Chapitre 5.
Towards a social justice oriented approach
to cultural diversity: Canada’s new obligations
in a new media environment

Sylvia Blake[1]


As a key driver behind the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE), Canada finds that its own cultural goals closely align with those of the Convention, and it has not been difficult to achieve a reasonable standard of compliance with the CDCE. However, Canada is falling behind in its approach to issues at the nexus of development, cultural expressions, and connectivity infrastructure development, particularly vis-à-vis indigenous communities living in rural and remote locations. Remote indigenous communities face immediate risks to their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness as well as development in areas such as education, health outcomes, housing and employment. This chapter argues that the CDCE’s Articles 7, 8 and 13 compel Canada to adopt a development-oriented approach to diversity that supports community-driven “first mile” initiatives to improve indigenous broadcasting and connectivity in remote regions.


En tant que moteur essentiel de la Convention de l’UNESCO sur la protection et la promotion de la diversité des expressions culturelles (CDEC), le Canada estime que ses propres objectifs culturels sont étroitement liés à ceux de la Convention et qu’il n’a pas été difficile d’atteindre une norme raisonnable de conformité avec la CDEC. Cependant, le Canada accuse un retard dans son approche des questions liées au développement, aux expressions culturelles et au développement de l’infrastructure technologique, en particulier à l’égard des communautés autochtones vivant dans des régions rurales et éloignées. Les communautés autochtones isolées sont confrontées à des risques immédiats qui menacent leur spécificité culturelle et linguistique ainsi que leur développement dans des domaines tels que l’éducation, la santé, le logement et l’emploi. Ce chapitre soutient que les articles 7, 8 et 13 de la CDEC obligent le Canada à adopter une approche de la diversité axée sur le développement qui appuie les initiatives communautaires visant à améliorer la radiodiffusion et la connectivité autochtones dans les régions éloignées.

In most ostensible ways, Canada has been a strong and consistent driver behind the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE). Canada, with support from France, was the original mastermind behind the Convention as a “cultural counterbalance to the WTO” (Graber, 2006) that could assist in protecting distinct national voices in the face of industry globalization and a free-trade paradigm. It was the first state to ratify the Convention, and in its first quadrennial report, stated proudly that its compliance with the instrument was easily achieved since it deeply “identifies with the objectives of the Convention due to its pursuit of similar, national goals” (2012: preamble). Canada has a large number of policies in its “cultural toolkit” to promote its domestic cultural industries, including subsidy programs, scheduling quotas, national ownership requirements, spending rules, and competition policies (Grant & Wood, 2004). Overall, Canada has been a firm advocate for diverse cultural expressions among nations, and in particular protection for domestic industries vis-à-vis a large and better-funded Hollywood juggernaut.

Outside of this nationally-situated promotion, however, Canada has been inconsistent in its diversity objectives, and its discussions about diversity of cultural expressions in the global field have been treated as a separate series of dialogues from those regarding diverse expressions within Canada. Even while Canada continues to advocate internationally for cultural exemptions in trade, the Government of Canada has directed the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator (the CRTC) to seek market-based solutions as much as possible (Minister of Justice, 2006), continued to cut funding to public broadcasting (Rowland, 2013), and disbanded the Canadian Conference for the Arts, thereby weakening artist input into cultural policy.

Canada has also been inconsistent in its approach to cultural protections in old and new media. It used its position at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to advocate for a market-based self-regulatory approach to Internet governance despite its history of negotiating trade exemptions for old media products (Raboy & Shtern, 2010). In domestic policy, Canada maintains a strict but increasingly outdated division between media content and carriage, with a heavily-regulated broadcasting sphere carrying a significant socio-cultural mandate that is non-existent in the Telecommunications Act. This has led to a situation in which media content of similar cultural value is delivered both through heavily-regulated conventional broadcasting outlets and an entirely unregulated new media realm. Canada has also been slow to adopt an understanding of broadband development as an essential service for cultural development, leaving many rural and remote regions with limited or no access to the Internet.

