Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, is Canada’s attempt to update the country’s laws around broadcasting for the first time since 1991. Its journey through Parliament has been confusing and controversial, but we’re finally at the end. The bill has passed in the Senate, received royal assent and is now law. Here’s everything you need to know.
What will Bill C-11 do?
The Online Streaming Act would make YouTube and streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney Plus promote Canadian content – such as music, TV and film – the way Canadian radio stations and TV networks are required to do already. It will also require those streaming companies to contribute financially to the production of Canadian content.
Internal Heritage Department documents predict that the bill will lead to an $86-million annual “surge” in new Canadian TV production.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez will issue a policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission setting out his priorities, and in this he will likely ask the regulator to update the definition of “Canadian content,” expanding it to include things that previously wouldn’t have ticked enough boxes to qualify. An example of this was Disney’s Turning Red, which is about a Chinese-Canadian teen in Toronto and stars Ottawa-born Sandra Oh, a film widely considered Canadian that didn’t count as an official Canadian production. This change will be done by the CRTC in response to the bill being passed.
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What opposition is there to Bill C-11?
The main opposition to Bill C-11 came from the Conservatives, YouTube and Canadian digital-first creators who post video content on the platform. They were concerned that ambiguity in its wording could lead to the regulation of people posting amateur videos.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has argued that the legislation’s language opens up the floodgates for algorithmic manipulation – a level of interference they insist would be no less than full-on government censorship.
Conservative heritage spokeswoman Rachael Thomas said influencing what Canadians see, by asking platforms to promote more Canadian content, including songs and films – rather than presenting them with options based on their own tastes – was a form of censorship.
Some creators have argued that the language in the bill is unclear, and therefore they don’t know if their content will be subject to the new rules or how the new rules will change the content they’re in competition with.
How will Bill C-11 affect the average Canadian?
Most Canadians won’t notice much change with the passing of the bill. They may see more Canadian productions on streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Crave, similar to the way they hear Canadian songs and see Canadian shows when watching the radio or broadcast television.
For now, YouTube is expected to be the only social media platform that comes under the scope of the bill, so Canadians can presume that the apps they scroll each day and the content they consume on them will remain the same.
How will Bill C-11 affect creators and artists in Canada?
Even with C-11 now passed, it’s not yet clear what forcing streamers to support Canadian content would look like. That’s up to the CRTC. And that process is expected to take another few years. The passing of Bill C-11, then, is sending fears flying over what might happen next.
Some artists’ groups argue that the legislation’s language doesn’t go far enough in forcing American giants to support Canadian content as much as domestic counterparts. Others insist the new law opens the door to massive overreach, potentially creating upheaval for creators on YouTube and TikTok trying to get their videos to the masses, despite promises that everyday users won’t be affected. Many fear the services will be forced to rejig algorithms to disproportionately surface Canadian content here in ways that could have repercussions, perhaps entirely unintentionally, for how their content is seen elsewhere.
Domestic and foreign interest groups have spent much of the past few years working Ottawa’s backrooms and trotting spokespeople before federal committees to urge lawmakers to either strengthen or water down the new law. It seemed like for every group such as the Writers Guild of Canada that showed up to a Senate committee arguing that without cultural protections, “we are at risk of losing an entire generation of storytellers,” you could find an American streamer such as Netflix insisting that it’s already investing plenty in Canada and shouldn’t be beholden to a more “rigid” investment model.
For now, all eyes are turning to the CRTC for what happens next.
What happens next?
On Thursday, April 27, the Senate voted to pass the bill and then it was given royal assent, meaning the law has been passed.
Within about a month of the bill becoming law, Mr. Rodriguez will issue a policy direction to the CRTC.
Then, it will be up to the CRTC begin work to sort out what the precise application of the act will look like. This work will include consultation with interested parties and stakeholders. This means it could be a while before consumers, artists, content creators and companies understand and experience the full effect of the act.
A brief timeline of Bill C-11
1999 — With the emergence of audio and video distributed via the internet, the CRTC issues an exemption order: Although they might qualify as broadcasters, the regulator would excuse new media from the Canadian-content requirements with which conventional television and radio broadcasters must comply.
2010 — U.S.-based Netflix enters the Canadian market and soon signs up one million subscribers. Meanwhile video-sharing platform YouTube becomes increasingly important as a music-discovery service. Industry observers begin to debate whether and how Canadian-content regulations covering TV and radio will be updated for a borderless online world.
2015-17 — The Liberals’ first minister of Heritage Mélanie Joly says the new government will address the issue and she launches a cultural policy review. A much trumpeted $500-million deal with Netflix is panned, as that was the amount the service was already spending in Canada.
2019-21 — The new Heritage minister Steven Guilbeault takes a tougher line on the file, saying web giants must pay their fair share. He introduces Bill C-10, which will bring foreign streaming services into the Canadian regulatory environment. But Guilbeault has trouble explaining how it will exempt user-generated content on social-media sites. The bill dies on the order paper when the Senate adjourns for summer holidays in 2021.
2022-23 — A third Heritage minister has more luck: Pablo Rodriguez pushes what is now Bill C-11 through Parliament. He accepts some amendments from the Senate but, despite promises that user-generated content will not be targeted, rejects a final amendment stating that outright. The Online Streaming Act, an amendment to the Broadcasting Act last updated in 1991, is now law.
With reports from Marie Woolf, Josh O’Kane, Kate Taylor, The Canadian Press