I call this meeting to order.
Thanks, everyone, for being here. This is meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, December 7, the committee is meeting on its study on the subject matter of Bill , or, as we sometimes like to call it, the prestudy to a potential bill.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25 of this year. The webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee, and will be available on the House of Commons website for those who are tuning in from around the world. To our guests, our members of Parliament and our staff members, taking screenshots or photos of your screen is not permitted.
I'll outline a few rules before we begin. At the bottom of your screen you have the choice of either English or French interpretation, or the floor. Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Of course, the platform's “raise hand” feature is on the main toolbar should you wish to alert the chair in case of a point of order or anything of that nature. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you for the sake of our people recording this and for Hansard. Also, for those MPs asking questions, I remind them to please direct their question to a person they see on the screen. That makes life a lot easier, as we know.
That being said, I do....
We have a raised hand. Go ahead, Ms. Dabrusin.
Last week we received a note from the analysts, if I am not mistaken, asking us to send our proposed amendments to Bill as soon as possible. I would like to check if this is a common practice. We are still at the preliminary study stage. We have not even begun to study Bill C-10. So I think this request is premature. Also, if we refuse to send our amendments, I would not want it to be interpreted as a refusal to cooperate.
Secondly, I find it a little premature to propose amendments before we have even heard from the various witnesses who will come to talk to us about their concerns and give us their recommendations.
I would therefore like to know whether there is any particular reason why they are asking us to send them our amendments so quickly. For us, it will be impossible. We want to take the time to hear from all the stakeholders from the different organizations and then compare that with the information we got from our consultations. Then we will present our amendments to you.
Mr. Rayes, turning to your point, to tell you the truth, the issue of providing possible amendments was brought to my attention.
You are absolutely right, in the sense that your amendments could be affected not only by the testimony you hear here, but if the bill arrives to us and succeeds second reading, you could also be in that same position. The reason we brought this forward was that we wanted to avoid a logjam, as it were. We wanted to avoid a backlog of amendments that come in, because I suspect there may be a lot of amendments.
I took this upon myself because I like to be in a position to remind members about the process of clause-by-clause examination, which can be a long process, and I would like to arm you with as much information as I can. It doesn't compel anybody to hand the amendments in right now. If they do, that's great. I just provided the information because I know some people are new and don't know the process, and they may want to do that. It also helps out our legislative branch to deal with this not all at once but in a timely fashion.
You are under no pressure to hand them in now. If you want to, you can, because the legislative branch is there for you for your assistance in doing your deliberations. Of course, as a critic, I understand you have a lot on your plate. That's why I wanted to do that in advance.
I now give the floor to Mr. Champoux.
That is an excellent question.
We should not delay the work, but we must still ensure that all documents submitted for committee consideration are rigorously well translated. Despite an apparently good translation, the meaning can change a great deal. It is therefore important to deal with certified translators, who will ensure consistency in the quality of the documents we work with.
If we receive documents at the last minute, we can show understanding. We can begin to study the content at the same time as we submit them for revision. When the revisers discover shortcomings, they may point them out to us and bring to our attention that on a particular page of a given document, it should have said this and not that.
In short, I don’t want this to slow down the work, but I want to make sure that the documents we’re going to work with are accurate, no matter what language they are written in.
That's duly noted, Ms. Dabrusin. Thank you very much.
However, I want to warn people that we're drifting outside the scope of this particular motion. I don't want to go too far away, because it is on the floor and we have to dispose of it. I'm just looking for any further comments on this issue.
Seeing none, I can proceed to the vote.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Okay, let's jump right in to the business at hand, unless I see something else.
We are back to Bill and our prestudy continues. We have three groups representing in the first hour. Be forewarned—we're about 16 minutes in—that I may stretch this particular meeting to a level that I think is appropriate. I hope you don't mind.
Let's start out with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. We have Monika Ille, chief executive officer, and Joel Fortune, who is a legal adviser for APTN. We also have Dr. Michael Geist, Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law in the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa; and from the Association québécoise de l'industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo, we have Solange Drouin, vice-president for public affairs and director general.
Folks, we have five minutes. I'm afraid I'm going to have to be very strict on those five minutes, given that we're short of time.
We start with the APTN.
Madam, please proceed.
Thank you. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairperson and members of the committee.
[Witness spoke in Abenaki and provided the following text:]
Kwaï! Nd’aliwizi Monika Ille. Aln8ba sqwa nia odzi Odanak m8wkaw8gan.
My name is Monika Ille. I'm an Abenaki from the community of Odanak.
I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking with you from Tiohtiá:ke or Montreal, the unceded territories of the Kanienkehaka, and traditionally a land of exchange and gathering of many nations.
I'm the chief executive officer of APTN. I'm joined by Joel Fortune, our legal counsel.
Launched in 1999, APTN is the world's first indigenous broadcaster. APTN is available to all Canadians as part of the basic service on most cable and satellite services. We broadcast hundreds of hours of indigenous programs each year, including national newscasts. We broadcast in English, in French and in up to 15 different indigenous languages.
Our programming showcases the creativity of Aboriginal peoples and provides a unique opportunity to share our perspectives with all Canadians.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has recognized the role of the APTN in building bridges and understanding between Canadians and Aboriginal peoples.
We are very proud of the influence we have had on Aboriginal expression. At the launch of the network, there were very few independent Aboriginal producers. Today, we work regularly with about 100 of them, not counting the creators and the support teams that back them up.
If the CRTC had not used its powers, APTN would not exist and Aboriginal peoples would still be invisible on Canadian screens. APTN is a perfect example of what can be accomplished by a policy born of the Broadcasting Act, implemented through hard work and goodwill and supported by the regulatory tools available to the CRTC.