This chapter argues that while Canada has been compliant with the Convention through protection and promotion of its cultural industries, it has not productively taken up issues related to diverse cultural expressions, social justice and development within its own borders, nor has it taken steps to prepare for the new challenges to diverse cultural expression posed by new media. It begins with an overview of the CDCE’s promotion and impact in Canada so far. It then introduces the example of policy for old and new media in protecting and promoting diverse expressions in Canada’s remote (largely Aboriginal) communities, arguing for increased support for indigenous voices through support for conventional community broadcasters and for a locally-based approach to developing broadband connectivity. This is a disruptive interpretation of the Convention that challenges what it means to protect and promote diverse cultural expressions; however, if Canada wishes to remain a global leader in promoting diversity, then such an approach is necessary.

Diffusion of the CDCE policy principles in Canada

Intergovernmental organizations, particularly UNESCO, have been powerful drivers for the (relatively new) global norm supporting cultural diversity (Saouma & Isar, 2015). However, actual domestic policy uptakes for diversity do not diffuse in a linear fashion immediately following the ratification of international legislation protecting cultural rights. In practise, the link between a state’s decision to sign onto a treaty or convention promoting certain principles and the actual promotion of said principles domestically is weak (Dobbin, Simmons, & Garrett, 2007). Actual changes in state behaviour may be driven instead by the growth of new international norms – for example, Dobbin et al (2007) argue that the growing legitimacy of norms surrounding basic human rights may have played a stronger role in broader declines in state repression than the act of signing onto treaties supporting these rights.

This may also be the case for the CDCE: while the Convention’s provisions are intentionally vague and enforcing compliance domestically is difficult, the Convention’s ultimate power may be in promoting new international norms related to diverse cultural expressions. Canada, as a key drafter of and powerful international advocate for the CDCE, has an important role to play in embodying the Convention and exemplifying best practices for supporting diverse cultural expressions globally and within its own borders. To these ends, this section takes stock of Canada’s relationship to the CDCE since its entry into force.

Promotion of the CDCE in Canada

The CDCE has had some visibility in Canadian policy circles, and has enjoyed some promotion through UNESCO, the Government of Canada, and the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. In order to reach a broader public, UNESCO has published several brochures and booklets presenting the Convention in accessible terms (UNESCO, 2005; UNESCO, 2015) and has released a series of (albeit poorly trafficked) YouTube videos featuring international experts describing the Convention and its goals. UNESCO also assists in organizing conferences related to the Convention, and UNESCO’s Section Chief on Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Secretary of the CDCE (Danielle Cliche) travels frequently to present the Convention to civil society organizations.

The Government of Canada’s promotion for the CDCE has been more limited, although it has been referenced in press releases, official speeches (Canadian Heritage, 2007), and on the Canadian Heritage website (Canada, 2012; Canadian Heritage, 2015). The Department of Canadian Heritage hosted the Liaison Bureau of the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP), an informal network of policy representatives from 72 countries to exchange best practices, for nearly 15 years (House of Commons, 2013). Canada also supports the Coalition for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE), which is active in promoting the Convention through publicly accessible videos and research studies (eg : CCD, 2010 ; CCD, 2012) and organizing and attending events related to cultural diversity. In 2015, the CCD hosted a cross-Canada conference series bringing together industry practitioners, legal professionals, researchers, politicians, and civil society actors for debate and discussion about the Convention’s role so far (CCD, 2015).

Canada’s implementation of the CDCE

Federal funding to implement the Convention through Canadian Heritage and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has declined to about one-sixth of the funding it received in the years immediately following the Convention’s ratification. This is ostensibly because the Convention is now well-established internationally and Canada has ceased contribution to the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (House of Commons, 2013). It also suggests that Canada feels that it is meeting the Convention’s objectives and thus need not continue heavy investments to promote and implement the CDCE.

