The Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11, passed the unelected upper chamber with 52 votes to 16, with one abstention. It then received royal assent, which means it will become law. It was a long journey marked by years of debate and one of the longest studies in the history of the country’s upper chamber. The bill has faced significant pushback from internet users, content creators and streaming platforms.
The legislation will bring streaming platforms such as YouTube, Disney Plus, Spotify and TikTok under the control of the country's broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), who will be tasked with ensuring they adhere to Canadian content requirements that are already in place for radio and TV stations.
In its quest to ensure online streaming services promote Canadian programming, the bill states that "online undertakings shall clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming, in both official languages as well as in Indigenous languages."
CRTC will have the power to issue financial penalties for parties it determines are violating the act. Right now, broadcasters in Canada are required to spend 30 percent or more of their revenue supporting Canadian content.
The bill was proposed by the liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and passed in the Canadian parliament's lower house in June before making its way into law this month. Canada's opposition Conservative Party has maintained that the bill will destroy freedom of expression and choice online.
One Conservative website said about the bill: "Under this archaic system of censorship, government gatekeepers will now have the power to control which videos, posts and other content Canadians can see online."
YouTube has expressed serious reservations about how the bill will affect user-generated content. The new law will force YouTube to recommend Canadian content to users when they visit its home page instead of seeing videos that have been tailored to their particular interests. This could make it harder for people to find the type of content they want to see. Many are concerned that the new law could make it harder for creators on platforms like TikTok and YouTube to reach the masses.
It is not fully clear how this bill will be followed in practice and its language is very broad, which has caused a lot of confusion and fear. Its interpretation and enforcement will ultimately be up to the CRTC.
The bill says that Canadian broadcasting needs to "serve the needs and interests of all Canadians, including Canadians from racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and ages."
Moreover, the bill gives CRTC new powers, but it is not known how they will use them. However, the CRTC is required to hold public consultations on how its new powers will be used.
Streamers could also see similar regulations come into effect in Australia soon. The government there is poised to implement content quotas in its five-year national cultural policy. The European Union already has a local content quota for streaming services of 30 percent.
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