We support the steps taken in Bill to recognize the place of indigenous peoples and indigenous languages in the broadcasting system, but—and this is a large but—there is a hole in Bill C-10.
Bill would remove the CRTC's ability to oversee and support the distribution of Canadian programming services such as APTN in an online environment. The CRTC powers that made APTN possible in the first place will, if Bill C-10 stays as it is, have no place in an online world. In the case of the proposed amendments to paragraph 3(1)(o), Bill is suggesting that indigenous people should be supported when they carry on traditional broadcasting, but not online broadcasting. This is not acceptable.
Today we're tabling amendments that will fill the hole in the bill. We have worked with the Independent Broadcast Group, a coalition of 12 different independent broadcast companies that includes ethnic broadcasters, local TV services, music channels, Canada's LGBTQ channel, minority language groups and others. Without the changes we're proposing, or something similar, the CRTC will not be able to ensure the fair treatment and visibility of Canadian services and apps, including APTN, in an online environment.
Right now, the Broadcasting Act is technologically neutral, so the CRTC does have the power to oversee online distribution, although it has exercised this power lightly.
To be honest, we don't understand why this authority would be taken away. You're well aware of the impact web giants have on newspapers and how difficult it is to bring the giants into the fold. Why, then, would we take them out of the Broadcasting Act when it comes to online distribution of Canadian programming services and apps?
In conclusion, there is much that we support in Bill . The bill strives to better reflect indigenous people in broadcasting and the importance of indigenous languages and it acknowledges that we should operate our own broadcasting service. We fully support that aim. For services such as APTN and other indigenous and Canadian services, however, Bill C-10 as it stands does not see us playing a role in the future, and I'm concerned that it is actually excluding us from the online world.
Kchi wliwni. Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Thanks so much, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be back at this committee.
Good afternoon. My name is Michael Geist. I'm a law professor at the University of Ottawa, where I hold the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law and I am a member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society. I appear here in a personal capacity, representing only my own views.
As you may know, I have been quite critical of Bill ; however, please understand that criticism of the bill is not criticism of public support for film and television production. Support through all levels of government is essential. Rather, the question is whether Bill C-10 is the best way to provide that support.
Having carefully studied the bill, I argue that it's not. I'd like to get started by pointing to four broad concerns.
First, there is no free lunch. What appears to be free, as in new free money for the sector, comes at an enormous cost, and not just to consumers in the form of higher bills at a particularly difficult economic time.
I recently was engaged in a debate with Janet Yale of the Yale report in which she acknowledged that broadcasting policy restricts consumer choice. We know, then, that there will be a cost to consumers. Less understood is the cost to creators from the bill: the loss of fundamental principles, such as Canadian ownership and control of the broadcast system, the loss of the predominance of Canadian talent, a risk to Canadian intellectual property, and in the short to medium term, less production because of an uncertain regulatory environment.
Second, the bill punts many of the most important details, leaving it to lengthy processes at the CRTC or secretive cabinet decisions. The level of uncertainty and what's not in the bill is astonishing. Legislation is supposed to remove uncertainty, and this does the opposite.
The has said he plans to issue a policy direction that could cover everything from exclusion of video games to an IP policy to revisiting the definition of Canadian programs. Respectfully, that simply isn't good enough to meet the kind of transparency standards the government has long set for itself. Indeed, there is so much unanswered that it will take years to sort out, and creators will have to wait at least until the latter half of this decade for the promised benefits.
Third, this isn't about levelling the playing field. I've written extensively about the advantages enjoyed by conventional broadcasters, whether simultaneous substitution, market protections, must-carry rules or copyright retransmission benefits. There is no “like for like” here.
Fourth, with all due respect, some of the claims about the bill simply don't stand up to scrutiny. The has told the House of Commons that the bill contains economic thresholds, when it doesn't; that it excludes news, when it doesn't; that it won't affect Canadian ownership requirements, when it will; that the entire process will somehow be completed by this year, which it quite clearly won't be; and that it is similar in approach to what has been implemented in Europe, when it isn't.
These aren't inconsequential issues. As you may know, I've written a 20-part series about the bill that I'd be happy to table with the committee. With more time, I would delve into the many issues that are raised in that series. They include concerns about the approach of regulating all Internet streaming services anywhere in the world with some Canadian subscribers and then working backwards by saying that some might be exempted in a process that will take years to unfold.
That simply doesn't work. The registration and data disclosure requirements would still apply to all, and the inevitable result would be less choice for consumers and less revenue for creators as services block the Canadian market or simply license their content into Canada.
Moreover, the risks to Canadian intellectual property are enormous, potentially making Netflix and Amazon the kingmakers of Canadian content and leaving Canadian broadcasters with leftover scraps.
In my last minute, let me ask how we can fix this. I'll make three points.
First, thresholds in the legislation are essential so that rules only apply to the largest companies that have a real and substantial connection to the Canadian market.
Second, a transparent approach on critical policies is needed before the legislation is passed, not after. No bill should create more questions than it answers.
Third, there is a solution that would put money into the hands or creators this year, not in five years. I think we all want large Internet companies to make an appropriate contribution in Canada, and we have a system for that. It's called taxation.
Tax revenues can be used in whatever way we want, including in direct support for film and television production. The government could say that 30% of these new revenues go directly to the sector. That doesn't require changing the core policies of the Broadcasting Act. It doesn't require a secretive policy direction or years of litigation at the CRTC. It doesn't lessen competition, increase consumer costs during the pandemic or decrease choice. It also doesn't create huge uncertainty in the market for the foreseeable future.