Canada’s most significant use of the Convention so far has been in negotiating a cultural exemption in the 2014 Canada-EU Commercial and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). The CETA’s preamble affirms all parties’ commitments to the CDCE, asserting that “states have the right to preserve, develop and implement their cultural policies, and to support their cultural industries for the purpose of strengthening the diversity of cultural expressions, and preserving their cultural identity, including through the use of regulatory measures and financial support” (Government of Canada, 2014). While this reference to the Convention may provide a useful template for future trade negotiations, the CETA’s cultural exemption is just one in Canada’s long history of negotiating such provisions; similar exemptions exist in all of Canada’s 12 Free Trade Agreements and 28 bilateral foreign investment protection and promotion agreements[2].

On the other hand, Canada has taken a strictly “business as usual” (Burri, 2013) approach to its domestic responsibilities under the CDCE, arguing that at the time of ratification, it “was already implementing the Convention through a wide range of cultural policies and programs” (Canada, 2012 : 46). Most of the programs that Canada cites as key to its compliance, such as the Canada Book Fund, Canada Music Fund, Telefilm and the National Film Board, were already in existence before the Convention was first drafted. To date, the Convention has not yet been used in domestic case law. It has occasionally been referenced in the House of Commons, and was cited in a report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (2008) in defining standards surrounding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)’s role in promoting the arts, but these references have not received any significant follow-up[3]. Overall, while it has had some limited attention in Canadian policy circles, the Convention has not been a significant force for groups to successfully lobby for change to domestic cultural policies.

Furthermore, Canada’s quadrennial report on its progress in implementing the Convention does not fully address the role of cultural policy in fostering development in some of its most at-risk communities. The report credits Canada with offering a wide range of domestic-level policies aimed at supporting “community-driven initiatives designed to strengthen communities through arts and culture” (p. 30), including, for example, a screening of indigenous short films in Beijing, China. However, it fails to address pervasive gaps in development in remote Aboriginal communities, or how a growing digital divide in these communities impacts their ability to create and enjoy diverse cultural expressions. Section 2.4 of the report, in which respondents were invited to discuss measures to protect cultural expressions that are under threat, was left empty (p. 38), suggesting that cultural development is not a pressing concern within Canada’s own borders.

Canada’s tendency to report on existing measures to protect cultural expressions and overlook its own cultural development issues can be partly attributed to a shortcoming on the part of the Convention as a UNESCO instrument that is largely concerned with diversity of expressions among states globally (Isar & Pyykkönen, 2015). While the CDCE contains some provisions encouraging states to promote diverse expressions within their borders (eg : articles 7-11), UNESCO’s focus (and thus the CDCE’s focus) has always been on transnational cultural flows (Burri, 2013). The Convention’s wording surrounding domestic requirements is weak, compelling states to “endeavor to create” an environment conducive to diverse cultural expressions (article 7). UNESCO relies on self-reporting to measure compliance with the Convention, and there are no clear standards for compliance or tangible repercussions for states that fail to enact sufficient domestic policies. Thus, the CDCE’s influence is truncated in many policy contexts at the nexus of human rights, sustainability and diversity (De Beukelaer & Pyykkönen, 2015), and even autocratic states “might consequently consider signing up to the Convention a relatively unproblematic exercise” (Craufurd Smith, 2007: 35).

Furthermore, the Convention’s binary of “developed” and “developing” states maintains divides along former colonial lines (De Beukelaer & Pyykkönen, 2015) and can overlook oppressive hierarchies and fissures that occur domestically (Singh, 2015), even within developed states. Canada, for example, is a wealthy democratic country with an extensive history of policies supporting Canadian cultural expression and, since the 1970s, multiculturalism. Canada’s history, however, is perforated by a number of official state attempts to control and homogenize diverse populations, including official policies of assimilation of Aboriginal peoples (Armitage, 1995), a Head Tax (1885) and Chinese Exclusion Act (1923) imposed to discourage Chinese immigration after the completion of the railway (Government of Canada, 2013), and the Pearson administration’s use of broadcasting as a strategic weapon against the Quebec nationalist movement in the 1960s (Raboy, 1998 ; Bouchard & Taylor, 2008). Even Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism faces critique as a mechanism to control claims to self-determination on the part of the Quebecois and aboriginal nations (Mackey, 1999; Bouchard & Taylor, 2008).

While Canada has now formally apologized for its Chinese Head Tax and treatment of Aboriginals in the residential school system (CanWest News, 2006; Harper, 2010), the ripple effects of these egregious policies persist in affected communities, with indigenous populations in particular continuing to face significant cultural, social and economic challenges. The following section investigates this developmental lag and the role of the CDCE in compelling Canada to take action to assist these communities in their own cultural development.

Aboriginal cultural expression : the situation with old and new media

On average Aboriginal communities continue to fall behind their non-Aboriginal counterparts on community well-being scores based on income, education, health, housing and labour force activity. The most recent available data (from 2011) shows First Nations communities scoring on average 20 points lower than non-Aboriginal populations – a gap that is the same size as scores from 1981 (Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, 2015). Understanding development issues in Aboriginal communities requires understanding the enduring impacts of colonization in conjunction with ongoing issues of racial discrimination, lack of education, poor health, loss of land and sovereignty and loss of culture, which together perpetuate an ongoing circle of disadvantage that is difficult to break (Adelson, 2005).

One element in this circle is a loss of traditional languages and their associated cultural knowledge and ways of being in the world. A 2014 status report on First Nations languages in B.C. illustrates that, despite some small gains in recent years, nearly 60 percent of those who fluently speak one or more indigenous languages are over the age of 65 (First Peoples’ Cultural Council, 2014). The low rates of indigenous language fluency is attributed to government policies of assimilation, forced attendance at residential schools and historical prohibition of Aboriginal language and culture, but also the dominance of English-language media and the influence of the Internet (First Peoples’ Cultural Council, 2014).

Framed as less-developed nations within a developed country (Wherry, 2015), in which traditional languages and their associated cultural knowledge are under threat, the CDCE’s articles 7, 8 and 13 compel Canada to act swiftly to support intergenerational transmission of indigenous cultural knowledge. This is a disruptive way of framing Aboriginal concerns that strains our assumptions about what it means to be in compliance with the Convention. It is also a potential space for the Convention to be mobilized from the bottom-up to support the communities that need it the most. The following sections outline two places where this can be done : through supporting and improving Aboriginal expression in traditional broadcast media, and by improving broadband connectivity in remote regions to ensure that Aboriginal communities are able to play their part in shaping Internet-based services as both consumers and producers of cultural content.

Aboriginal representation and conventional broadcasting

Even though they are a fast growing demographic in Canada, Aboriginal Canadians only represent a little over four percent of the population (Canada, Statistics Canada, 2011), and most Canadians have little interaction with and know little about Canada’s First Peoples. This means that for the most part, Canadians’ primary contact point with Aboriginals is through the mainstream media, giving broadcasting a powerful ability to influence public opinion and thus also political discourse and policies that affect Aboriginal communities (Fleras, 2011). The importance of fair representation is codified in the Broadcasting Act (1991), which requires that the broadcasting system “recognize the special place of aboriginal peoples within our society” (article 3.1.d.iii). It is left largely to the CRTC to interpret this requirement and determine how it can be best achieved through policy. The Commission’s approach to these goals has largely been centered on its Native Broadcasting Policy, which provides the criteria for radio and TV services to broadcast as Native stations.

However, to this day indigenous voices and concerns continue to be underrepresented and misrepresented in mainstream media, in part because of the tendency to use conflict frames when reporting news and also because most professional journalists are themselves generally unfamiliar with Aboriginal communities. This translates into stories in which Aboriginal Canadians are either omitted completely, or continue to be either romanticized as cultural icons in the great project of Canadian identity-building (Mackey, 1999), or depicted as “problem people” who “have problems or create problems involving costs or inconveniences” (Fleras, 2011 : 215). The stories about Aboriginal “problems” tend to feed on negative stereotypes, and neglect historical context or consideration of the structural challenges imposed on communities through Canada’s colonial past (Simpson, James, & Mack, 2011).

