FIRST READING: Yes, the Liberals are absolutely coming for your podcasts

FIRST READING: Yes, the Liberals are absolutely coming for your podcasts

The whole point of C-11 is to force federal content controls on as much of the internet as possible

Published Oct 04, 2023  •  Last updated 2 hours ago  •  7 minute read

Girl listening to music.
Oh no! It’s someone listening to a podcast that wasn’t vetted by federal regulators! Photo by Stock

First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent directly to your inbox, sign up here. 


Article content

On Friday, the CRTC announced the first step of its implementation of the Online Streaming Act. Any “online streaming services” — be they podcast providers or video platforms — were given until Nov. 28 to make their first-ever registration with the CRTC.

National Post


Enjoy the latest local, national and international news.

  • Exclusive articles by Conrad Black, Barbara Kay, Rex Murphy and others. Plus, special edition NP Platformed and First Reading newsletters and virtual events.
  • Unlimited online access to National Post and 15 news sites with one account.
  • National Post ePaper, an electronic replica of the print edition to view on any device, share and comment on.
  • Daily puzzles including the New York Times Crossword.
  • Support local journalism.


Enjoy the latest local, national and international news.

  • Exclusive articles by Conrad Black, Barbara Kay, Rex Murphy and others. Plus, special edition NP Platformed and First Reading newsletters and virtual events
  • Unlimited online access to National Post and 15 news sites with one account.
  • National Post ePaper, an electronic replica of the print edition to view on any device, share and comment on.
  • Daily puzzles including the New York Times Crossword.
  • Support local journalism.


Create an account or sign in to continue with your reading experience.

  • Access articles from across Canada with one account.
  • Share your thoughts and join the conversation in the comments.
  • Enjoy additional articles per month.
  • Get email updates from your favourite authors.

Article content

It’s just a quick form laying out contact details and the name of a “designated representative” who can be expected to carry out subsequent CRTC instructions. But if the form isn’t received by then, it’s a Bill C-11 violation and thus a possible $10 million fine.

The announcement immediately attracted attention well beyond the usual circles that care about CRTC regulatory changes. Perennial world’s wealthiest man Elon Musk declared “Trudeau is trying to crush free speech in Canada.”

Investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald wrote a viral social media post branding the registration as the opening salvo of “one of the world’s most repressive online censorship schemes.”

The Canadian government, armed with one of the world’s most repressive online censorship schemes, announces that all “online streaming services that offer podcasts” must formally register with the government to permit regulatory controls:

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 1, 2023

Article content

To this, defenders of the move shot back that the registration only applies to companies with annual revenues of more than $10 million. “That is very few companies offering podcasts in Canada,” wrote CBC Business reporter Anis R. Heydari.

But the $10 million threshold is a bit of a red herring given that the explicit end-goal of C-11 is to have all of Canada’s primary podcast and video platforms subject to federal controls. While very few Canadian podcasters and video streamers can claim eight-figure revenues, almost all of them rely on a distributor (such as Spotify or YouTube) that does — and it’s those distributors who will likely be mandated by Ottawa to enforce the requirements of C-11 on their users.

The text of the bill requires that any “online undertakings” shall “clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming … and ensure that any means of control of the programming generates results allowing its discovery.” It’s similar to how the CRTC currently doesn’t have much direct control over TV shows or artists, but it does strictly legislate the broadcasters who hire and distribute them.

Article content

In just a few weeks, if Bill C-11’s measures are enacted as written, Canadians will indeed be seeing a level of state control on their internet unlike anything else in the democratic world.

Related Stories

  1. FILE: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, during the G20 Summit in New Delhi, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023.

    Indian government kicking out 41 Canadian diplomats

  2. At the North American Clinical Congress on Toxicology annual conference in Montreal over the weekend, a case study was presented involving a 37-year-old man from Denver who survived after swallowing a “sip” of a cocktail of assisted suicide drugs during an end-of-life celebration for a friend dying of pancreatic cancer.

    A man thought it was a good idea to take a ‘sip’ of his friend’s assisted suicide cocktail

Given royal assent in April, the stated aim of Bill C-11 is to extend federal Canadian content (Cancon) controls to the internet. Or, as Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge explains it, to tell “more Canadian stories.”

Cancon has been the law of the land on TV and radio since 1971: Stations are required by law to feature a minimum quantity of Canadian music or television programs. Any licensed broadcaster must file regular programming reports with the CRTC, and if they’re not meeting quotas they risk losing their broadcast license.

For Canadian TV stations, the programming schedule must be between 35 and 50 per cent Canadian — a rule that even applies to pornography channels. Radio stations are similarly bound to ensure that their music playlists are about 35 per cent Canadian. This requirement is the singular reason, for instance, that Canadian classic rock stations give a disproportionate amount of airtime to Kim Mitchell’s Patio Lanterns.

Article content

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Article content

It gets really complicated when it comes to what Ottawa defines as “Canadian.” The CRTC maintains a complex flowchart of requirements to qualify as sanctioned Canadian content, and just one violation can get it rejected.

For instance, a movie can be written by Canadians, financed exclusively with Canadian money and shot in Canada with an all-Canadian crew, but if the lead actor can’t provide the CRTC with a Canadian passport the movie loses any hope of designation as a “Canadian” product.

