One of Canada’s most acclaimed authors is drawing a clear line: he doesn’t want politicians telling him what counts as Canadian content or Big Brother looking over his shoulder when he writes.
If ever there was doubt about whether Bill C-11 represents a gateway toward government censorship, that doubt was put to rest by Senator David Adams Richards earlier this week.
“This law will be one of scapegoating all those who do not fit into what our bureaucrats think Canada should be,” warned Richards from the Senate floor.
Richards is far from a Trudeau government skeptic. He was first appointed to the senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 and is a member of the centrist Canadian Senators Group.
Richards is also one of the most accomplished authors in Canadian history, having won prizes in fiction and non-fiction throughout this career. If anyone has authority to speak to the impact government rules and regulations might play in the creative process, it’s Richards.
And Richards foresees Bill C-11 putting the power to define what counts as Canadian content in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and unqualified politicians.
“I do not know who would be able to tell me what Canadian content is and what it is not, but I know it won’t be in the minister of heritage’s power to ever tell me,” Richards declared.
Bill C-11 would hand the power to regulate what counts as Canadian content to unelected bureaucrats. It would require the content bureaucrats define as Canadian, determined through government algorithms, to be amplified while, in effect, quieting all other content, which doesn’t meet the government’s narrow criteria.
That raises the spectre of content viewed as unfavourable toward the government being less likely to be classified as Canadian, making it harder for critics to hold the government to account.
If government bureaucrats get to choose what content to push on Canadians, there’s a very real risk the government will be tempted to use its filtering powers to quiet its critics.
But Bill C-11 also poses a danger even for creators whose content is classified by the powers that be as Canadian.
If the government forces platforms like YouTube to push content on Canadian viewers based on nationality, and not on interest, viewers choosing not to click on that content will lead internet algorithms to conclude that the content isn’t desirable among viewers.
That means viewers outside of Canada would be less likely to see that content. That will hurt, not help, Canadian creators.
Richards foresees that very danger.
“We have filled the world with our talent, but not because of the minister of heritage,” said Richards. “Drake is known worldwide, but not because of the CRTC.”
Canadian stars like Drake, Justin Bieber, and others, who rose to fame through viewership on platforms like YouTube outside of Canada, may never have come to be had Bill C-11 been the law of the land.
Drake and Bieber are already on the popularity mountain top, but those still climbing are worried. Regina-based TikTok sensation Tesher has stated: “C-11 would limit that reach by requiring creators to prioritize government criteria for domestic distribution over making content optimized for global audiences.”
The government’s misguided desire for more control over what Canadians can see and say online, a move unprecedented in a democracy, will hurt Canadian creators far more than it will help them. And it also puts Canadians’ civil liberties at risk.
Richards foresees that too, warning that “Stalin again will be looking over our shoulder,” should Bill C-11 find its way into law.
Richards’ fellow senators would do well to listen to Richards’ concerns. Bill C-11 will soon come to a vote in the full Senate, and every senator should be asking themselves whether they want Canada to head down such a dangerous pathway.
It’s time for Canada’s senators to say no to censorship and government control.
Senators have the power in their hands to stand between Canadians on the one hand and the road to serfdom on the other.
— Jay Goldberg is the Ontario & Interim Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.