Indigenous communities have expressed frustration about their treatment in mainstream media (Roth, 2014), not just due to the way it impacts general public discourse but also because of the challenges it poses for their own identity building and cultural sovereignty (Valaskakis, 1998). In contrast, broadcasting created by and for indigenous communities allows them to share news and entertainment that adequately represents their lived experiences and meets their communities’ individual needs (Roth, 2014). To these ends, local community broadcasters and the national Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) provide important spaces for communities to showcase their work free from the cultural mediation that takes place on conventional networks (Davis, Shtern, & de Silva, 2012), allowing them to “create, produce, disseminate, distribute and have access to their own cultural expressions” (article 7 of the CDCE).

Aboriginal broadcasting is heavily subsidized through granting programs and policies that secure regular funding sources, with varied success. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) thrives on a unique funding structure that is a hybrid of the traditional advertising model and a controversial mandated per-subscriber fee paid to them by cable carriers (Widdowson & Davidson, 2009). The APTN and other broadcasters also benefit from high-quality aboriginal content production sponsored through the Canada Media Fund’s Aboriginal Program, which supports Aboriginal independent production for two or more platforms (Canadian Media Fund, 2015). On the other hand, Aboriginal radio relies heavily on funding from the federal government, for which many stations need to re-apply every year. This poses difficulties in building sustainable business models since there is always a risk that funding applications will not be successful, or that funding will be unexpectedly cut from year to year. Furthermore, stations suffer greatly when bureaucratic funding evaluation processes – and the ensuing payments – are delayed. At times, broadcasters have taken the drastic step of temporarily ceasing operations when federal money has been delayed, and revenues from advertising and listener donations have been insufficient to keep the station running (CBC News, 2014).

One might conclude that the APTN is seen as the jewel in the crown of Aboriginal self-expression in broadcasting. Certainly the APTN is an important outlet that is unique in its support for indigenous independent producers. However, it is a national broadcaster that is saddled with the significant task of representing Aboriginal communities across the country. A strong Aboriginal broadcasting system requires also an improved model of ongoing and stable support year-to-year for local broadcasters that provide service in local languages. Ensuring such stations are able to thrive would support Canada’s CDCE obligation to safeguard at-risk language and cultural practices by providing communities with the tools to share their own stories with each other in their own languages.

New media, new challenges

In the coming years, the Internet will be the place where many battles surrounding diversity of cultural expressions are won and lost, from the hyper-local to the global. The Internet’s content and source abundance is often used to justify a lack of new communications policy surrounding diversity (eg : Benkler, 2006). Yet, a number of new challenges to diversity of cultural expression come with the Internet, such as challenges to network neutrality (Geist, 2011) ; the impact of copyright laws on new creative expressions emerging online (Festinger, 2013) ; the ability of powerful intermediaries such as Google to pick winners and losers among the flow of Internet traffic (Mansell, 1999 ; Thiec, 2014) ; the tendency of users to limit their own browsing patterns to established spaces and like-minded communities (Sunstein, 2002) ; and new trade implications from classifying digital products as either ‘goods’ or ‘services’ (Craufurd Smith, 2007). These challenges represent ongoing and rapidly evolving sites of struggle in the development of a democratic Internet, with activists such as Vancouver-based leading the charge through protest and formal policy intervention in Canada and internationally. Crucially, many First Nations and Inuit communities have been unable to fully engage in helping to develop the Internet because their communities still lack consistent and adequately fast broadband access.

