ACTRA, DGC raise artist protection concerns in Bill C-11 to Senate committee

ACTRA National and Directors Guild of Canada executives appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) and Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) have raised some concerns about Bill C-11,  a.k.a. the Online Streaming Act, to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications.

ACTRA National president Eleanor Noble, ACTRA National executive director Marie Kelly, DGC National president Warren P. Sonoda and DGC National executive director Dave Forget were among the witnesses who appeared before the committee via video conference on Wednesday (Sept. 14).

ACTRA outlined two areas of concern about the bill, which attempts to update the decades-old Broadcasting Act to bring digital giants into the regulatory system. One concern is about an amendment that would exempt online undertakings from the provisions of the Status of the Artist Act (SAA) — legislation that recognizes the rights of artists in their professional relations and collective agreements with those who enlist their services in Canada.

The amendment was introduced during the clause-by-clause review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

“If the objective of this legislation is to maintain the status quo in an industry that generates $11.3 billion in GDP and supports 217,000 jobs, then we ask you, Senators of this Committee, to remove the section of Bill C-11 that excludes online undertakings from the Status of the Artist Act,” said Noble.

Performers across Canada are among the original gig workers, with a median income of between $15,000 and $18,000 annually, “well below the average of all artists and only 36% of the average income of all other workers,” she added. “This amendment removes a minimal protection our members and other industry artists currently have and will disrupt stable labour relations in our industry and create different standards for broadcasters doing the same things.”

The other concern is what ACTRA says is a weakening in the bill of the current requirement for Canadian broadcasters to use Canadian talent. ACTRA wants that part strengthened to maximize the use of Canadian talent and Bill C-11 amended “to remove any reference to a lesser standard for foreign services.”

“Bill C-11 creates two classes of broadcasters: Canadian broadcasting undertakings and foreign online undertakings. This is fine until you place different requirements on the two classes of broadcasters,” said Noble. “As it stands, Bill C-11 both weakens the current requirement for Canadian broadcasters to use Canadian talent and establishes a lesser standard for foreign services. This is wrong on both accounts.”

The DGC also expressed concern about the amendment to exempt online undertakings from the provisions of the SAA.

“This is a setback for labour relations and constitutes the loss of a fundamental right for artists to … be fairly compensated for their work,” said Sonoda. “And what’s more, no rationale was provided to explain the introduction of this amendment. … The SAA has guaranteed the right to bargaining and enshrines the status of artists because of the precarious nature of our artistic work. Removing these protections contradicts Canada’s Broadcasting Act objectives and would threaten future collective bargaining, especially given the power imbalance between Canadian artists unions, and global online undertakings.”

Forget said the DGC has already entered into collective agreements with major U.S. studios and Canadian producers, and altering the SAA status quo “would result in a two-tier legislation, potentially undermining existing agreements and leading to further imbalances in terms of rates and workplace standards.”

“With this SAA exclusion, online undertakings can choose to hire artists that are not protected by collective agreements,” Forget added. “Directors, writers, performers and composers, they would find themselves in a divided system faced with a choice of different working terms and conditions. Simply put, Canadian artists would be treated inconsistently and unfairly.”

Like ACTRA, the DGC also wants the removal of what it calls “two standards” in the bill when it comes to the use of Canadian talent.

“We’re concerned by the prospect of two classes of regulation, one for domestic broadcasters and one for foreign streaming platforms. This unnecessarily reduces opportunities to hire Canadian creators and artists when it should actually be incentivized,” said Forget.

The national labour organization wants the committee to demand in the bill that “these broadcast undertakings make maximum use and no less than predominant use of Canadian creative and other resources in that creation, production and presentation of Canadian programming, and shall contribute significantly to the creation, production and presentation of Canadian programming to the greatest extent is appropriate for the nature of the undertaking,” Forget added.

Photo: © Library of Parliament