Over a year since its first introduction in the House of Commons, Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, received Royal Assent and became law last Thursday. The bill, the subject of heated debate in both the upper and lower houses of Parliament, makes a series of amendments to the Broadcasting Act that aim to update it for the Internet age.
An earlier version of C-11, Bill C-10, was introduced during the 43rd Parliament. Introduced by then-Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, it also proposed amendments to the Broadcast Act, which had its last major reform over three decades ago and was also the subject of controversy. C-10 was passed by Members of Parliament (MPs) and set to be considered by the Senate’s Transport and Communications committee. However, Senators refused to swiftly pass it before the Senate broke for its summer recess, stating the bill needed comprehensive review. Once Prime Minister Trudeau called a federal election in August, the bill was dropped from the Order Paper.
The Liberals were not done with the legislation yet, committing to reintroducing it within 100 days in their 2021 election platform. They introduced C-11 on February 2, 2022, which saw some changes from its previous iteration.
Debate on the bill in the House of Commons and Senate could be best characterized as combative. Conservatives frequently referred to C-11 as a bill that would enact online censorship, with critics of the bill suggesting the inclusion of “user-generated content”in the legislation would impact even casual online content creators.
The House of Commons Heritage committee’s study of C-11 included 12 meetings and 80 witnesses. The Senate Transport and Communications committee heard from 138 witnesses, proposed over 100 amendments, and broke the record for the lengthiest Senate committee study ever conducted. The study also set a new precedent in the Senate, as the government used a time allocation motion for the first time to curtail debate in the face of opposition – which was condemned by Conservative Senators and begs the question of whether this tactic will be utilized more frequently in the Red Chamber.
What’s To Come
Upon the bill’s passage, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez stated, “With this legislation, we are ensuring that Canada’s incredible talent has a bigger and brighter stage online.” However, the government is not at the finish line yet. Procedurally, the next step is for the government to provide the CRTC with a policy direction on how to implement the Online Streaming Act. This direction is expected to be issued within a month, which will outline the government’s priorities and be published in Part I of the Canada Gazette and open for public input. Once public consultations are complete, a finalized version of the directive will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. The CRTC will also hold its own consultation process, which will include several public proceedings. Politically, Conservative MPs and Senators have vowed to repeal the Act if they win the next election, suggesting that the debate over Canada’s broadcasting regulations is far from over. Globally, the U.S. Trade Embassy shared concerns with the bill in January, leaving us to wonder if and how the Act may impact trade relations.