The Broadcasting Act is an essential piece of legislation, not only for the film and television sector but for all Canadians. We all deserve better.
I welcome your questions.
Before I read my text to you, I would like to point out that Mr. Geist was speaking on his own behalf, while I represent an association, a large group of companies and individuals. In addition, I am co-chair of the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which also represents at least 200,000 artists and thousands of businesses. But we all feel that, although the bill needs to be improved, it meets many of the expectations we have had for a long time. We must therefore put all of this into perspective. I took a minute to say that, but I thought it was important.
I will now put on my hat as a representative of the music community. What is the ADISQ? Who are we? The Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo has been in existence for over 40 years. Our companies are independent businesses that are mainly based in Quebec, but that support the national and international development of the careers of song and music artists, most of whom are French-speaking.
Our mission is to support this cultural and economic sector, let’s not forget, by setting up a legislative, regulatory and financial business context favourable to its development. In a little over 40 years of history, our music and songs have been able to take off, firstly thanks to the talent of our artists and the entrepreneurship of our businesses, but also thanks to a set of important cultural policies, including those mentioned by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, APTN.
Let’s go back 40 years, long before the digital reality surrounded us. The music industry was dominated by a few foreign multinationals. The music offered to Canadians by these companies consisted in distributing music from elsewhere and, with a few exceptions, presenting French-language versions of English-language songs.
Even today, these companies are still part of our landscape. They are represented here by Music Canada, which you invite from time to time. They play the same role they used to play, but they have become a little more involved, in terms of production, in Canadian culture—almost exclusively English-speaking. These companies are totally absent from the production of French-language content. Our national production of French-language content is carried out almost entirely by independent Canadian companies, including those I am representing here before you.
The sizes of these two business segments are not comparable. We are small companies and they are large multinationals. Despite this disparity in resources, Canadian artists, particularly Francophone artists, have been able to achieve great success. However, none of this would have been possible without the implementation of cultural policies and government measures.
Let’s use radio as an example. About 50 years ago, the Canadian government required minimum standards for the presentation of Canadian and French-language content. By ensuring that Canadians could discover their artists on the radio, the government allowed them to be appreciated; then the public would choose to buy their records or tickets to shows. Without this valuable showcase put in place more than 50 years ago, this virtuous circle of development would have been impossible.
Even today, this privileged access of artists to the Canadian public through radio plays an enormous role in the careers of Canadian artists. Other forms of consumption have emerged over the past 15 years, such as Spotify and YouTube. It is therefore urgent that the government act in such an innovative and bold way with respect to digital platforms, and that is what Bill seeks to do. This is why the entire cultural community is very enthusiastic about the historic nature of the approach taken by this bill.
Admittedly, this bill is not perfect. You have the duty and the power to improve it. It must be strengthened in order to maintain the Canadian character of the system, restore the obligation to make maximum use of Canadian creative resources, more adequately protect the production of original French-language content, and give the CRTC the power to act on all elements of the system, including social networks. We must not miss this historic meeting and make it a missed opportunity.
Today, we hope to see Bill finally pass second reading in the House of Commons.
I will be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you, Ms. Drouin. You are very kind.
I've never done this before, but I think it's worth mentioning just very quickly to everyone since what we study at this committee is culture, arts, heritage and cinema. I just noticed the passing of Christopher Plummer, the actor. Christopher Plummer was not only an international star in the world of acting, he was also, equally, an incredible ambassador for this country of Canada. I would like to take it upon myself to express, on behalf of the committee members, sympathies to his family. May he rest in peace.
Nevertheless, let's get on with our questioning. As I mentioned earlier, please say who you're addressing your question to. That makes life a lot easier for us and for the people handling this world virtually, of course.
We're now going to go to questioning. We will start with six minutes for the Conservative Party.
Mr. Waugh, go ahead, please.
Thanks for reading and thanks for the question.
I tried to highlight a few of the things. I think the impact will be felt across a number of different kinds of stakeholders.
From a consumer perspective, as I noted, what this is going to do is decrease choice and raise costs. There will be services that will not enter the Canadian market. This will particularly hit multicultural communities in Canada that often rely upon different services from other countries that stream in. Many of them look at the associated regulated costs and say they're simply not interested in entering into the marketplace. There will be less choice and higher costs for consumers at a difficult time.
From a broadcaster perspective, I think it actually puts many of them at a disadvantage as well. They're going to have to compete with some of the large companies like Netflix and Amazon for Canadian content. They're going to get outbid and they're going to be left with intellectual property that isn't the very best because that's going to be scooped up by some of their American counterparts. They're going to find themselves in a difficult position because streaming services, even Canadian streaming services, will be able to get more in capital. They'll still be restricted and not have access to the same kind of capital.
From a creator perspective, I want to emphasize again, this is going to take years. Anyone who's done anything at the CRTC knows we are talking about lengthy hearings, followed by judicial review, followed by the prospect of more hearings. It will take at least half a decade to get this sorted out.
From a creator perspective, there aren't a whole lot of gains to be had, certainly not in the short term. It's somewhat ironic given that the sector, at least pre-COVID, was enjoying robust financing and in fact had record-setting amounts of film and TV production in Canada.
It simply isn't what's happening.
The reference point is often to the European audiovisual directive, but we should be clear: There are only four member states—Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the U.K.—that have currently transposed the directive. That means there are more than 20 member states that haven't even moved forward with it. If we take a look at the obligations, even of the countries that have implemented this, they're far different from what is being proposed here.