This is due in part to the maintenance of an increasingly antiquated divide between support for broadcasting content and carriage in Canadian media policy. While the Broadcasting Act (1991) requires that the broadcasting system respect the special place of Aboriginal peoples in Canadian society, there is no such provision in the historically more market-oriented Telecommunications Act (1993). High-speed broadband access is not currently listed as a ‘basic service’ that telecommunication companies are required to provide across the country[4], and without heavy government subsidies there is little business case for them to do so. Furthermore, in 2006 the federal government directed the CRTC to rely on market forces as much as possible in its approach to new media (Minister of Justice, 2006), and the CRTC has responded by issuing a regulation exemption order for broadcasting-type digital services on the web (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, 2012). The result is a situation in which subsidies exist to help indigenous communities create digital content, such as the Canada Media Fund’s Aboriginal Program ; however, access to these funds requires eligible broadcasters to make distribution guarantees that are difficult or impossible to meet in remote areas due to lack of infrastructure. Stakeholders in remote indigenous communities therefore argue that the availability of distribution infrastructure is equally important as production support (McMahon, 2014).

While there are numerous programs to improve connectivity in remote areas (Blake, McMahon et Williams, 2016)[5], McMahon et al (2014) point out that the success of these programs is often hindered by business interests, and in particular the tendency of governments to “directly transfer public funds to corporate interests” that have little understanding of the unique constitution of remote Aboriginal communities, and “subsequently make decisions about broadband networks and Internet services according to their prerogatives” (p. 251). More generally, communities attempting to improve their broadband access face multiple constraints, including funding challenges, a lack of coherent policy on Aboriginal connectivity, and deficient and flawed programs that are developed in centralized, urban-institutional environments (McMahon et al, 2011). In a developed country like Canada, where 87 percent of households are connected to the Internet (Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 2014), the inability to engage with emerging online communities and participate in major policy discussions can have a significant impact on a community’s ability to protect and promote its cultural expressions.

In well-connected places, the Internet has been an important tool for cultural development. For example, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council has an elaborate online language archive including downloadable drivers so indigenous characters can be included in typeface, as well as language tutorials, games (FirstVoices, 2013), and language apps (Lavoie, 2011) to encourage young people to refine their skills. Isuma TV, a collaborative multimedia platform for indigenous filmmakers and artists, offers media producers the opportunity to operate their own media websites to share their work. The platform, which uses icons and colour-coded language to ensure accessibility for oral cultures, currently carries over 5000 indigenous-made videos in over 70 languages from indigenous communities in Canada and around the world (Isuma TV, 2015). On a local level, award-winning grassroots communications organizations such as Northern Ontario’s Wawatay Native Communications Society make extensive use of new digital platforms to offer local multimedia content including audio, photos, video and text in English and traditional languages, while also offering an online streaming service so their radio broadcasts can be enjoyed across Canada (Wawatay News Online, 2015).

As these examples illustrate, we are approaching a bizarre situation where some diverse expressions are delivered through heavily-supported and regulated platforms (i.e., old media broadcasting), while material of similar cultural significance is delivered through platforms that are not regulated at all, instead receiving some subsidy but no market protection (i.e., new media). There is little question that remote aboriginal communities have a right to find their place in and engage with the development of these new cultural spaces. A more challenging question is how such a process is best undertaken in a manner that respects existing community dynamics, accounts for traditional cultural knowledge, and enables communities to best meet their own needs as they see fit.

A way forward : community broadband and a “first mile” approach to cultural expressions

Following the World Decade for Cultural Development, UNESCO has formally recognized the importance of incorporating local knowledge and value systems into development projects (Fabrizio, 1995). Research suggests that in developing countries, access to the digital world can be a powerful tool for development, but with new technologies comes also an increased risk of cultural and digital fractures due to a significant imbalance in local versus international content (Guèvremont, 2015; Rioux, 2015). The same can be said for developing nations within developed countries that lack adequate access to digital technologies.

