Online Streaming Act back in House, minister intends to reject some Senate amendments

The Liberal government’s controversial Online Streaming Act is back in the House of Commons, where MPs are set to debate the Senate’s amendments.

Also known as Bill C-11, it would require big tech companies that offer online streaming services, such as YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, to contribute to Canadian content.

If passed, the bill will update broadcasting rules to include online streaming and require that those companies make Canadian content accessible to users in Canada — or face steep penalties.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said he intends to reject several Senate amendments that don’t align with the spirit of the bill, including one that is aimed at protecting creators who upload videos on YouTube.

He said that proposed amendment would allow big tech companies a loophole to avoid paying into the media fund.

“We recognize (the Senate’s) exhaustive work, and we will be accepting a large majority of the amendments they adopted,” Rodriguez said Wednesday.

“As promised, we are accepting amendments that ensure tech giants pay their fair share toward our culture, and we are declining the amendments that create loopholes. That’s what Canadian artists and creators have asked us to do.”

Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez rises during question period in the House of Commons.
Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez rises during question period in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

YouTube, which pushed for the change, said it would have protected the livelihoods of digital creators.

“It is inexplicable and deeply unsettling for tens of thousands of Canadian creators that the Senate’s efforts to add common sense clarity to this legislation could be rejected,” Jeanette Patell, head of Canada government affairs and public policy for YouTube, said in a media statement.

“We hope that MPs listen to creator concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for our creators and users in Canada at every step in this process.”

Digital First Canada, a group that advocates for millions of Canadian online content creators, called Rodriguez’s decision a “slap in the face” for creators who took part in the legislative process, and for senators “who recognized these creators as the future of Canada’s digital economy.”

Logos for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Apple TV+ are arranged in a composite.
Bill C-11 would require foreign online broadcasters to make the ‘greatest practicable use’ of Canadians and contribute to the production of Canadian programming. (The Associated Press/Getty Images)

“It’s shocking that the Senate’s sober second thought was dismissed, and that the government continues to act as though digital creators are not legitimate artists and entrepreneurs,” said Scott Benzie, director of Digital First Canada, in a media statement.

“But the voices of creators and their communities will not be ignored. We aren’t going anywhere — and this government and legacy media are just going to have to get used to it.”

The bill is awaiting a final vote in the House of Commons, but government House leader Mark Holland said he suspects it will pass with the Senate’s support despite the rejected amendments.

It’s also anticipated the Liberals will strike down a proposal that would have required companies to verify users’ ages before they access sexually-explicit material online.

“We’re dedicated to passing this legislation so I think you’ll see very broad support from the elected House on this legislation,” Holland said Wednesday.

“We will have a fulsome response to the Senate’s amendments and I’m very confident that the Senate will accept our verdict.”

The government says it plans to accept some of the Senate amendments, including one to promote Indigenous languages and Black content creators, and another ensuring that funds collected from tech giants go toward promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

Rodriguez said he also agrees with Sen. Paula Simons, who passed an amendment to remove a clause in the bill that she described as giving “extraordinary new powers to the government to make political decisions about things.”

The Senate introduced that change after Ian Scott, the former chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, told a committee that some provisions in the bill did move the balance point “slightly closer to lessening the independence” of the regulator — though he insisted that it would remain independent.

If passed, the CRTC will be tasked with enforcing the bill’s provisions.