The federal government is chipping away a little bit at the edifice of freedom, ostensibly to promote the interests of Canadians. Specifically, Bill C-10 will require large firms to finance and promote Canadian content. But although this might sound like a good idea, it will have significant negative side-effects.
For one thing, it will discourage companies like Netflix from participating in the Canadian market due to direct costs paid out to programs directed toward the production of entertainment made in Canada. What’s more, vagueness regarding what counts as “Canadian content” will present a significant procedural impediment to operating in Canada, effectively forcing these firms to hire consultants who can navigate the complexity of this quagmire.
Part of the reason for this policy confusion is that it is based on an understanding of media and content that predates the internet. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) implemented its television, broadcasting, and radio content laws in the latter part of the last century, at a time when it was easier to distinguish Canadian from non-Canadian content.
Moreover, the line between creators and consumers is no longer as clearly demarcated as it used to be. For this reason, the requirements of Bill C-10 are particularly harmful for firms like YouTube, whose services by their very nature blur the lines between creators and consumers of content. These companies will have great difficulty amplifying the voices of Canadian creator/users with their algorithms without simultaneously drowning out smaller, lesser-known creator/users who are just getting started.
It may seem like an insignificant limit to freedom if we imagine American cat videos being drowned out by Canadian ones. However, when we consider the fact that the primary source of news for approximately 50% of Millennials and Gen-Z is social media, protectionist motivations for constraining which information users can access could have far-reaching implications for freedom and democracy, giving the government outsized power to shape hearts and minds.
This issue is being painted as a choice between firms demonstrating their Canadian patriotism by navigating the grey areas of Bill C-10, or standing up for an open user/creator-oriented internet. But this is a false choice, especially when we consider the benefits ordinary Canadians reap from an internet free of arbitrary constraints.
By Eric Seguin, Research Intern at the MEI and Concordia MA Philosophy Student.