It’s these requirements that have resulted in some truly bizarre Cancon anomalies over the years. Most of the Justin Bieber and Celine Dion catalogues are not considered Canadian, as they were recorded abroad and have non-Canadian co-writers. But Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot is Canadian; although recorded in the United States by American artists, it was written by Toronto’s Eddie Schwartz.

And CRTC regulatory power does not stop at merely checking the citizenship of content creators. Among other mandates, it’s also bound to ensure that broadcasters are reflecting the “linguistic duality of Canada.” Over the summer, the federal government even hinted that the CRTC could soon be mandated to ensure that “equity-seeking groups” are receiving the appropriate broadcasting “outcomes” to “address the repercussions of historical injustices and colonial legacies.”

Article content

This is from a speech today from CRTC Chair Vicky Eatrides, talking about upcoming Bill C-11 consultation on Internet streamer regulation. The absence of any reference to consumers and broader public as part of the “broad range of interests” is telling.

— Michael Geist (@mgeist) October 3, 2023

Article content

Bill C-11 was created with the explicit goal of overlaying this entire regulatory framework on the internet — a space that has previously been free from government content controls.

The idea is to ensure that a Canadian watching YouTube or listening to podcasts is receiving the same federally mandated quotas of officially sanctioned Canadian content as a Canadian watching TV or listening to the radio.

It’s obviously much trickier for Ottawa to impose broadcast quotas on the likes of YouTube or Netflix, but the CRTC has hinted that C-11 will likely result in those companies tweaking their algorithms to artificially give outsized attention to “Canadian content” while burying everything else.

In a June 2022 Senate hearing, CRTC chair Ian Scott said his regulators will most likely enforce C-11 by giving online streaming companies their required quotas of Canadian music and videos, but being agnostic in how that’s actually accomplished.

“I don’t want to manipulate your algorithm. I want you to manipulate it to produce a particular outcome,” was how Scott explained the process to senators.

Article content

Even though the Nov. 28 registration is only for “online streaming services” with revenue of more than $10 million, the entire point is to have these services ensure the requirements of Bill C-11 apply to their users. The users that meet CRTC guidelines are rewarded, while those don’t are proportionally punished.

In other words, a podcast that’s Canadian-produced and financed (and has submitted all appropriate details to Ottawa) might soon be prioritized over the New York Times podcast The Daily or The Joe Rogan Experience in terms of what users can easily find on Spotify or Apple podcasts.

And with the Nov. 28 callout capturing all of the major corners of the Canadian internet — from Apple to Netflix to YouTube to Facebook to “online news services” to “adult content websites” — that’s a lot of new areas suddenly coming under CRTC purview.

Vancouver-based YouTuber J.J. McCullough was a prominent critic of C-11 as it moved through Parliament, in large part because he said it would impose a regulatory burden on Canadian YouTubers who would now be forced to file financials, scripts and crew details with the federal government to prove that they were sufficiently Canadian.

Article content

“Once all the big platforms have been registered with the government, your ability to be successful as a Canadian Youtuber or podcaster or online musician WILL be dependent on the degree your content is considered ‘Canadian enough’ by the government,” McCullough wrote Tuesday.

I want to be super clear about something: in the next two months, Canada will have passed a point of no return when it comes to government regulation of the internet. After November, once all the big platforms have been registered with the government, your ability to be…

— J.J. McCullough 🥶 (@JJ_McCullough) October 3, 2023

Article content


Just two weeks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of staging an assassination on Canadian soil, New Delhi has told 41 Canadian diplomats to pack up and go home. If you’re wondering how many total diplomats Canada has in India, the answer is 62 — so, two-thirds of the current total are being declared persona non grata. The Trudeau government’s only stated evidence for the accusation is that unnamed “security agencies” were following “credible allegations” that India arranged the June shooting death of Sikh nationalist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a man considered a terrorist by the Indian government. There have been leaked reports in the interim two weeks that the accusation might be based on Indian diplomatic conversations possibly intercepted by a foreign intelligence agency, but Ottawa has not budged from its assertion that New Delhi should just simply trust them on this.

Trudeau and Singh
It’s been exactly 18 months since this happened: The NDP officially entered into a de facto coalition with the Liberals until at least 2025. The gains for the Liberals have been undeniable; they’ve retained the near-monarchical executive powers of the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office despite having just 46 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons – and all it cost was a few handouts for which they’ve taken sole credit. As for the NDP, it’s notable that their poll numbers are remaining unusually stagnant even as support for the Trudeau government drops off a cliff. The NDP are the typical beneficiaries whenever Canadian voters turn against the Liberals, but those days may be over now that the NDP cart has been hitched so publicly to the Liberal horse. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

And in other “censor the internet” news, Google is still planning to block news content as a direct reaction to C-18, another Liberal bill designed to control the circulation of content online. The bill makes it mandatory for web giants such as Google or Facebook to surrender a not-insubstantial portion of their Canadian revenues to Canadian news providers (such as yours truly) in exchange for the legal right to allows user to share news links. The somewhat expected reaction of Facebook and Google is that they both decided to back out of news-sharing altogether – which is indeed a way of complying with C-18, although not the one that Ottawa wanted. The Liberals tried to smooth things over by slightly reducing the amount of revenue they have to surrender, but Google says they’re not buying it.

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here.

Article content


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *