This post starts with a personal note and then some deep and troubling thoughts on the future of communication and culture within Canada in a time of revolutionary change.
I am writing to ask you for your support. I am not asking for money, only for our continued ability to speak with each other in the common space of our country. On July 1, 2014, new Electronic Commerce Protection Regulations in Canada will restrict the ability of writers, artists and musicians in Canada to publish and communicate with their audiences, in a variety of ways, some blunt and some subtly-nuanced. You can read the regulations by clicking here. (I warn you, they are confusing, though.) After July 1, it will remain legal for me to post here, on my other blogs, and on social media, but it will be illegal for me to communicate individually with any of you who are not my direct personal friends unless I have your express written permission, no matter where on Earth you live. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission has the right to determine if you are or are not my personal friend, by seizing my personal computers and, if they deem it necessary, by locking me out of my residence for an unspecified length of time. It’s kind of the opposite of house arrest. If you would like to receive private communications from me, or announcements of future books, readings, or events, please reply to this post or by email to <<rhenisch at telus dot net >> (Be creative with your punctuation and that will work tickety boo.) I will then contact you with a permissions email that meets full legal requirements (Nothing much: It will contain my full address and email address and an opt-out procedure, that’s all, but no need to post that here.) Until then, here are some things to consider:
• Foreign corporations and individuals are exempt from this law. I expect that within a few years a solid percentage of Canadian publishing will be replaced by American publishing, as the new law gives American firms a solid marketing advantage within Canada. Canadian publishing was a 1.8 billion dollar a year business in 2012. (It is currently in a 5-10% decline per year.) Expect that decline to accelerate. By the way, Canadian publishers (including Canadian authors, artists and musicians) will not have the right to market in an unsolicited manner to the United States or any other country, although the Americans will have that right in their dealings with us.
Be assured, I will continue to write from this place and with integrity, and will never resort to spam activities to promote my books. I wish only to be part of a conversation, and hope to continue it with you, my friends and readers, as a part of the cultural life of my community, my country and the world community.
• I think it is reasonable to assume that if Canadian publishing is increasingly American publishing, Canadian authors will increasingly write books of interest to American culture and American readers in order to be sold in Canada, which will be a minor part of their market. This was the case before the Canadian publishing revolution of the 1960s. I think it is reasonable to expect this pattern to be reborn, and Canadian culture to be profoundly transformed by it.
I support writing that is of interest to American culture, but am deeply disturbed that the cultural life of my country is at great risk of being controlled by another country. I will continue to write material that seeks ways forward from this colonialism.
• New marketing methods will arise, perhaps in the form of non-profit societies communicating with their members, or in the form of online magazines. These are allowed to continue communications of a commercial nature (any communication from a writer or artist is liable to be construed as a commercial communication, because it implies some future possible economic activity, such as the sale of a poem, someday, to someone), provided that no single member of the group receives a wage, honorarium, cup of coffee or bouquet of flowers from the organization. Should that be the case, then the groups will have to passively solicit contacts for direct email communications; membership in the organization will not constitute a legal right to receive communications from the organization. Until an alternative form of communication arises, we can expect participation at Canadian literary and artistic events to decline. Once a new form is found, however, I think we will see a new samisdat culture arise, that communicates important arts news without contravening government legislation or incurring extravagant fines and penalties. i expect it will result in a renewed, albeit transformed culture. Creating new communication lists will be slow and difficult, as artists, writers and musicians work on very small incomes and rely on open communication to take the place of large marketing budgets. We will have to learn to work very closely together.
I will continue to research and support new forms of communication as they arise, and will keep you apprised of them. This is another reason why your support, in the form of permission to continue to communicate with me, should prove beneficial to us all.
• I expect that we will see a decline in Canadian participation in non-profit societies which have any kind of a commercial presence (including volunteer art galleries, publishing societies, and so forth), as the economic and personal penalties for even one inadvertent email are so severe as to make the personal risk for community work too great, and the insurance to cover the risks are likely beyond the grasp of tiny non-profit budgets. I don’t expect non-profit work to disappear in Canada, but I expect it to radically change its shape, in order to escape $10,000,000 fines and seizures of personal and group property.
I foresee a new form of communication-only society being born, which will lead to new forms of publishing. The transition, however, will be difficult, hard work, and slow. I hope to be a part of continued change, in some small way.
• I expect to see an increasing commercialization of Canadian magazine publishing, as only magazines with large revenue streams will be able to pay for the print and media advertising required to create subscription lists. However, I expect as well innovative work-arounds, but these will take time. They will, I expect, include greater cooperation. There is irony in that. In most countries in the Western world, state support exists for publishing distribution and infrastructure. This new legislation threatens to greatly weaken the effectiveness of that support in Canada, in favour of a totally commercial model (in an environment of prohibitive mailing rates and aggressive foreign ownership and competition.) If I am right, though, the legislation will also result in informal, extra-governmental systems of support — a kind of alternative government to a government that is abdicating its responsibilities to its cultural survival. As a British Columbian, I expect interest in a cross-border alliance and the formation of a culture of Cascadia, including the entire American and Canadian Pacific Northwest, to receive greater artistic interest, despite its inherent dysfunctionality (more on that some other day).
We are in a revolution. Expect continued surprises, but expect as well continued human inventiveness and desire for connection.
• I expect a renewed interest in Facebook, or other social media sites, with, perhaps, increased functionality, to provide non-punishable information-sharing environments.
That ought to be interesting. The change is long overdue.
• I don’t expect to see a mass emigration of Canadian artists, writers and musicians, except, perhaps, those few with high enough incomes and large enough international audiences to allow them to take out foreign citizenship and leave Canada behind. What I do expect is a chill within Canadian cultural production for Canada, and a diminution of artistic production within Canada in reaction to increased barriers of entry for young artists. The ability to create art for one’s own culture on one’s own cultural terms is a birthright of most world citizens. We will have to fight to maintain it (or even regain it) as one of our own.
Please help the conversation by allowing me to contact you from time to time. Send me a note, and I’ll make that easy for you. I think you can tell from the number of times that I have contracted you personally already that you won’t be inundated with mail. I’m too respectful to violate your trust and to humble to start shouting in your ear.
• Maybe, just maybe, the country will survive.
I hope, actually, that we, the people, will somehow find a way to thrive and that in the end the experiment that was Canada will remain strong enough to continue to add something to world culture and to the preservation of the earth and human interactions with it. The planet is worth every effort.