Ottawa Citizen

Respect Charter rights, government asks of new chair of CRTC


There is worry about the effect the Online Streaming Act could have on freedom of expression, and the legislatio­n needs to be implemente­d in a way that's consistent with Charter rights, the Liberal government wrote to the new chair of the CRTC.

The ongoing debate around the controvers­ial bill has “raised a key concern amongst parliament­arians regarding freedom of expression as they look for assurance that the bill cannot be used to stifle what Canadians say online,” says the letter to Vicky Eatrides from Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Innovation Minister François-philippe Champagne.

“The rights and freedoms enjoyed by Canadians under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are of paramount importance. If Parliament adopts Bill C-11, the government trusts that the CRTC will implement a renewed Broadcasti­ng Act in a manner consistent with the charter.”

Bill C-11 sets up the CRTC to regulate online platforms like Netflix and Youtube. It has drawn controvers­y around how much authority the CRTC will have over user-generated content, such as Youtube videos and Tiktoks posted by digital creators and everyday Canadians. Critics have spoken out over “discoverab­ility” provisions in the bill that would allow the CRTC to force online platforms to promote content created by Canadians.

The legislatio­n could become law as early as this week. The key question is whether Rodriguez will accept amendments made by the Senate, including a change limiting the CRTC'S powers to profession­al content and excluding user-generated content.

Rodriguez has always maintained that's what C-11 is meant to do, but critics said the way the legislatio­n is worded was much broader than that. Sen. Paula Simons, one of the senators who proposed the amendment, said it was “surgical” in order to ensure Bill C-11 “actually does what the government has told us that it wants to do.”

The letter to Eatrides, released Monday, noted changes but didn't indicate whether the government will accept them. “As the bill currently stands, parliament­arians have proposed additional amendments to further reinforce the importance and protection of freedom of expression.”

The letter told Eatrides she is taking on leadership of the CRTC at a “critical moment.”

The ministers also flagged that “public confidence and trust in the CRTC has waned in recent years.” The issues include that the CRTC takes too long to make decisions, and that participat­ion in CRTC proceeding­s can be difficult for the public, as well as smaller groups and civil society.

Eatrides earlier told the National Post she will consider input from Canadians on how to implement the legislatio­n, and will hold a “broad consultati­on.” She said she would consider it a “huge success” if wireless prices and internet prices fall by the end of her five-year term.

Eatrides also indicated changes are coming to the wholesale framework for internet, under which smaller competitor­s rent space on the big telecoms' networks. Critics have blamed the framework and the CRTC'S handling of it for a wave of acquisitio­ns in the sector that have seen independen­t ISPS bought by big telecoms.

Rodriguez and Champagne said in the letter wholesale access “is a proven regulatory tool for enabling retail competitio­n in the Internet service market, and the CRTC can ensure that this tool is used, supervised, and adjusted effectivel­y and in a timely manner.”

The CRTC is also set to have a role in overseeing the implementa­tion of Bill C-18, which will force Google and Meta to share revenues with news outlets by requiring them to reach commercial deals with publishers and broadcaste­rs.

“If passed, Bill C-18 would empower the CRTC to implement and oversee this new framework by creating and enforcing regulation­s,” the letter said. It added the government would “rely” on the CRTC'S expertise “in dispute resolution to implement an effective, common-sense framework.”

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