Canada’s New Online Streaming Act Will Control What You See

The Canadian Parliament is currently considering Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act. Bills tend to contain a lot of complicated legal language, so if you’re wondering what this bill is about, you’re not alone.

Bill C-11 is the updated version of Bill C-10, first introduced in 2021 by former Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. The bill was met with plenty of resistance by online content creators and critics who felt the bill was overly authoritative and restrictive. C-10 was eventually shut down until current Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez decided to resurrect it in the form of Bill C-11.

Bill C-11 aims to address some issues introduced in the previous bill. Instead of fixing its core problems, though, C-11 doubled down by expanding the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) regulatory powers.

C-11 gives the CRTC power to enforce CanCon rules over streaming services and other online content in addition to other audiovisual broadcasting. If Parliament passes this bill, it will give CRTC the ability to regulate the content Canadians are allowed to see online.

What is CanCon?

Photo of Canadian Parliament with empty seats

 

The CRTC introduced CanCon (Canadian Content) in 1971 as a reaction to the fear that Canadian content and content-makers will be supplanted in broadcast media. CanCon requires that radio and television broadcasting platforms pay taxes to contribute to Canadian content creation. It also forces those platforms to display 30% of locally produced content approved by the CRTC.

What Does Bill C-11 Do?

Bill C-11 grants the CRTC the power to regulate audiovisual content that Canadians access on the Internet. It also requires that all platforms that host audiovisual content to fund more Canadian-produced content. In tandem with CanCon, C-11 aims to promote local content and Canadian content creators.

The bill provides some vague details on what counts as audiovisual content that can be regulated by the CRTC. It lists these criteria in Section 4.2(2):

  1. Whether the content generates revenue for someone, indirectly or directly.
  2. Whether any part of the content has been broadcast on a more traditional broadcasting platform.
  3. Whether the content has been assigned a “unique identifier” under any international standards system.

Various types of online content can fulfill one or more of the criteria above. The bill also stipulates that international online content platforms need to include Canadian talent where possible and support Canadian programming.

Screenshot of Bill C-11 section f.1 stipulating hiring of Canadian employees

 

On top of that, Bill C-11 tries to dictate how online platforms display content. It states that platforms should promote Canadian content in both official languages as well as in Indigenous languages. It also says that platforms should prioritize Canadian content in its recommendations.

Screenshot of Bill C-11 section r outlining requirements for streaming services

 

The CRTC has total control over what counts as Canadian content under the CanCon law, but its rulings are not always clear. For example, the agency refused to clear content like Turning Red (Canadian director and set in Canada) and The Handmaid’s Tale (filming and studio work done in Toronto).

That means, even if content was created by Canadians or in Canada, it might not be considered CanCon.

How Will Bill C-11 Impact Streaming Services Operating in Canada?

Bill C-11 applies to all audiovisual streaming platforms, including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, and YouTube. It creates an opportunity for the CRTC to have control over how these platforms display content with a bias towards approved Canadian content.

If the bill is implemented, it will force online services to comply with its mandates or they’ll face heavy fines. Yet, instead of promoting local content, it’s likely that this bill will only limit the online content Canadians have access to.

Services like YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix likely won’t suddenly start investing in Canadian shows, start creating more Canadian content, or hire more Canadians — at least not in the short term. They also probably won’t change their search or suggestion algorithms to promote Canadian content. The threat of fines might, instead, chase these services away.

On top of that, online streaming platforms aren’t suddenly going to have enough Canadian content to meet the ratio the CRTC sets in order to comply with CanCon. The more likely result is that they’ll remove content on their Canadian libraries until their quotas look more favorable.

That means Canadians will have access to fewer shows, movies, videos, and music than they had before. It’s also unclear at this point how the bill will impact smaller content creators like YouTubers and social media influencers as the bill’s criteria doesn’t specifically exclude them.

Critics maintain the bill is too broad and ambiguous in its wording, which can be potentially misleading in terms of who the bill impacts.

How to Avoid Bill C-11’s Restrictions

If you’re Canadian, you can oppose the bill when it opens for public comment. In 2021, the public managed to get the Parliament to suspend Bill C-10 through public outrage. It’s possible Bill C-11 will go the same way, especially since it doesn’t fix the issues people had with the previous bill.

If the Canadian Parliament passes the bill, streaming services may limit their libraries or even pull out of the country entirely. In that case, your only alternative is to use a VPN to access the content you used to be able to access.

You can use a VPN to hide your IP address and replace it with an IP address from a location of your choice. That way, you can choose a US IP address, for example, and access content on Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video like you normally would. CyberGhost VPN also comes with the added benefit of streaming-optimized servers, impenetrable security, and support for all your devices.

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