada for films and series on the platform, but not all qualify as Canadian content.
The Quebec survivalist drama Jusqu’au Declin, which 28 million people worldwide have watched, does not count as Canadian content under the current rules, he said.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said he will ask the CRTC to update and redefine what counts as Canadian content.
Michael MacMillan, co-founder of Blue Ant Media, whose productions include Canada’s Drag Race, told the committee it is important that the definition of a Canadian film includes who owns the intellectual property rights, and it is “very important that the economic ownership and control is held in Canadian hands.”
Mr. Rodriguez’s spokesperson, Laura Scaffidi, said streaming platforms “should contribute to our culture. Bill C-11 gives them flexibility on how best to do that, recognizing that their business models are different.”
Political tensions over the online streaming bill increased further on Tuesday.
This week, creative organizations, including representatives of song writers, media producers and broadcasters, took out an advertisement “standing up” for C-11. They say the bill is needed to support Canadian productions and inject funds into Canada’s creative industries.
But Jason Kee, who works for Google, warned in a personal tweet that the ad’s signatories must bear responsibility for “all the consequences of passing C-11 unamended,” including implementation delays due to legal challenges.
Chris Bittle, Mr. Rodriguez’s parliamentary secretary, tweeted back in response that Mr. Kee is “outraged that artists believe that some of the largest companies in the world should pay their fair share to Canadian culture.”
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, ruled on Tuesday that he would not pursue a request from Conservative heritage critic John Nater to investigate allegations that Mr. Bittle attempted to intimidate Scott Benzie, founder of the advocacy group Digital First Canada, before he appeared at a Senate Committee last Wednesday.
The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Bittle has asked the Lobbying Commissioner to investigate Digital First for failing to immediately disclose to the Commons heritage committee about $100,000 in funding the group received from YouTube and TikTok.
Mr. Benzie, a critic of Bill C-11, told the Senate committee last week he and digital creators were “attacked” while giving evidence before the Commons heritage committee. Some digital creators, he said, declined to give evidence to parliamentary committees because of such treatment.
On Tuesday, Senator Scott Tannas raised a separate question of privilege in the Senate about the alleged intimidation of Mr. Benzie.
Several Senators said the allegations that a Senate witness was intimidated on the eve of a committee hearing, with other Digital First Creators declining to appear, were serious.
Mr. Bittle’s request to the Lobbying Commissioner was also signed by Liberal MPs Lisa Hepfner, Michael Coteau and Tim Louis, who also sit on the Commons heritage committee. But Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, another committee member, did not sign it.
Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, deputy chair of the Senate committee, said Mr. Benzie had given evidence “for quite some time” and expressed “serious reservations” about Bill C-11. She said 10 YouTubers have been invited to give their views and none have declined to appear.