Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is set to review what qualifies as a Canadian movie or TV show as part of a move to modernize the country’s broadcast laws.
The definition of Canadian content is at the heart of a bill before Parliament that would require streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ to feature a number of Canadian shows and invest in ‘Canadian stories’ , as traditional broadcasters must do.
Once the bill is passed in Parliament, the Minister of Heritage intends to provide “strategic direction” to the broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, on how to modernize the definition of Canadian content.
Critics say the current rules need updating and that some programs on Canadian issues – including Amazon’s series on the Toronto Maple Leafs – haven’t ticked enough boxes to be counted as Canadian.
Disney’s “Turning Red,” which tells the story of a Chinese-Canadian teenager in Toronto and stars Ottawa-born Sandra Oh, was not considered Canadian under the rules. Nor is the much-loved adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, based on the novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
In an interview at the National Arts and Culture Summit in Ottawa, Rodriguez said “we need to modernize” the definition of Canadian content and he is “open to all kinds of suggestions and ideas.”
Some experts warn that if the definition of Canadian content is not broadened, it could deter studios from investing in Canadian talent if their work is not officially labeled as Canadian.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet Law at the University of Ottawa, said that “the current rules are woefully outdated, resulting in policies that do little to really “moving Canadian stories forward”.
Geist said the current system was “little more than a box-ticking exercise”, which meant that “works by Canadian authors may not be considered Cancon certified, while productions with few ties with Canada such as “Gotta Love Trump” somehow count as Canadian.”
“Gotta Love Trump” is a film featuring supporters of former US President Donald Trump, including a former photographer for the president and a former contestant on “The Apprentice.”
Marvel’s “Deadpool” starred Canadian star Ryan Reynolds and was filmed in Vancouver. Canadian Paul Wernick co-wrote the screenplay based on a Canadian comic book character. Yet the film was not considered Canadian under the rules of the Canadian Audiovisual Certification Board.
These rules require a Canadian producer and a Canadian director or screenwriter. Points are awarded for the number of Canadians in leading roles or other key creative positions. Canadians must also figure prominently in production and post-production.
The heritage minister said he was speaking to arts and culture ministers from other countries “to look at what they are doing, and of course we have to adapt it to our country”.
“I will meet with the culture minister of Germany on Thursday and that is one of the things I will discuss and I will do the same with other counterparts,” Rodriguez said.
The UK has a broader definition of British film, including works with a British theme such as the life of William Shakespeare.
The Canadian Media Producers Association says the rules must ensure that Canadians continue to own the intellectual property rights to their work.
He also wants streaming platforms to be forced to give Canadian film and TV producers a bigger share of the profits if their work is successful.
“Our Broadcasting Act must ensure that independent producers in Canada have a fair opportunity to negotiate with buyers of content, including broadcasters, to own, control and monetize the intellectual property they develop and produce,” said Reynolds Mastin, President and CEO.
Rodriguez said at the summit that he plans to give the CRTC more tools to regulate online streaming platforms and digital platforms such as Twitter. He said a “priority” is to “ensure we have a modern regulator”.
The Minister is pushing through Parliament two bills in which the CRTC will play a key role as a regulator. The Online Streaming Bill, known as C-11 in Parliament, would modernize streaming laws to regulate streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime.
The online news bill, C-18, would force tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay for the reuse of news produced by Canadian professional news outlets.
“Some critics argue that the CRTC is unresponsive to consumers and creators, that it lacks the expertise and resources to deal with new legislation. Basically, they’re saying the CRTC doesn’t have internet access,” Rodriguez told the summit. “I hear those concerns.”
“Government and technology haven’t always worked together so well. But let’s not forget that the CRTC has a long history of supporting Canadian culture,” he added.
He said in an interview that he didn’t think there was a better body than the CRTC to do the job.
“Do they have all the tools they need? Probably not,” he said. “And it’s our job to provide them with the tools and resources they need.”
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