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An outspoken critic of the Liberal government's online streaming bill received funding from two of the biggest digital platforms in the world.

Scott Benzie, founder of Digital First Canada, told a parliamentary committee on Monday that his organization, which advocates for online creators, is partly funded by YouTube and TikTok.

The revelation prompted Liberal MP Chris Bittle, parliamentary secretary to Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, to accuse Benzie of having an "extreme conflict of interest."

The MP said representing digital first creators while taking money from the platforms was "almost like starting a union and taking money from management."

Bittle also accused Benzie of concealing that he was funded by the platforms when he appeared before the committee previously.

Benzie, also the executive director of Digital First Canada, told the committee he had informed the Heritage Department he had received funding from platforms.

In an interview on Tuesday, Benzie said he had not tried to conceal that his organization received private funding. He said the money came from a store and the two platforms and totalled "less than $100,000."

"Mr Bittle took that time to attack the organization for something that he already knew and wasn't a secret," Benzie said in an interview. "It's not something that we were trying to hide."

He argued that the MP could have spent the time asking about the content of the bill instead.

Vocal critic of Liberals' online streaming bill partly funded by #YouTube and #TikTok. #OnlineStreaming #CDNPoli

Benzie said he set up Digital First Canada before receiving funding earlier this year from the platforms and was "going to do it anyway" and would be "doing this without them."

The advocate has been one of the most vocal critics of Bill C-11, which aims to modernize the Canadian Broadcasting Act to include streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube.

He has expressed concerns that the bill and its predecessor, known as C-10 and which failed to pass before the 2021 election, could apply to user-generated content, such as amateur videos posted on YouTube.

His opinions have been cited in the House of Commons by MPs, and the issue of user-generated content has become a central issue in debates about the bill, including in the heritage committee, which is currently scrutinizing C-11.

Benzie is registered to lobby the Heritage Department on legislation that would affect online content creators.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Canada's online creators are "incredibly talented."

"Most of them are self-employed independent workers. Sadly, their livelihoods are in the hands of tech giants, who can deplatform, demonetize, demote or censor their content at will."

Benzie told the committee that most of the advocacy group's funding comes from the Toronto-based Buffer Festival, an annual event showcasing online video creators.

He said he disagreed with tech giants on various issues, including on the topic of more transparency of platforms' algorithms.

Both YouTube and TikTok said Digital First Canada has given a voice to online content creators.

"In both the C-11 and C-10 debate, digital creator voices were barely consulted or considered. Digital First Canada provided a forum to defend and raise their voices," said Lauren Skelly, YouTube spokesperson. "We support their efforts in defending Canadian creators during this critical time."

A spokesperson for TikTok said: "We're proud to support Digital First Canada's advocacy on behalf of independent online creators whose interests aren't otherwise represented by existing guilds or associations."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

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