Denmark, for example, has a 2% direct-investment requirement. That's a far cry from the 30% that the has been thinking about, and there is no content quota at all in Denmark. In Germany, the levy runs between 1.8% and 2.2%. Spain is thinking about a 5% requirement. The dollars are just dramatically different compared with what the government is thinking about when it talks about its billion dollars in terms of new gains compared with what is being posed in Europe.
It's an inapt comparison more broadly because the requirement is applied across the EU. We're a single, small market. If you have an obligation that can be spread, let's say, 1% across nearly 30 member states, that is very different from the same 30% on one country with 37 million or 38 million people.
As you know, APTN is mandatory carriage, so right now we get 35¢ per subscriber per month. We do have a place in the landscape, and it took time for us to get there. When APTN started we were way far on the BDUs' dial. You'd have lots of snow before you got to APTN. There was an issue with being discoverable then.
If CRTC is not overseeing that APTN is discoverable and accessible on the online platform, BDUs will probably not want APTN to be there. They were obligated before, and we're very thankful for that, but we will not be in the online world. We are available right now directly to consumers with our OTT platform, but I think you need way more than that.
When you're a broadcaster, you want to share your stories. You want to entertain people. You want to inform people. You want to bring reflection, and you want people to have a better understanding. If we can't transfer that to online, then what's the use? Our stories will be there, but people won't access them.
It's a question of the future—our future as a broadcaster and for our stories.
Cord cutting is happening. We're seeing a decline in our revenues as well. It's all of this. Our revenues are declining, and we won't be discoverable.
Thank you for your question.
Of course, the bill is not perfect, but it lays an important foundation for the new regulations that need to be put in place. In the music community and in the cultural community in general, we have been waiting 20 years for this bill, ever since the CRTC chose not to regulate the Internet. In 1999, we thought it was a very bad decision. Since then, Internet development has increased tenfold. Today, cultural consumption is shifting to online music services, such as Spotify, or to Netflix, in the case of television.
The bill is designed to welcome foreign companies into our Canadian system, which was limited to Canadian companies. However, it is important for the system to keep its Canadian character in general. Above all, we must force all companies, even foreign companies that will now be under the CRTC’s authority, to make maximum use of Canadian content. This is stated in paragraph 3(1)(f) of the Broadcasting Act. However, the bill contains a new proposal that we find a little too watered down.
We want the current version of paragraph 3(1)(f) to remain, because it says exactly that all elements of the system must make maximum use of Canadian creative resources. It will be different for Netflix than it is for CBC/Radio-Canada, for TVA or for CTV, but first we have to see what kind of maximum use we must make.
Again, thank you very much to all the witnesses for being with us today.
Ms. Ille, time is running out and I will not be able to ask as many questions as I would like. However, I would like to tell you that I have enjoyed the discussions we've had and that we will have more in the future. I assure you once again of my unfailing support.
Now, I would like to have a brief discussion with Ms. Drouin, the ADISQ representative.
We have had discussions on the issue of French and on the way to ensure that the production of original French-language content will be protected at all times in the regulations that will be enacted by the CRTC.
We had this discussion because we don’t really know what form this will have to take. I would like you to give me your opinion on this: how can we ensure that the law will preserve and protect the production of original French-language content?
Thank you for your question. Thank you also for allowing me to continue on this subject.
I have been with the ADISQ for 30 years. That’s probably as long as Mr. Geist has been at the University of Ottawa. I have been reading Mr. Geist’s writing for 30 years and I have been disagreeing with him for 30 years. That’s okay. It’s common knowledge.
I would like to bring to everyone’s attention the fact that, in our economy or in the world, there is no universe where we are faced with an infinite choice. When we go grocery shopping, we don’t have every single kind of pea on offer. There is no such thing. When we buy a car, we don’t have access to all the cars available on the market. Choices are made that condition the offer in all sectors of the economy.
When it comes to culture, I think there must be a bias in favour of our own culture, which would be quite normal. Contrary to what Mr. Geist says, it is not true that there are no rules or technical means that allow us to achieve the same result in the digital world. The reasons may not be the same. It is true that frequencies are no longer scarce, as they were at the time. However, even if this scarcity no longer exists, this does not mean that there are not other good reasons to do so. You have to stop quibbling about whether or not there is a scarcity. Okay, there is no longer a scarcity, but are there still good reasons to regulate and enhance our national content? The answer is yes, and I would argue that there are even more, because our content is getting more and more drowned out. So why not promote our French-language and Canadian contents on our own territory?
In this time of pandemic, we see how important it is to have our own resources. We see that with respect to the vaccine. When you’re dependent on what’s going on in the world, you may be missing opportunities and you’re not self-sufficient. Here, the tools that transmit culture must first be at the service of our culture. Bill is beginning to move in that direction, and that is why we welcome it with such interest. This bill must do the same for all French-language arts. As others have said before you, Canadian legislation should be amended to give greater prominence to the protection, promotion and development of French-language content in sections 3, 5 and 9. We will commit all of our proposals to paper, and you can read them quietly. This is essential, and I think that nothing in the Internet universe prohibits this.
Mr. Champoux, I see that you want to ask further questions.
Certainly. I could start by talking about two of the changes that pertain directly to APTN, our own media and indigenous people.
Proposed paragraph 3(1)(o) says that indigenous people could carry on “programming undertakings”, but when you say that, you exclude online activities. We don't understand why that word would be used, which would prevent us from reverting to an online activity, so we definitely would want that to be changed to “broadcasting undertakings”.
This is hopefully an oversight that could be fixed quite easily.
