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Why Canada's New Regulations For Podcast Platforms Are Cause For Serious Alarm
Canada's censorship regime isn't erected by an overnight incursion, but an incremental crusade lead in the name of "promoting Canadian content," resulting in unprecedented regulation of the internet.
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An original version of this piece was published in The Free Press
Last month, Canada’s federal broadcast regulatory agency (CRTC) announced a new mandate requiring online streaming services, including podcast platforms, to register with the government by Nov. 28. The order applies to streamers generating $10 million or more from their Canadian consumer base, which would presumably include Spotify, Rumble, X, and others.
Read in isolation, these new online regulations aren’t explicitly despotic or indicative of censorious over-reach. The government is merely creating a “registry” for online streaming services — that’s all. What could go wrong?
After all, the seemingly altruistic and patriotic rationale underpinning Bill C-11 — the controversial law passed in April under which these new regulations are now being introduced — is that “Canadian” content should be preferentially celebrated, consumed, and amplified. In order to achieve this goal, the government believes it has to intervene and engineer this desired outcome for Canadian creators by imposing strict regulations on online streaming services. Bill C-11 “will help make sure that our cultural sector works for Canadians and supports the next generation of artists and creators,” said federal official Pablo Rodriguez. (Note: I have put “Canadian” in quotations because the online success of creators depends on the degree to which a creator’s content can be subjectively deemed as such by the government — one of umpteen reasons to oppose these regulations.)
One of many pressing concerns voiced by independent Canadian creators is that their online success will depend on the degree to which their content will be subjectively deemed as “Canadian” by the government. Moreover, streaming giants themselves have articulated their critical opposition to Canada’s expansion of online regulation in the name of promoting Canadian content. In public hearings on Bill C-11 this July, Spotify listed a battery of deliberate efforts dedicated to uplifting Canadian — especially LGBTQ+ and BIPOC (what I call “everyone minus straight white guys”) — voices:
Spotify listeners in Canada discovered over 83 times more Canadian music than Canadian songs played on broadcast radio. Streaming is not only growing the business of music, it's also helping it to become a more open and democratized medium….Artists that represent Canada’s special diversity – from breakout Québécois rappers to Canadian Punjabi musicians experiencing huge success at home and in India – are being elevated and tapping into new audiences not available on radio.
Spotify spotlights new Canadian artists through initiatives like RADAR and FRESH FINDS, which promotes artists locally and creates opportunities for artists to showcase their content globally.
Always-on social impact campaigns celebrate the expression of Canadian women, Black, and LGBTQ+ creators, among others through hubs like EQUAL, FREQUENCY, and Pride Canada, accompanied by on and off, platform marketing. Spotify’s Indigenous initiative gives curatorial control, which rotates on a monthly basis, to Indigenous artists with supporting video content for Indigenous storytelling and cultural awareness.
Does Spotify really need the Canadian government clamping down on it to promote Canadian creators in music and now in podcasts?
Needless to say, notable ethnic Canadian artists such as The Weeknd and Drake have deservingly earned international superstardom without any government intervention. The idea that the next generation of artists needs a federal bureaucracy to mandate a proactively diversity-devoted company to promote them is absurd on its face.
In terms of which podcast platforms will formally register with the Canadian government, it’s possible companies such as Spotify and Rumble refuse to comply just as Instagram and Facebook have in response to previous online regulatory legislation.
The most dramatic shift in Canadians’ lives as a result of government failure comes from Bill C-18, which mandated social media companies compensate Canadian media outlets for distributing their content. Twitter and Facebook warned beforehand they would not be able to comply with a 4% link fee for a number of technical and pragmatic reasons — also stating that their platforms helped generate traffic to these sites — but the Trudeau government pushed it anyways. The unsettling result: Canadians can no longer access any news articles, videos, or event accounts of media outlets and newspapers on Instagram or Meta.
Canadians are currently unable to access a variety of programs on Instagram from corporate giants such as the CBC and The New York Times to local student newspapers such as and independent media outlets such as Glenn Greenwald’s System Update or Bari Weiss’ The Free Press.
If podcast platforms follow the precedent of social media platforms and choose not to be controlled — lightly or heavily — by the dictates of the Canadian government, millions of Canadians could find themselves in a position to not be able to access Spotify-exclusives such as The Joe Rogan Experience, Call Her Daddy, and Armchair With Dax Shephard.
