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Quebec could introduce French quotas for Netflix, other streaming services


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What happens when legislation over airwaves and French culture clash?

Recent Supreme Court rulings have tended to treat the digital world as a shared jurisdiction. mon

QUEBEC — He wasn’t sure Quebec could do it, but experts have given him the green light.

Despite the widespread perception that it is an issue of exclusively federal jurisdiction, Quebec Culture and Communications Minister Mathieu Lacombe plans to introduce legislation — the first in Quebec’s history — aimed at pushing digital platforms, from Netflix to Spotify, to offer more French content to Quebec consumers.

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“Many were skeptical about what options Quebec had to act,” Lacombe told reporters recently. “What I am happy to see is that experts say Quebec has the means to protect its culture. I am very happy.”

Lacombe was reacting to a 65-page study released in January by a blue-ribbon panel of experts formed by the Coalition Avenir Québec government in April 2023 to evaluate the possibility of legislation to counter the massive influx of English North American culture. The study is titled The cultural sovereignty of Quebec in a digital era.

The panel included Louise Beaudoin, the former Parti Québécois culture and international relations minister; Clément Duhaime, former Quebec delegate general to Paris; Université Laval law professor Véronique Guèvremont and constitutional law professor Patrick Taillon.

The report documents the phenomenal growth and consumption of English online products to the detriment of Quebec and French content.

It highlights recent data published by l’Observatoire de la culture et des communications de L’Institut de la statistique du Québec, which revealed only eight per cent of the 10,000 songs most listened to online by the Quebec population are in French.

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Of the 10,000 tracks, the percentage in French was only 8.6 per cent (5.3 per cent from Quebec and 3.3 per cent from outside the province). The percentage of recordings in English as 85.7 per cent.

The number of Quebecers subscribing to on-demand video and music services has skyrocketed, largely to the advantage of foreign producers who create most of their products in English.

“The current situation is increasingly alarming,” the report states. “If no action is taken, the very vitality of our cultural ecosystem will be compromised.”

But what can be done by a province in an area that is traditionally federal jurisdiction? The report argues quite a lot, because “the digital world is in no way an enclave sheltered from laws.”

It’s true that Canada’s constitution, which dates back to 1867, was drafted long before the digital world existed. That explains why neither Quebec or Ottawa have explicit jurisdiction over online platforms, the report says.

It adds Ottawa does have jurisdiction over interprovincial telecommunication infrastructure, which it has extended to include the public airwaves, but says jurisdiction over signals “should not be confounded” with Quebec jurisdiction over culture.

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It thus argues that there is a connection between articles of the constitution giving Quebec jurisdiction over language and culture.

“In other words, if Quebec has jurisdiction over libraries, the press, bookstores, theatres and video rental clubs, it also has the jurisdiction to legislate on these same activities and content in their digital forms,” the report says.

Former Quebec Liberal intergovernmental affairs minister Benoît Pelletier, who today is a law professor at the University of Ottawa, concurs with the conclusions of the panel.

“There is nothing anywhere that says this is only a federal jurisdiction,” Pelletier said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “It’s as much a provincial affair as federal.”

Recent Supreme Court rulings on such matters have tended to treat the digital world as a shared jurisdictions, he added.

On the other hand, the committee also does not propose Quebec act in a vacuum. Quebec has to work with other partners, including the federal government, to achieve its goals.

It makes 32 recommendations on how it thinks the Coalition Avenir Québec should proceed. They include:

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  • Inserting into the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms “the fundamental right of Quebecers to have access to and discover cultural products in the French language in a digital form.”
  • Developing an international strategy that includes alliances with other francophone countries, such as France, to promote online linguistic diversity and set common standards for platforms.
  • Putting in place quotas for products in French “could eventually be envisioned.” It notes many European countries have already taken the same route.
  • Negotiate in the very short term a bilateral agreement with the federal government aimed at organizing and coordinating the actions of both levels of government. The federal government has already taken action, such as adopting Bill C-11, which will force digital giants to fund and promote digital content.
  • Increasing financial support to companies involved in producing French subtitles and dubbing.

“We fully intend to follow up on this report,” Lacombe said. “It will not be shelved. There is really nothing stopping us (from acting). Clearly the experts have the same view as me.”

Lacombe would not outline what the legislation would contain or when he plans to table it in the National Assembly, but he said he would use the report to take “significant step.”

“We are working on this,” he said.

Reaction to the plan has been generally positive, including from an anglophone umbrella group, the Quebec Community Groups Network.

“In this report, we find common cause with Quebecers who are worried about an avalanche of English-language cultural content overwhelming what is produced and broadcast in French,” QCGN president Eva Ludvig said.

“We agree it would be a good idea for the federal government to collaborate with Quebec. This is an issue that touches francophones across the country and also requires a significant degree of international cooperation.”

