Bill C-10 threatens existence of Radio Canada International

The Canadian government has proposed a change to Canada’s Broadcasting Act that threatens the existence of Radio Canada International (RCI). Buried in a reform of the Act that focuses on international streaming services, one sentence, Article 46 (2) has been altered to remove the existence of an international service as a condition of the licence of Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC/Radio-Canada.

The condition was put into the Broadcasting Act in 1991, just after the CBC tried to shut down the international service by appropriating RCI’s budget to offset its own funding cuts. At that time, temporary government funding saved the international service, and the Act’s wording was changed to strengthen it because it was felt that the existence of the service should not be at the discretion of CBC/Radio-Canada.

Before 1991 the Act said: “The Corporation may, within the conditions of any licence…” provide an international service.  In 1991, it was changed to: “The Corporation shall, within the conditions of any licence or licences issued to it… provide an international service.” Making it a service imperative rather than an option.

Since 1991, that protection has remained. In the intervening years, Orders in Council have changed some of the elements defining the international service, and what it should do, but the obligation of the national broadcaster to provide that international service was guaranteed. No government could arbitrarily remove that protection unless the Broadcasting Act itself was changed.

Here’s Article 46 (2) as it has existed unchanged since 1991:

46 (2) The Corporation shall, within the conditions of any licence or licences issued to it by the Commission and subject to any applicable regulations of the Commission, provide an international service in accordance with such directions as the Governor in Council may issue.

In the proposed legislation now before Parliament, the Canadian Heritage Minister and the government are eliminating the licence obligation of the CBC to provide an international service. The proposed wording of the article is as follows:

(2) The Corporation shall, subject to any applicable orders and regulations of the Commission, provide an international service in accordance with any directions that the Governor in Council may issue.

The article still appears to suggest that the Corporation (CBC) “shall…provide an international service” but the concept of it being a mandatory requirement of any licence has been removed. More worrisome is that any future Canadian Heritage Minister, with the accord of the Cabinet, would be able to radically change how the international service functions. This is far from a theoretical possibility.

In 2012, the CBC announced RCI would no longer be a radio station broadcasting on shortwave. The decision was in direct violation of Order in Council 2003-0358, which explicitly required Radio Canada International:

(ii) to provide that service through shortwave, as well as through other means of distribution, as appropriate,

The RCI Action Committee called on the government of the day, and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore in particular, to direct CBC to respect its obligations under the Broadcasting Act and Order in Council 2003-0358. Two months later – and with less than a month left before the end of shortwave broadcasting – the Minister directed the release of a new Order in Council, which removed the obligation to provide programming through shortwave broadcasts.

Radio Canada International ceased being a radio service. We lost our Chinese audience because our radio signals were not blocked by the Chinese authorities, but our website was. And we lost listeners around the world in places where the Internet was not accessible, or just too expensive to use.

We have no idea what motivated the latest change by Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It seems more than a bit contradictory that a government that has said “Canada is back” would jeopardize the presence of its world service on the international stage by removing Radio Canada International’s last legal protection.

We hope parliamentarians will recognize the danger. This is not a partisan issue. As parliamentarians, they have a duty to prevent the government from proceeding with this proposed change to the Broadcasting Act.  For 30 years CBC/Radio-Canada has mismanaged and weakened Canada’s world service. It is now preparing to make RCI disappear as a world service.

It can be stopped. First by blocking CBC/Radio-Canada’s new policy announced on December 3, 2020, which is in violation of Article 46 (2) of the existing Broadcasting Act. Second, the government must replace the proposed change with a strengthened and robust article defining a status for the international service that will allow it to continue its work as a respected international broadcaster with the essential degree of financial and editorial autonomy.

The future of Canada’s voice to the world is in the hands of our parliamentarians. Its future depends on their making the right decision.


Link to the present Broadcasting Act of 1991 here

Link to the proposed new Broadcasting Act here

(In both cases use the keywords “international service” to find Article 46.2)

Link to the Order in Council 2012-0775, in effect now here

Link to the Order in Council 2003-0358 with the obligation for shortwave here

Thirty years of mismanagement by the CBC of RCI here

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Article by Admin RCI Action Committee Website

Wojtek Gwiazda has been the spokesperson for the RCI Action Committee since 1991. The Committee is supported and funded by the union that represents almost all RCI employees: the Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs de Radio-Canada (STTRC formerly SCRC). E-mail: Read 112 articles by Admin RCI Action Committee Website
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