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Don’t buy the Liberal spin – C-11 is about control
If you spend enough time around non-Canadians, you’re likely to encounter some vast cultural divide when a song you think is universally known is met with a confused stare. Stompin’ Tom Connors’ “The Hockey Song,” anything by The Tragically Hip, and so on.
This is because government regulations forced these artists on our ears through 50-year old Canadian content requirements, elevating some artists who might never have gotten radio play on their own merits. While this has obviously produced some gems, it’s also saddled us with Jann Arden and Nickelback. Even so, the problem with CanCon regulations isn’t the outcome, but rather the artificiality of the process.
Bill C-11, the government’s purported attempt to “modernize” broadcast regulations in an internet era, is CanCon on steroids. The stakes of giving government control over internet content are much higher than having to listen to some crappy music.
Anyone who’s watched the average CBC production likely doesn’t view “Canadian content” as synonymous with quality, but the government has nevertheless pushed the narrative that supporting C-11 means supporting Canadian content, and, more specifically, Canadian content creators.
Yet Canadian content creators – the supposed beneficiaries of C-11 – have been lining up to criticize the bill. They see it for what it is, which is the government’s efforts to manipulate what Canadians see and share online.
Bill C-11 isn’t about promoting Canadian content. It’s about promoting government-approved content.
I joked on Twitter the other day that the best way to kill C-11 would be for folks like Ezra Levant, Spencer Fernando and me to record a PSA thanking the Liberals for championing a bill that would expand the reach of our homegrown, quintessentially Canadian coverage.
That obviously won’t happen when C-11 is law, but why not? I am Canadian; I’ve never lived anywhere but Canada; I do my show for a Canadian organization; I overwhelmingly cover Canadian issues. But I have no doubt that my commentary isn’t what the government has in mind to promote. (To be clear, I’m not actually looking for government to give me a leg up – I want them to stay out of the way altogether.)
At best, C-11 will override our algorithms to serve up banal Brittlestar videos keeping with Canada’s perpetual quest for inferiority. At worst, C-11 will attempt to limit Canadian identity and discourse to a particular type of content that fits the mold set out by regulators.
You criticize official bilingualism? Off the homepage you go. Your video is an ode to multiculturalism? It’ll be recommended to every Canadian internet user.
The government has denied it’ll be manipulating algorithms, but this is a technicality given that it will fall on digital platforms to manipulate the algorithms themselves to comply with the regulations.
Despite the Liberals’ frequent (albeit inconsistent) claim that C-11 isn’t concerned with what individual users do, the categories of consumer and creator are not so discrete in the digital age. If C-11 wasn’t going to affect users’ internet experience, there’d be no point to it.
While I don’t generally quote former chief justice Beverley McLachlin in a favourable light, this nugget from her dissent in Harper v Canada is worth sharing:
Freedom of expression protects not only the individual who speaks the message, but also the recipient. Members of the public — as viewers, listeners and readers — have a right to information…
It’s not difficult to see how C-11 tramples this right. To take Netflix as an example, I’ve grown fond of two foreign shows – Borgen from Denmark and Money Heist from Spain, if you care – which I might never have seen if the CRTC had been forcing the streaming app to serve up reruns of Little Mosque on the Prairie and Corner Gas.
Now, imagine this manipulation taking place with political content.
The government has already provided us with ample reasons to not entrust them with our right to engage online.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has expended considerable effort trying to get mean tweets deleted. Shockingly, a bureaucrat with the Immigration and Refugee Board tried (unsuccessfully) to get Twitter and Facebook to zap links to a Lorne Gunter column in the Edmonton Sun.
Government is already setting its sights on things Canadians are saying online that it doesn’t approve of. If this isn’t Canadian content, what is? The answer, of course, is what Trudeau and company want you to see, and none of the stuff they don’t.
If you enjoyed this, please do make sure you’re on the mailing list to keep apprised of future dispatches. If and when C-11 passes, we don’t yet know how that will affect us here, so get in early and make sure to support independent media.