Definitely, within the Broadcasting Act, a definition of the words “indigenous people” should be added. As you know, indigenous is one big word, and it pertains to first nations, Métis and Inuit people. It would be nice just to add this definition to show a recognition and acknowledgement of the different nations.
I could ask Joel to go through more details on the other ones.
Thanks, Monika. I will do it very quickly.
We work very carefully with the structure of the act and what the department proposed for Bill and how the various powers of the CRTC work. We really focused in on what we thought were the absolutely essential powers that the commission could have in relation to programming services as opposed to Canadian programs.
We proposed changes to the proposed subsection 9.1, which is on the CRTC's ability to make orders that affect online services. We are suggesting that the ability to make programs available should also extend to programming services, to make them available and discoverable. Similarly, there is an issue regarding the current requirement that distribution undertakings make certain programming services available. If you look at the act, a distribution undertaking by definition excludes an online service, so that's just crazy. If you have one type of distribution undertaking using one technology, you can make the service available under certain terms and conditions, but for a service using an Internet technology, you can't do that. That's just crazy, so we're suggesting that section should be changed.
Similarly, the commission's regulatory powers are very important. The underpinning for the whole system is its ability to make regulations, so we have suggested that certain regulatory powers that right now are limited to distribution undertakings specifically excluding online services should have the ability to relate to broadcasting undertakings, which would then include online services.
Those are a couple of little definitional questions, but they are very important.
We have also addressed the way the act works. Right now, you have two major sections. You have policy and you have powers, and you have to have both sections. You have to have a policy that relates to a power and a power that relates to a policy. It's great to have highfalutin policies, but unless there are specific powers that the commission can use, they really don't mean anything and vice versa. We have suggested a specific policy section that would relate to online services when they are distributing other services. It's essentially that they treat other services fairly and make Canadian services visible.
These are just some basic objectives for online distribution of Canadian programming services. Right now the act is completely silent on that point. That's a major flaw.
Finally we suggest a modification of the existing language that deals with Canadian ownership in the system. Essentially, we're suggesting that the act shouldn't just remove it; doing that seems excessive. We should certainly recognize that there's tremendous value in protecting Canadian ownership in our own broadcasting world. I can't believe the act wouldn't have that. In addition, we think it's important to recognize the diversity of voices, and especially of independent voices, in that section.
All of those pieces work together to fill the hole that Monika identified.
Okay, folks, we are back for our second round. We're studying Bill , of course, in a prestudy of Bill before it passes the House of Commons, if it does.
I'd like to make a few comments.
Again, screenshots, or taking photos of your screen, are not permitted. That's for our committee members and our guests; please do not take screenshots. Please, before speaking, wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. For interpretation, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of whatever is on the floor, or you can switch to either English or French interpretation. Please, when you are not speaking, put your mike on mute.
These are all the universal Zoom rules that we've been under for the past year, or almost a year.
Of course, I want to welcome our guests. We have two participants today. We have two guests we want to hear from, and we want to thank them for joining us here on a Friday afternoon.
We have, from the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, Daniel Bernhard, who is the executive director, and from the Union des Artistes, we have Sophie Prégent, Pascale St-Onge and Julien Laflamme.
We have five minutes each for your remarks. I unfortunately have to be a bit strict on that. I'll let you clew up your thoughts, but you have not much beyond five minutes, if we get there.
We're going to start with Mr. Bernhard from Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, please, for five minutes.
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify before you today.
The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting is a citizen’s movement dedicated to defending our cultural identity on the airwaves and online. Since our work is funded exclusively by citizens, our only interest in this process is that of the public.
Canada is an idea, and without sovereign media, that idea won't last. In 1932, the Conservative government recognized the power of radio to reinforce Canada's political, economic and cultural independence. They also foretold how an unregulated broadcasting system would turn this power against us, imposing American ideas and American ideals onto Canadian culture and politics.
We have taken care to protect our cultural institutions, but the omnipresence of the GAFAM group continues to threaten them. Ottawa has turned a blind eye to the distribution of illegal content on many of these platforms and has allowed foreign digital broadcasters to enrich themselves on our territory without contributing to the production of local content and without paying their taxes. Thanks to these companies and the inaction of Canadian governments, our democracy is now weakened and our society is becoming increasingly divided.
pitched Bill as a solution to at least some of these problems, and if we judged it by his comments alone, Bill C-10 would be a wild success, but upon reading the text itself, it's clear that Bill C-10 is not exactly as advertised. In fact, the bill, which should regulate digital broadcasting, could leave Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Youtube and Spotify entirely unregulated, just as they are today.
The good news is that Bill can be fixed, and we have formulated 19 precise amendments that would cause the text of the bill to more closely resemble the minister's account of it.
First, let’s address the issue of Canadian content. We subscribe to the philosophy that, by default, digital broadcasting should not require permission. However, giving the CRTC the option to regulate platforms such as Netflix is totally insufficient. The CRTC should be obliged to regulate digital broadcasters of a certain size.
promises to address this by order in council, but that’s a temporary approach that future governments could undo without parliamentary scrutiny. You can't accept this bill on the promise of an order that you haven't seen and that may not materialize. It's important to strengthen the bill itself.
Second, on social media and algorithmic decision-making more generally, we agree that people who create and upload content to the Internet should not require a licence to do so, but we can achieve that without exempting companies like Facebook, YouTube and Pornhub from responsibility for the content they broadcast. These companies routinely broadcast illegal content that would land any other broadcaster in court. The exemption for user-generated content should apply to the users themselves, not to the platforms who make billions curating and promoting this content. The Broadcasting Act alone cannot hold the likes of Facebook fully accountable for its transgressions, but it would still help to remove Bill ’s blanket exemption for social media sites and revise the new concept of programming control to specifically include decisions made by algorithm.