However, the CRTC isn’t merely tasked with amplifying Canadian and Indigenous art. Absent from much of the American news coverage is the Broadcasting Act the CRTC follows, which now covers online streaming services (in addition to TV and radio) as a result of Bill C-11. Here’s just one section of the politically charged, highly ambiguous parameters of the Broadcasting Act:
It is hereby declared as the broadcasting policy for Canada that 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,
Who decides what the diverse and variegated “circumstances and aspirations” of “racialized communities” in Canada are?
If this doesn’t initially problematic, this question will highlight one of the many issues: does this policy require Canadian programming to reflect the concerns of Muslim Canadians vocally expressing their opposition to progressive sexual orientation education in school classes? Does this policy require the CRTC to order the promotion of female podcasters such as Meghan Murphy for voicing their concerns of transgender-identifying men entering in vulnerable female spaces?
If this seems light years away from plausibility, Canadian media has a big problem on its hands.
The Government’s Disturbing Record of Clamping Down On Broadcast Speech
More troublingly, the CRTC now tasked with regulating podcast platforms has shown a disturbing record of prioritizing social justice pieties over free speech.
Last year, the CRTC ordered the CBC/Radio-Canada — the federally funded public broadcasting service for radio, television, and journalism — to publicly apologize and show evidence of internal, corrective reform for violating the “Canadian broadcasting policy objectives and values” after receiving one citizen complaint. The several degrees of separation between the original instigating incident and the succeeding government intervention is quite remarkable.
Radio-Canada’s specific offence was merely platforming a Quebecois radio program’s episode where the hosts utter the N-word when discussing a story about a Concordia University professor who came under fire for quoting the title of a 1968 book by Canadian journalist Pierre Vallières which contained the N-word. The CRTC’s contention was not that the word was used with racist intent, but that it failed to show “sufficient respect and sensitivity to the communities affected by the term.” They specify the offence is contingent on “social context” — the recent George Floyd tragedy in the U.S — and absence of a trigger warning (“a clear audience advisory”) at the beginning of the episode. Earlier this year, a federal court ruled against the CRTC for making several errors in disciplining the CBC, but clearly stated the CRTC has the power to regulate speech on its airwaves.
Should we trust the same federal bureaucracy devoted to punishing politically and culturally insensitive language on radio platforms to be in charge of now regulating podcast platforms?
Canada’s online regulatory efforts have resulted in Canadians not being able to access any media outlets on Meta and Instagram. Canadians are currently unable to access a variety of programs
During the age of Covid, the government egregiously violated Canadians’ mobility rights not on the basis of robust scientific consensus — such as a geographically isolated virus or transmission-halting vaccine which would arguably lend support to travel vaccine mandates — but desired policy. As Rupa Subramaya previously reported in The Free Press, Transport Canada officials explicitly aimed to mandate Covid vaccines for Canadian travellers before any ostensible public health rationale was provided. In reality, there was never a public health rationale for mandating mRNA inoculations, but the authoritarian Canadian government didn’t rely on one to enforce its polices.
What’s more, the Canadian government froze the bank accounts of those who donated to the Trucker’s Convoy. Multiple people in my own small town of Chilliwack — a couple of hours away from Vancouver — had their bank accounts frozen. A close colleague of one of my mentors mentioned his own unsettling story in a recent conversation, leading to a more formalized interview where he described his nightmarish experience:
My family and I were on our last day vacationing in Hawaii and my wife was trying to access our personal account to pay bills, etc. When she logged into our account to do so, all our accounts showed “$0”.
I then contacted our bank who said that my business banker had changed, and she had been trying to contact me for the last number of weeks to introduce herself and get answers to some questions she had about us and our account. As she had not been able to reach me, she froze the account.
When we went back the next day, we had planned to restock on groceries at Costco in Bellingham, WA as it would be quite late when we arrived home. Unfortunately, they don’t accept the credit card we have and as our bank account was frozen, we couldn’t use debit. This resulted in us arriving home late and needing to send our kids to the neighbours for a sleepover because we didn’t have any food in our house to feed them until the next morning when we could go grocery shopping.
I finally had my meeting with the bank the next day, answered the questions, and had our account unfrozen.
The pressing question is this: can Canadians trust the federal government’s execution of its advertised benevolent aims won’t infringe upon our society’s foundational principles of free expression, liberty, and democratic rights?
The past three years have given us every reason to think otherwise.
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