Bill C-11 - everything you need to know about Canada's new Online Streaming Act

Man using the YouTube app on iPhone
(Image credit: Shutterstock / mrmohock)

Everywhere around the globe, governments are busy drawing up new legislations to better control how digital tools and platforms operate. 

Some of those, like India's new data law, are introducing new rules on how security software like the best VPN services handle users' data, while others seek to give a legal framework to regulate online content. 

Canada's Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act, lies in the second category. An attempt to modernize the 1991 Broadcasting Act, it aims to regulate how streaming platforms must treat all the audio-visual content posted online. 

The bill has been facing criticism for the lack of transparency and broad definitions of what content should be overseen. Commentators also fear that this may lead to future misuse of its directives.

Canadian YouTubers have been especially vocal against the proposed legislation, claiming that controlling user-generated content will negatively impact their freedom of expression. Some are even suggesting they will use a Canada VPN to spoof their location if the bill is enforced.   

What is Bill C-11?

Introduced by Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez on February 3, Bill C-11 is the updated version of the Bill C-10 that the previous Parliament failed to pass before last year's election.

Its aim is expanding the reach of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which currently regulates content across radio and television, to oversee all audio-visual content posted online

It defines as a new category of broadcaster, called "online undertaking," any platform airing programs on the internet in Canada. From streaming services like Netflix and Spotify to podcast clients and social media of the likes of YouTube and TikTok.  

These will be required to follow CRTC regulations that include adhering to discoverability requirements to better promote Canadian content, and disclosing confidential information like algorithmic data. They would also be forced to pay for an officially recognized license, known as the "CanCon." Multi-million-dollar fines would be the punishment for those failing to comply with the directives. 

A gavel and a law book with a Canada flag on the background

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Why is Bill C-11 controversial?

As mentioned before, Bill C-11 has been meet with a lot of criticism from politicians, lawmakers and online content creators. In fact, while some of the issues with Bill C-10 have been solved, some main faults seem to persist. 

The first problem is around its vagueness in defining which content will be considered as Canadian. For instance, the American series based on the Canadian bestselling novel The Handmaid’s Tale failed to meet the standard in the past. The bill doesn't give any guidance either on how CRTC will have to make the content more discoverable.

Another highly contentious area is around user-generated content. The CRTC will use three criteria to define material posted on social media. These are: whether or not the program generates a direct or indirect revenue; if some parts have been broadcast on a traditional platform like radio or TV; and whether it has been assigned a unique identifier under any international standards system.

As these factors can apply to most content posted on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, all content creators will likely be subjected to CRTC taxes and directives. This would not just have an economic impact, but YouTubers and influencers also fear infringements on their freedom of expression as the Commission would be able to promote certain content over others. 

Overall, commentators are worried about the extended amount of jurisdictional power and control that CRTC will have on all audio-visual content in Canada. As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's report points out, combined with other proposed legislations like the Bill C-18 (or Online News Act), the CRTC will be "in an enormously powerful position."

"No other democratic nation regulates user-generated content through broadcasting rules in this manner. Canada would be unique among allies in doing so, and not in a good way," they conclude, claiming that if Bill C-11 will pass in its current form it would do more harm than good. 

Ultimately, people consuming online content will be affected. This is because tailored algorithmic recommendations are very likely to reflect CRTC's efforts of pushing forward Canadian content to watchers even if this might not match their interests. 

What's next?

On the other hand, supporters of the infamous Online Streaming Act believe that it's important to force foreign streaming platforms to follow the same obligations that national radio and TV have. What's more, it has also been estimated that CanCon licensing and taxing would bring about $830 million in additional funding by 2023. 

After passing through the Heritage Committee and House of Commons, the Senate is now expected to address these grey areas over the coming review due in the fall. 

If better promoting Canadian storytellers might be a noble aim, lawmakers should carefully consider the impact that these directives will have on small online creators. In its current form, Bill C-11 looks like it's about to fail in doing so. 

Chiara Castro
Senior Staff Writer

Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to