Third, Bill removes Canadian ownership requirements, paving the way for Fox and other American interests to swallow ailing Canadian broadcasters, decimating local programming, especially local news. We need not invite the further decimation of local news in Canada.
Finally, Bill is completely silent on the CBC, which could soon be the only national media of consequence left standing. You could use this opportunity to revise CBC’s mandate to be fundamentally non-commercial and to finally end political appointments for the president and the board.
In closing, I urge you not to waste this precious opportunity. We may not get another chance like this for years, and most Canadian media won't survive that long. Just this week, Bell Media announced hundreds of layoffs, adding to the more than 3,000 media layoffs in Canada since COVID. Let’s make things right—right now—while we still can.
Thank you very much.
If I may, I will first introduce the Union des artistes. Then I will hand it over to Pascale St-Onge, who will speak about the Fédération nationale des communications et de la culture.
I might even venture to say that the Union des artistes is an old union in Canada, being in existence since 1937. Its authority is recognized by our governments.
We represent actors, but also singers, dancers and presenters. So there are four categories, as well as sub-categories, which represent comedians, stilt walkers and puppeteers—in short, all those beautiful creators who convey our culture on our stages and in our media.
I have long wondered how to approach the principle of identity, which I wanted to talk to you about today. In the end, I decided not to write anything down and to proceed a little more organically, because I felt it was the best way to explain it.
The Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act govern our television and radio system. They therefore regulate music, television series, drama and news, among others. This is extraordinary.
Ms. St-Onge, would you like to introduce the Fédération nationale before I continue?
Let’s admit that these media are the most popular. You know as well as I do that television enters our homes and radio enters our cars and houses. They belong to us and look like us. They convey our values. They reflect who we are and make us evolve together. In short, radio or television serve as mirrors for us. The laws governing these two media should acknowledge the values of identity and recognition.
In our current system, the digital age is increasingly taking over the way we consume TV and radio content. Naturally, the mirroring phenomenon is therefore slowly diminishing. Concern is thus prompting us to ask ourselves whether it will diminish to such an extent that one day we will no longer be able to recognize and see ourselves in it. That would be profoundly dramatic. From the moment we know who we are, we can necessarily look at the other person better and accept their difference. If time permits, I will have examples to present to you later.
In short, laws serve to recognize certain principles and values. It is on this premise that the bill could be improved. There are certain fundamental concepts that we believe should be defended more strongly.
I give the floor to Ms. St-Onge.
We could go straight to questions while Ms. St-Onge’s technical problem is being solved, but I will finish my speech first.
The fundamental elements that we want to work on first and foremost are, among others, Canadian ownership and, of course, the French language and our people—that is, the workers, artists and artisans, whom we would like to see better protected and more involved in the projects that are done here in Canada.
Second, the CRTC must be given the resources and powers it needs to implement a more effective system. We must ensure that companies are accountable and guarantee the traceability of content. Finally, we need to look at the powers of the Governor in Council.
On the other hand, in an ideal world, we would get into the habit of revising laws. When we realize that there are loopholes, we have to be able to react quickly. Currently, I feel that we, in Canada, are trying to be proactive with regard to digital technology, which has not always been an easy concept to integrate.
In the future, it would therefore be important to achieve a certain lightness, even though I know that it is difficult to achieve this in legislation. In any case, if all this were provided for, it would already be easier.
Of course, Mr. Rayes. Thank you for your question.
The exclusion of social media from the bill implies two things that worry me.
First of all, it concerns the responsibility for the content disseminated. The Broadcasting Act says that each broadcaster is responsible for the content it broadcasts. If the act does not apply to social media, they will not be responsible for the content they broadcast, which we know is sometimes illegal.
On Friday, Mr. Chan told you about the efforts his company had made to address the situation, but it is clear that what he said was not entirely true. We have seen several examples where Facebook executives have made a conscious decision to allow illegal content to circulate on that platform. So it’s very important to have the power to fix the situation.
Second, there is the issue of liability for the discoverability of content, including French content, and other CRTC rules, such as election advertising standards. There are other things in the act that must apply to social media. It is very important to include them in the bill.
Before I get to some questions for the witnesses, there's clearly a lot of interest from all of the witnesses who have been before us so far, and we've seen a lot of requests from people who want to be able to present at committee. I'm not sure if I'm going to have another chance before the constituency week to put this to the committee, so I'd like to ask if they would be ready to add an extra hour on Friday so that we could have a chance to hear from more witnesses and do this important work.
I understand that members of this committee have generally shown a great interest in this work, having done this prestudy and having said that they're interested in moving forward with Bill . I put that somewhat in brackets because I was surprised to see that the Conservatives brought a motion this afternoon in fact to withdraw Bill C-10 and to have it fully pulled. However, luckily, I am happy to see that did not go forward.
I am presuming that the members on this committee still have an interest in doing the hard work on Bill and in being able to hear from as many witnesses as we can in order to move forward with the bill. I am wondering if we could have a chance maybe right now to see if we can get agreement from the different parties to add on one more hour. As far as context goes, I'm also going to add that we will not have a meeting on February 15 because of Family Day, so we're actually losing one day of witness testimony coming up. It would be very helpful for us to be able to have that extra time.
What Ms. Dabrusin just said is very intriguing. I agree with us using her time to discuss her proposal. That way, we won't take up any of the time we have for questions to the witnesses who are here with us.
