The chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)  has confirmed that the Trudeau government’s Bill C-11 would crack down on user content – contrary to the government’s own testimony. 

Testifying at a Canadian heritage committee hearing on Tuesday, CRTC chair Ian Scott said, “[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act.”

Section 4.2 of the bill allows the CRTC to issue regulations on social media companies that could affect the reach of content – favouring some content over others.

Commission general counsel Rachelle Frenette attempted to clarify the regulatory powers the CRTC would have but ended up further obfuscating the commission’s powers. 

“The commission could, for example, issue certain rules with respect to discoverability, could perhaps issue rules…to respond to certain concerns on accessibility.”

This witness testimony before the Canadian heritage committee appears to contradict statements made by heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez had made assurances that the issues in previous versions of the bill were “fixed” and that corporations were the bill’s targets, not individuals.

“We made it very clear in the Online Streaming Act that this does not apply to what individual Canadians and creators post online,” he said.  

“No users, no online creators will be regulated. No digital-first creators, no influencers, no cat videos. Only the companies themselves will have new responsibilities.”

While there has been debate over how much power would be delegated to the CRTC if the Trudeau government passes Bill C-11, testimony suggests the legislation’s broad language allows the CRTC to exert control far beyond the scope described by the government.

YouTuber Justin Tomchuk told the heritage committee that Bill C-11– as it stands – would potentially destroy his YouTube channels, as a vast majority of his audience is international. 

“The social media platforms cannot allow Canadian content to enjoy heightened exposure to Canadians without detracting exposure internationally, as it creates an uneven playing field on the platform,” Tomchuk said. “Less Canadian content will be shown globally as a result.”

YouTube has also warned that Bill C-11 places content uploaded by creators under the purview of CRTC regulation – again, despite the Trudeau government’s claims.

YouTube Canada’s head of government affairs Janette Patell said that the bill “provides the CRTC the discretion to regulate user-generated content like a fan doing a cover song or someone making cooking videos in their kitchen or doing how-to-fix-a-bike videos.” 

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist criticized the government for portraying the bill’s effects as harmless and avoiding its potential problems.

“When the government isn’t misleading about the scope of the bill, it would seemingly prefer to shift the debate to the implications of CRTC regulatory power on user content, with (CRTC chair) Scott seeking to portray it as harmless,” he said.  

“However, those who are expert in the area have identified risks to Canadian creators with the approach, particularly with respect to content downgraded in algorithms outside of Canada.”