Ludvig noted many streaming platforms are already making efforts to make Quebec content more viable.

The media giants Apple, Spotify and Netflix have not stated a position on Quebec’s plan.

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Page 2

QUEBEC — He wasn’t sure Quebec could do it, but experts have given him the green light.

Despite the widespread perception that it is an issue of exclusively federal jurisdiction, Quebec Culture and Communications Minister Mathieu Lacombe plans to introduce legislation — the first in Quebec’s history — aimed at pushing digital platforms, from Netflix to Spotify, to offer more French content to Quebec consumers.

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

“Many were skeptical about what options Quebec had to act,” Lacombe told reporters recently. “What I am happy to see is that experts say Quebec has the means to protect its culture. I am very happy.”

Lacombe was reacting to a 65-page study released in January by a blue-ribbon panel of experts formed by the Coalition Avenir Québec government in April 2023 to evaluate the possibility of legislation to counter the massive influx of English North American culture. The study is titled The cultural sovereignty of Quebec in a digital era.

The panel included Louise Beaudoin, the former Parti Québécois culture and international relations minister; Clément Duhaime, former Quebec delegate general to Paris; Université Laval law professor Véronique Guèvremont and constitutional law professor Patrick Taillon.

It highlights recent data published by l’Observatoire de la culture et des communications de L’Institut de la statistique du Québec, which revealed only eight per cent of the 10,000 songs most listened to online by the Quebec population are in French.

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Of the 10,000 tracks, the percentage in French was only 8.6 per cent (5.3 per cent from Quebec and 3.3 per cent from outside the province). The percentage of recordings in English as 85.7 per cent.

“The current situation is increasingly alarming,” the report states. “If no action is taken, the very vitality of our cultural ecosystem will be compromised.”

But what can be done by a province in an area that is traditionally federal jurisdiction? The report argues quite a lot, because “the digital world is in no way an enclave sheltered from laws.”

It’s true that Canada’s constitution, which dates back to 1867, was drafted long before the digital world existed. That explains why neither Quebec or Ottawa have explicit jurisdiction over online platforms, the report says.

It adds Ottawa does have jurisdiction over interprovincial telecommunication infrastructure, which it has extended to include the public airwaves, but says jurisdiction over signals “should not be confounded” with Quebec jurisdiction over culture.

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

It thus argues that there is a connection between articles of the constitution giving Quebec jurisdiction over language and culture.

“In other words, if Quebec has jurisdiction over libraries, the press, bookstores, theatres and video rental clubs, it also has the jurisdiction to legislate on these same activities and content in their digital forms,” the report says.

Former Quebec Liberal intergovernmental affairs minister Benoît Pelletier, who today is a law professor at the University of Ottawa, concurs with the conclusions of the panel.

“There is nothing anywhere that says this is only a federal jurisdiction,” Pelletier said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “It’s as much a provincial affair as federal.”

Recent Supreme Court rulings on such matters have tended to treat the digital world as a shared jurisdictions, he added.

On the other hand, the committee also does not propose Quebec act in a vacuum. Quebec has to work with other partners, including the federal government, to achieve its goals.

It makes 32 recommendations on how it thinks the Coalition Avenir Québec should proceed. They include:

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

  • Inserting into the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms “the fundamental right of Quebecers to have access to and discover cultural products in the French language in a digital form.”
  • Developing an international strategy that includes alliances with other francophone countries, such as France, to promote online linguistic diversity and set common standards for platforms.
  • Putting in place quotas for products in French “could eventually be envisioned.” It notes many European countries have already taken the same route.
  • Negotiate in the very short term a bilateral agreement with the federal government aimed at organizing and coordinating the actions of both levels of government. The federal government has already taken action, such as adopting Bill C-11, which will force digital giants to fund and promote digital content.
  • Increasing financial support to companies involved in producing French subtitles and dubbing.

“We fully intend to follow up on this report,” Lacombe said. “It will not be shelved. There is really nothing stopping us (from acting). Clearly the experts have the same view as me.”

Lacombe would not outline what the legislation would contain or when he plans to table it in the National Assembly, but he said he would use the report to take “significant step.”

“We are working on this,” he said.

Reaction to the plan has been generally positive, including from an anglophone umbrella group, the Quebec Community Groups Network.

“In this report, we find common cause with Quebecers who are worried about an avalanche of English-language cultural content overwhelming what is produced and broadcast in French,” QCGN president Eva Ludvig said.

“We agree it would be a good idea for the federal government to collaborate with Quebec. This is an issue that touches francophones across the country and also requires a significant degree of international cooperation.”

Ludvig noted many streaming platforms are already making efforts to make Quebec content more viable.

The media giants Apple, Spotify and Netflix have not stated a position on Quebec’s plan.

twitter.com/philipauthier

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