A few things concern me. We could discuss her proposal at the beginning of the next meeting, but we already have a busy schedule on Mondays and Fridays. At the end of the week, we all still have a lot of work to do. If we add an hour, it will mean even more preparation for each of us. We do not have very big teams, with due respect for the parliamentary secretary and the , who sometimes have more staff.
I'm concerned about another issue that we don't often consider: the interpreters. They have all told us how difficult their work is and how few of them are available at the moment. It's Friday and they have been working all week too. We're aware of all the technical difficulties at the moment. For these reasons, adding a third hour worries me.
However, Bill is important. Nothing is stopping us from adding more meetings, if the parliamentary secretary, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc wish to do so. We would be more than willing to extend the consultations by adding more meetings as necessary. We then could hear from all the witnesses who need to speak to this bill, for as long as the committee wants.
My thanks to the witnesses for their patience. We apologize for the hold-up. These things do happen.
Ms. Prégent, in your opening remarks, you used a great analogy, a wonderful image, I thought: the shrinking mirror. I found that very interesting. Television and, in general, anything we watch, whatever the medium, certainly influences culture.
In a cultural context like Quebec's and in the Canadian francophonie in general, how dangerous is it when the mirror shrinks, in your opinion? What are the risks of not regulating all broadcasting strictly enough? Basically, I am asking you to elaborate on what you said.
I can tell you about French, because it's the medium that the Union des artistes operates in. Actually, UDA also has jurisdiction over all languages other than English across Canada; most people don't know that. I could also tell you about other languages that are in a little more danger.
As far as I'm concerned, the people on television must absolutely look like the people who watch it. In my opinion, we should not remove that concept from our legislation. On the contrary, it should be recognized. That's what I meant by looking into a mirror. I can't imagine what television will be like in the future if that concept is not front and centre in our legislation to a greater extent. I can sense the danger.
We're talking about an extremely captive, extremely curious viewer of French-language television. I can talk about original French-language content, because that's the content I know. People watch TV and listen to music in French. It's an extremely significant concept that transcends language and expression. The vibrancy it creates is much more collective. That's why I talked about the mirror, and about seeing ourselves, about togetherness, about identity. Currently, the idea of language is not in the legislation. That's extremely unfortunate, given Quebec's linguistic and geopolitical situation. There are very few francophones in the Americas. That's why I find it's a shame that the concept is left out of the legislation right now.
I have a question for Daniel Bernhard, from Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
Mr. Bernhard, one concept is kind of like a huge bug that mere mortals, and I include myself, cannot begin to understand. I am talking about the algorithms that social media use. You know a bit more about them than I do.
Explain to me how significant algorithms are and what role they play in social media programming in general.
Furthermore, how can we make sure that social media don't play tricks on us with the design of their algorithms?
I have to agree with Professor Geist that thresholds are very important. The new law, according to the 's comments, would force or compel companies like Netflix that have substantial operations in Canada to invest their fair share in the production of original Canadian content, but the law doesn't do that. The law clarifies that the CRTC has the option to impose these types of contributions, but it doesn't compel them to exercise that option, and as Professor Geist said, that's extremely problematic.
We would like the bill to clarify that once a digital broadcaster exceeds a certain threshold, whether that is by users or revenue appropriate to their unique business model, the regulation and obligation to contribute become mandatory, because as the law is currently written, the CRTC could continue doing exactly what it is doing today and still be in compliance with the law. We find that problematic.
The second point that I'll end on is about social media, which I mentioned earlier. The law has a categorical exception for social media sites, and this is hugely problematic. The idea that we should not force little Timmy, uploading videos from his bedroom, to have a broadcasting licence is, of course, one that we support, but Facebook and little Timmy are not on the same level. These companies should be responsible for the content they broadcast. They should be responsible for rules around political advertising, advertising standards, emergency alerts and all other measure of rules and regulations that are subject in the act.
I'll give you an example of why. Mr. Chan last week again said that Facebook takes a great measure to take down content that is illegal. He should tell that to Chris Trottier from Vancouver who opened his phone in March of 2019 to Facebook and saw 51 people being murdered in real time in New Zealand right in front of him. Mr. Chan says that Facebook doesn't choose what you see. You connect to it, and it's your choice. I promise you, Mr. Trottier did not ask to see that. It was pushed to him. It was promoted to him. That would be illegal for any other Canadian company to do, and Facebook should be no exception.
As a brief note of context, private media in Canada is falling off a cliff because successive governments have allowed their competitors, mostly Facebook and Google, to do things that would be illegal for the media to do. They don't pay taxes. They can broadcast illegal content. They don't pay for the content, and on and on. There is a huge crisis in Canadian media, and right now, the CBC is looking like it will be the only man standing, if things continue as they are.
The CBC, we believe, should have its mandate clarified to say that, first, it is fundamentally non-commercial. We have seen CBC management freelancing with increasingly desperate attempts to sell advertising. Tandem is the latest result of this. It's outrageous.
Second, we should say that there should be independence. There are accusations of bias against the CBC. I personally believe they are unsubstantiated, but even the perception is not helpful. Therefore, ending political appointments to the board and for the president is very important, and that can be done here.
Finally, we should mandate that CBC have local news coverage across the country. With all due respect to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, there are more CBC bureaus in Newfoundland than there are in Alberta, and there are six times more people in Alberta. It's important that the CBC have a mandate to distribute its resources equally across the country, and we think there's a good opportunity to do that now, especially considering the growing importance of the CBC, given the decline of private media in so many parts of the country.
