The Canadian government is drawing intense criticism after taking numerous steps that many claim are an attempt to control the Internet and censor content it disagrees with, including requiring streaming services and those who offer broadcasting content to register with the government.
Following the passage of Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was granted greater authority over streaming and the Internet. After months of public consultations, the CRTC has announced a new “regulatory plan to modernize Canada’s broadcasting framework and ensure online streaming services make meaningful contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content.”
The CRTC now requires “broadcasters,” including social media platforms, television streaming services, podcast streaming services, and more, to register with the organization and follow the stipulations of C-11, some of which are still unclear. Some examples of companies that would be required to register are Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube.
Many critics of the bill claim that the government is also requiring podcasters, social media users, and anyone who posts content to register with the government so that it is able to censor what users can view. The government claims that is not true, even listing the claim on a “myths and facts” article about the legislation.
The CRTC says that anyone who creates audio or video content or creates podcasts is not considered a broadcaster under the legislation and that content posted by social media users will not be censored. C-11 does contain specific exclusions for these users, stating:
“A person who uses a social media service to upload programs for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service — and who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them — does not, by the fact of that use, carry on a broadcasting undertaking for the purposes of this Act.
An online undertaking that provides a social media service does not, for the purposes of this Act, exercise programming control over programs uploaded by a user of the service who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them.”
“Many of the CRTC’s supposed ‘myths’ amount to a distinction without a difference. The CRTC says it’s a ‘myth’ that it will regulate YouTubers, social media influencers, podcasters and other online content creators. The CRTC also claims it’s a myth that it will regulate social media users and the content they post. Instead, it says it’ll regulate platforms, not users.
All of this is like saying traffic police regulate roads rather than the drivers, or that lifeguards regulate pools, but not the swimmers within — in practice, regulating one regulates both.”
C-11 also requires broadcasters to pay to support Canadian content that promotes Canadian values. Numerous provisions also state that the CRTC is to promote diversity and serve the needs of “Black and other racialized communities.” One subparagraph says that the CRTC must, “through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests of all Canadians — including Canadians from Black or other racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and ages — and reflect their circumstances and aspirations, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of Indigenous peoples and languages within that society.”
Some critics claim that by requiring broadcasters to promote and financially support content that advances certain views, the government is, in effect, censoring opposing views.
The bill must be viewed in the context of other efforts by the Canadian government to control media. Bill C-18, called the Online News Act, requires social media companies to pay for news content that was previously available for free. As a result Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has restricted users’ access to news content in their feeds. Meta released a statement saying that the law is “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers.”
Critics claim the law is an attempt to force tech companies to help prop up legacy media outlets that are struggling financially, while social media platforms have said that parts of Canada’s Internet “regulatory agenda” are similar to authoritarian rules they have to follow in China and North Korea.
An ongoing effort to pass an online hate speech bill has also been underway with the support of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canada has also launched a United Nations declaration calling for “information integrity” and a global effort to address so-called “disinformation.” Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly stated that the declaration was a “concrete step toward establishing global norms on disinformation, misinformation, and information integrity.”
The declaration states that signatories should “take active steps to address misinformation and disinformation targeted at women, LGBTIQ+ persons, persons with disabilities and Indigenous Peoples.”
Following CRTC’s announcement of the requirement for broadcasters to register Elon Musk, owner of X, wrote, “Trudeau is trying to crush free speech in Canada. Shameful.”
Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not unlike our own Bill of Rights, designed to protect individual liberty, but it’s easy to forget that given the Canadian government’s crackdown on basic freedoms over the last several years. This is a government that has arrested pastors for holding outdoor church services and speaking out against COVID lockdowns, ordered psychologists to undergo “sensitivity training” over social media posts, and smeared its own citizens as violent, racist, misogynist, homophobic bigots whenever they speak out against these crackdowns.
The worst infraction was when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act in response to the peaceful Freedom Convoy protests, allowing it to, among other things, freeze the bank accounts of both protesters and supporters. All of these actions have made it clear that Canadian leaders will not tolerate dissent from certain state-approved views.
With its latest push to regulate news and monitor, censor, compel, and control online speech and information, the Canadian government is truly beginning to look more like the Chinese communist government than a Western constitutional democracy. Then again, a lot of Western countries are moving to control “disinformation” and “hate speech” in the name of “tolerance,” “diversity,” and “national security.” Among these are the U.K., with its Online Safety Act and arrest of Christians for silently praying outside of abortion clinics, and Finland, which has put a Lutheran bishop and a member of Parliament on trial for citing “degrading” Bible verses.
It’s important for Americans not to dismiss this is as a faraway problem. The U.S. signed Canada’s declaration on disinformation and, in blatant defiance of the First Amendment, both the federal and state governments have repeatedly displayed their own penchant for censorship.
A number of American citizens are fighting back against these unconstitutional censorship schemes in the court system, but the fact that we are now arguing the finer points of whether and to what extent the government gets to decide what information is true or acceptable shows that Americans, just like Canadians and other Westerners, are in real danger of permanently losing their free speech rights.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and politics? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page, where we’ve published several long-form pieces to help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.