FIRST READING: Canada set to censor internet porn to ensure it’s 'Canadian' enough


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Canada could be on the cusp of a bizarre new era in which federal regulators will be empowered to figure out whether our online porn is sufficiently Canadian – and levy the requisite punishments if it isn’t.

Bill C-11 – the Liberal push to subject much of the internet to CRTC control – has passed the House of Commons with NDP and Bloc Québécois support. Absent any major revisions by the Senate, the likes of Netflix, YouTube and even Instagram will soon be forced to subject their content to Canada’s famously onerous strictures on Canadian content.

But less discussed is how Bill C-11 will also apply to the internet’s vast wilderness of streaming pornography.

The law applies to all programs broadcast via “online undertaking.” During committee hearings this was commonly understood to encompass streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix or Disney +, but there’s nothing in the bill to prevent it from extending to the millions of hours of streaming adult content regularly consumed by Canadians.

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No less than Peter Menzies – former CRTC vice-chair and a fierce C-11 critic – has said online porn will almost certainly fall within the bill’s purview.

“The final decision regarding who’s in and who’s out is to be made in a future CRTC hearing, but it’s hard to imagine Commissioners giving Pornhub and its many hours of user-generated content an exemption”He wrote in a column earlier this month.

Regulating porn would be nothing new for the CRTC. Canada’s many adult-oriented cable channels must already adhere to stringent Canadian Content requirements enforced by the CRTC.

In 2014, a Toronto-based creator of erotic channels was even threatened with having their license pulled for failing to ensure that at least 35 per cent of their adult content was Canadian – the equivalent of 8.5 hours of Canadian porn per day. The channels – which included XXX Action Clips and the gay-oriented Maleflixxx – also received a CRTC reprimand for failing to include sufficient closed captioning.

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The most controversial aspect of Bill C-11 is how it would force online streamers to “ensure the discoverability of Canadian programming.” Right now, YouTube uses complex algorithms to pair users with content they might find interesting. Under C-11, those algorithms would be tweaked by federal mandate to disproportionately pair users with content that regulators have deemed to be sufficiently Canadian. Non-Canadian content, meanwhile, would need to be artificially hidden.

As to what content qualifies as Canadian, everything from Netflix feature films to basement YouTubers would need to submit to the CRTC’s onerous “points system. ”

Under the system – which is already mandatory for TV channels – content creators must file detailed budgets with the CRTC to prove minimum quotas of Canadian actors, Canadian crew and even the quantity of production costs that were verifiably spent in Canada.

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This has often resulted in some baffling CRTC decisions as to what is truly Canadian. Infamously, one of the top hits by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams (Everything I Do) I Do It For You is not considered Canadian content because its was recorded in Britain and co-written by an American and a South African.

One of the most prolific porn stars of all time happens to be a Canadian.  Born Alden Brown in Halifax in 1957, Peter North has appeared in more than 2500 adult films.  Since they were all filmed in the United States with mostly American crews, however, not one would qualify as CRTC-approved Canadian content.
One of the most prolific porn stars of all time happens to be a Canadian. Born Alden Brown in Halifax in 1957, Peter North has appeared in more than 2500 adult films. Since they were all filmed in the United States with mostly American crews, however, not one would qualify as CRTC-approved Canadian content. Photo by Postmedia File

Canadian YouTubers have spoken out against Bill C-11 because it would demolish a sector that thrives on cross-border cooperation; Canadians who currently produce videos with an Irish co-host and a Czech producer could see their audience drop off a cliff as their now un-Canadian content is hidden by CRTC-tweaked algorithms.

Even for YouTubers who can meet CRTC guidelines, it would impose reams of paperwork on what are largely shoestring operations. A similar avalanche of red tape could lie in wait for Canada’s cottage industry of camgirls, adult actors and independent porn producers.

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When it comes to streaming content consumed in Canada, pornography is indeed a major player. Of the top 40 most-visited websites in Canada as of May 2022, four of them are pornographic. The top contender, xvideos.com, regularly rivals Netflix for monthly unique views. PornHub.com – one of the industry titans for streaming adult content – regularly ranks as the world’s single most popular Canadian website due to its headquarters in Montreal.

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