Thank you so much. I'm going to have to call it a day at this point. We're running short on time, and we still have committee business to attend to.
I want to thank our guests. From Union des Artistes, Madame Prégent, Madame St-Onge and also Monsieur Laflamme, we thank you. I apologize for all the technical difficulties we had to go through. Also, Daniel Bernhard from Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, thank you again.
Committee members, we need to go back to Monsieur Champoux's motion for some operational clarifications. A few things were said, but there were no amendments. I moved on to a vote, and perhaps that was premature. We need to seek some clarification on two matters. Before I do that, I need the unanimous consent to bring the motion back into play.
Do I see anybody who dissents? No.
Here's the situation. There are two things we need to clarify in Monsieur Champoux's motion. By the way, we will get to the situation that Ms. Dabrusin brought up earlier about scheduling in just a few moments. I need to deal with this first.
One issue, of course, has to do with the documents, “That all documents presented”. If I'm understanding this correctly—and I'd like you to weigh in, those of you who talked about it before—we're talking about non-federal government documents that are being fed into the committee.
I turn to Mr. Champoux for his opinion on that. Is that what we are discussing here?
Mr. Chair, just so everybody understands.... I'm a bit confused again. Maybe I'm wrong, but Mr. Champoux said he believes the translation bureau translates all the documents that come from the ministries. Is that the case?
If it is not the case, then we need to clarify that because, first of all, everybody should get the documents in correct English and French. I'm in total agreement with that.
I fully agree that external documents submitted by third parties should be first revised by the translation service. I thought that this was the case, but it may not be in departments where translators work for the federal government, but are not part of the House of Commons translation service.
I think that we should accept these documents, and then the House of Commons translators can verify whether they were properly translated by the various departments. I may be wrong. I thought that the departments have translators other than those who work for the House of Commons.
Yes, Mr. Chair, and it's about having confidence, plain and simple. An incident has happened. It was inconsequential, because the text was very short, but I'm not convinced that the documents sent to us from witnesses, for example, are revised. I'm not necessarily convinced that all documents that come to us from the departments are translated to the same quality.
Therefore, adding this requirement to our procedures seems perfectly logical to me. Besides, it's not only about ensuring the quality of the French, but also of the English translation. We protect ourselves by doing this. If it turns out that departments already use the same translation service as the House of Commons, that is, the Translation Bureau, so much the better. It won't have a significant impact, but there will always be a guarantee that the work will be done thoroughly.
I would also like to point out that the proposed wording came from our clerk and was read and approved by the chief clerk. We can argue back and forth, but I'm wondering about the concerns that we might have about that.
In my view, it protects us all and guarantees that we will have quality documents. It seems to me that everyone should appreciate that.
I was glad to hear your response to Mr. Champoux. All of these questions are very relevant. No one is trying to slow down the process, but at the same time, we live in a country that has two official languages under the law. That means every document we receive should be of equal quality in both languages. In this country, francophones, those who work primarily in French, are the minority. Of course, if it were the other way around, it wouldn't even be an issue. I think we should find the resources to make it happen.
What Mr. Champoux is saying is perfectly clear. The documents can be internal or external. If they're internal and have not been translated by our translators, in whom I have the utmost confidence, the documents would need to be reviewed by them. If that was already being done, great. As for external documents, the idea is to make sure they have been well translated so that we can work effectively in both official languages. That is the least we can ask for. It's the law. This is a bilingual country. Our predecessors made that decision. We should be proud, and we should make sure the law is respected.
Since we are short on time, may I propose something?
Monsieur Champoux, may I work with you offline on the clarification of some of the things we've been talking about, and then we can come back and revisit this at our next meeting? I will allot time to do that. We may run into overtime, but trust me, as Mr. Rayes pointed out, if this were the other way around, how would it be handled? I have no idea, but I want to make sure that it's handled evenly across the board. That's why I'd like to take this under consideration, what you're saying, and we can clarify what we're talking about with this situation, especially when it comes to departmental versus House of Commons translation.
Monsieur Champoux, can I do that?
I apologize sincerely for belabouring the point. I hear what you're saying, and what I'm hearing, if I'm understanding correctly, is that you're not looking to have documents relooked at by the translation bureau. Have I understood that point? If they've come from the translation bureau, whether it's from me sending it or from the government sending the committee material, what I've understood is that you're not looking to have it reverified. That's what I've heard. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Unfortunately, the wording as was adopted literally says that “all documents presented as part of the committee's work be edited and proofread”. It's just that part there—“all documents”. I am happy to do that. I am happy to send everything to the translation bureau for verification. There is a verification step. It's not retranslation; it's verification. I will do that. I will follow the committee's instructions to the letter. I just want to be clear.
The only concern I have about that is if, perhaps, 3,000 documents were requested and furnished by the department in both official languages, I, rather than distributing those documents to you, would then have to go to the translation bureau and have them verified, and then I would be able to distribute them to you. As long as that's understood, I'm happy to follow the instructions.
We were looking for operational clarification. The motion then stands. We can end it at that, if you still want to proceed with your same motion, as long as everybody is of the understanding that it's “all documents presented”. As Mr. Housefather pointed out earlier, we all understand that they come from one place, whether departmental, House of Commons, so on and so forth.
Do you want to proceed with the same motion?
Then we're fine. We can just readopt it as is. It is so ordered.
I'm sorry for the confusion, folks.
In the few minutes we have left, I have a couple of things we could do here. We could meet offline to talk about extra hours or not, or we could bring it up at the next meeting. I could carve out some time to talk about that if you so wish. I'm looking for some input on that.