Read through the lens of the CDCE, it is essential that Canada act not only to improve connectivity and access to web-based services for Aboriginal communities, but also that they be allocated the right to take charge of such development as a key part of their cultural and economic right to self-determination. Fostering indigenous rights to self-determination online requires what McMahon et al (2010) refer to as a “First Mile”-oriented approach to broadband and Internet service development, with an emphasis on locally-driven development and operational practices as opposed to a top-down, industry driven development. Such a move could offer a long-term solution to access issues by providing a superior quality service that is adapted to local needs without the profit motive attached to private networks offered by large vertically-integrated media conglomerates (Crawford, 2014).

Some innovative communities have already developed such models to help deliver community broadband access and ensure high-quality access to e-services such as educational connectivity and health services (McMahon et al, 2014). However, the funding framework for ICT and cultural content development is fragmented and complex, including a large number of programs spanning a range of departments with somewhat overlapping mandates. While some programs are specific to the development of broadband or cultural content, others include these areas as possible applications within a broader cultural or infrastructural program, or they may consider funding for broadband and cultural content development as a step towards achieving other socio-economic program objectives (Blake, McMahon et Williams, 2016). Some program evaluations show that community organizations with small staffs find themselves unable to keep track of the complex funding environment, and may have difficulty completing large and increasingly complicated funding applications and fulfilling reporting requirements (Office of the Chief Audit and Evaluation Executive, 2008 ; MacDonald, Longford, & Clement, 2014).

At the time of writing, the CRTC is undergoing a review of its basic service objectives. Stakeholders in remote indigenous communities have made a powerful argument for a regionally-operated Northern Infrastructure Services Fund (NSIF) that would provide a stable and streamlined source of funding for communications infrastructure development in underserved regions (McMahon, 2015). Adoption of such a fund, which would be made available to community-based organizations involved in broadband development, is an essential part of Canada’s compliance with the CDCE and acceptance of “the importance of […] the knowledge systems of indigenous peoples” and its “positive contribution to sustainable development” (1).


Canada has had many successes in protecting and promoting its cultural expressions, due in large part to concerted efforts to support its cultural industries through a range of subsidy programs, content regulations, ownership requirements, and other provisions in its cultural toolkit. As a key driver behind and drafter of the UNESCO Convention the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, it is no surprise that it finds its own cultural goals closely align with those of the Convention, and it has not been difficult to achieve a reasonable standard of compliance with the CDCE.

However, Canada’s approach to the Convention has also been one of a country that is resting on its laurels and has seen no cause for pushing its cultural vision any further to promote a challenging, social-justice oriented agenda for cultural development. In particular, Canada has neglected to approach issues related to cultural development and its indigenous communities, which face immediate risks to their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness and continually rank considerable lower than other communities in education, health outcomes, housing and employment. If Canada is to take a development-oriented approach to protecting and promoting diverse cultural expressions, it must immediately address issues related to indigenous broadcasting and connectivity in remote regions.


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  1. Simon Fraser University.
  2. For a complete list of Canada’s Free Trade Agreements, see: Canada, Global Affairs Canada, “Trade and investment agreements”, 2018, [Online],, accessed June 12, 2018.
    For a complete list of Canada’s Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion agreements, see: Canada, Global Affairs Canada, “Trade and investment agreements”, 2018, [Online],, accessed June 12, 2018.
  3. The government did not reference the Convention in its response to the report, arguing instead that such matters were in the CBC’s jurisdiction and already in its mandate (Verner, 2008).
  4. The CRTC is currently reviewing its approach to basic service in telecom. See Canada, Canadian Radio-television and telecommunications Commissions, “Telecom Notice of consultation CRTC 2015-134”, 2015, [Online],, accessed November 1st, 2015.
  5. Eg : Connecting Canadians (Industry Canada) ; First Nations Infrastructure Fund (AANDC) ; Broadband Canada (Industry Canada) ; New Paths for Education (AANDC) ; National Satellite Initiative (Industry Canada/ Infrastructure Canada). There are also several programs administered at the provincial levels.

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