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Civil rights league concerned by Bill C-11

  • November 25, 2022

The Catholic Civil Rights League is concerned that Bill C-11, the federal government’s proposed Online Streaming Act, could limit the free speech of Catholics on issues that might run up against federal policies.

League executive director Christian Elia pointed in particular to Catholics with pro-life views, which run contrary to the official stances of the governing Liberals, who have outlawed people with pro-life views from running for office under the federal Liberal banner.

“The League submits that in a free and democratic society efforts to limit free speech must be opposed in favour of open communication, which includes opinions that the government might view as dissentient,” wrote Elia in an email to The Catholic Register. “We support the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death in our opposition to abortion and euthanasia. We hope that broadcasters will allow such voices to be heard in a robust way, rather than submit to government diktat.”

Elia said the CCRL “have worked hard to use digital means in advancing fair hearings for Catholic positions on issues of public debate in support of law and policy compatible with a Catholic understanding of human nature and the common good for a better Canada.”

Bill C-11 could represent a threat to those efforts.

If the bill becomes law, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will be armed with regulatory power over audiovisual content transmitted or retransmitted on online platforms, including monetized content on social media services.

“The CCRL fears that Bill C-11, or any attempt to regulate and shape communications by broadcasters, will lead to greater incursions to our freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience and religion,” Elia said. 

Experts from every corner of the Canadian — and global — media ecosystem have testified to the Standing Senate Committee of Transport and Communications over the past two months on the legislative proposal originally authored by Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez. Rodriguez said the act “will make a direct contribution to the vitality of Canadian culture” by mandating online streamers “to do their fair share, no more, no less, to fund, create, produce and distribute Canadian content.”

Opposition voices state this bill will diminish the country’s online prosperity and harm individual content creators’ freedom of expression, including a former vice-chairman and telecommunications president of the CRTC.

“With YouTube, for example, if they promote Canadian content in Canada, they are going to have to depress (the videos) elsewhere to make it fair because they have to treat all their clients with the same set of rules,” said Peter Menzies, now a senior fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “This shrug you get from people, this ‘so what, they can do whatever they want,’ I find that very alarming. It really is sort of a ‘build that wall’ approach when it comes to content.

“The Internet gives Canadian content producers access to every Anglophone or Francophone in the world. It’s just a much bigger market than Canada. Why would you do something to wreck that? It’s just crazy,” he said.

If Bill C-11 passes the Senate and receives royal assent, any Catholic publication posting audio or video on streaming platforms, and the Church itself, would fall under CRTC jurisdiction, said Menzies.

“Religion has always been an area of concern for the CRTC when it comes to broadcasting. A lot of it has to do with its history. A matter of concern means they keep a close eye on it. Basically, with some of the priorities that the government has in terms of the tone and mood and things that it wants to take place, there are traditional Catholic teachings that would very much be a concern of the CRTC.”

Elia points to the Statistics Canada finding in August that acts of anti-Catholic violence rose 260 per cent from 2020 to 2021 as a product of the lack of civility accorded to Catholic beliefs in the public square.

It appears Bill C-11 is inching closer to a resolution in the Senate. The Standing Senate Committee of Transport and Communications re-convened Nov. 23 to conduct a clause-by-clause consideration of the Online Streaming Act.

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