Effect of Bill C-11 on religion remains to be seen

  • May 3, 2023

Bill C-11, one of the most hotly debated pieces of legislation in recent Canadian history, received royal assent and became law on April 27. 

Also known as “The Online Streaming Act,” it amends the 1991 Canadian Broadcasting Act and subjects digital content creators, notably streaming and social media giants, to regulation by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Platforms like Netflix and TikTok will be treated akin to traditional broadcasters. As such, it will be mandated for these services to pay millions of dollars to invest in Canadian content and artists. 

What it all means for the Catholic Church, other denominations and religion in general it is too early to tell. But one of the bill’s fiercest opponents expects faith will draw much interest from proponents of the bill that many believe will lead to government censoring voices opposed to those in the corridors of power.

“Let me put it this way,” said Peter Menzies, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institue and a former member of the CRTC. “Religion has always been a topic of interest within the CRTC. There has been concern shown towards religious licences and broadcasters. These broadcasters must include content from other religions or no religion. Now that the CRTC is in charge of the global Internet, I’m not sure how it will affect religious websites, films and other institutions.”

That’s long been a concern for Canadian Catholic entities. In November, the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) expressed concerns about Bill C-11’s possible impacts on free speech in an email to The Catholic Register. 

“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 executive director Christian Elia.

In particular, Elia was concerned about the pro-life voice.

“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.”

The federal government however, has framed the bill as standing up for Canadian content.

“Today, we are standing up for our stories, our artists, our producers and our creators,” said Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in a statement released upon the bill’s passage. “We’re standing up so that Canadians have even more opportunities to see themselves in what they watch and listen to.”

Critics have dubbed C-11 as the “online censorship bill.” The Conservative Party of Canada, content creators, media industry experts and reps for the big tech platforms have raised concerns that this bill could control what Canadians see and hear online. Artificially enhancing the visibility of selected Canadian artists via playlists, feeds and algorithm recommendations means other content — the media an Internet user likely wants to see — would have to be pushed down. 

Menzies served at the CRTC for nearly 10 years, including as vice-chairman and president of telecommunications. He expects “years of court challenges — there will probably be constitutional challenges — and regulatory haggling” and said “It puts tens of thousands of jobs at risk and raises plenty of conundrums for the CRTC. We’re now not only including Canadian companies in supporting the production of Canadian film and television production, but we’ve now outsourced the funding of Canadian film and television projects to foreign multinationals.”

Menzies suggests that companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube were already “investing in Canadian television and film jobs quite nicely.” He said Canada has enjoyed great “online prosperity” in the past decade and that this bill could potentially disrupt the monetary success enjoyed by individual content creators on the global marketplace. 

Menzies expects the regulatory body will hold some hearings about the Online Streaming Act in the immediate future and that this might take “two or three weeks.” Debates triggered from this hearing could stretch for months, said Menzies. These debates could inspire appeals to the government and constitutional challenges.  

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