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  • State of the Internet

Canadians Deserve a Better Internet

By Josh Tabish
Public Affairs Manager

Canadians’ attitudes about internet issues

Editor’s note: While we have edited this report to account for the spread of COVID-19, the data was collected before the pandemic began. The ongoing crisis has made the importance of high quality, reliable internet access for all Canadians abundantly clear, and we are confident that the data contained in this report highlights key changes needed to promote a trusted internet for Canadians.

Foreword by Byron Holland, CIRA’s president and CEO

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee submitted his first proposal for an “information management system” that eventually became known as the World Wide Web. Last year, 30 years after creating one of the defining technologies of the modern era, he warned that creation could lead the world towards a digital dystopia.

Last November, Berners-Lee issued a call for a new Contract for the Web and its underlying foundation, the internet. It calls for governments to maintain the open nature of the internet while working to ensure accessibility. Corporations must respect human rights, especially regarding individual privacy, and individuals should use the web as a catalyst for social change, working to hold powerful entities accountable while lifting up internet users everywhere.

Just a few months later, Berners-Lee’s call would be underscored by the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, where widespread school closures, social distancing and work from home which would make access to high-quality information and internet services more important than ever before.

That the inventor of the web should issue such a warning on the anniversary of his landmark achievement is evidence of the significant challenges facing internet policy makers. That, in his new contract, he’s echoing our principles of an open, trusted, and people-centred internet, suggests that there’s room for all internet stakeholders to do better.

That future is now.

During the last federal election, many Canadians encountered fake news spread on social networks designed to sway their political views. Even the COVID-19 situation hasn’t been immune from misinformation. Pseudoscience masquerades as fact in a time when accurate information can save lives. The intentional spreading of fake news erodes the trust Canadians have in their most important institutions. The algorithms optimized for ad clicks and engagement on social media only exacerbate the problem. Now Canadians face the prospect of these same algorithms entering into their lives in public spaces—with AI and facial recognition being considered for screening purposes, such as assessing job and loan applicants.

Digital forces are also knocking on the front doors of our homes. Smart home technology driven by the Internet of Things is causing unanticipated privacy and security concerns for many. On a larger scale, projects like Google’s proposed Sidewalk Labs in Toronto demonstrate how the promise of smart cities is now being overshadowed by privacy concerns. It’s no wonder that Canadians feel their privacy is under threat, as it seems nowhere is safe from digital surveillance.

Despite these concerns, Canadians still recognize the importance of the internet. They support the notion that universal access to the internet should be a government mandate. They also oppose the idea of taxing ISPs in order to fund Canadian content creation, and support the principle of net neutrality, which ensures all content is treated equally online.

Over the past three decades, a largely unregulated internet thrived. It transformed the world’s economy and empowered individuals with new capabilities. It provided new opportunities for education, new avenues for service delivery, and new territory for business innovation. It facilitated significant business continuity and emergency communications during public emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the last couple of years, it’s become clear that this unchecked transformation hasn’t always produced good outcomes. Bad actors are exploiting the open nature of the internet, causing harm to individuals and sometimes even threatening our trusted democratic institutions.

Canadians now feel that it’s time for the government and global internet governance stakeholders to act and provide new safeguards for internet users. The point of any policy or regulation should be to provide an equalizing force – to ensure individual rights aren’t eclipsed by entrenched interests, that modern convenience doesn’t come with a price tag of forfeiting privacy, and that facts aren’t clouded out by fiction. Working together, we can strike the right balance that provides the regulation Canadians need for the internet to be a part of this country’s future health and prosperity.

Key findings in this report

Social media and fake news

  • 54 per cent indicate that they definitely or probably came across fake news stories about Canadian politics or politicians in the lead up to, or during, the 2019 federal election.
  • 58 per cent say they have believed in a fake news item.
  • 80 per cent believe the federal government should attempt to control the spread of fake news by imposing fines or other sanctions on social media companies that do not act to remove it from their platforms.

AI and facial recognition

  • 56 per cent support using AI to block illegal content online.
  • 42 per cent support using AI to screen passengers at airports.
  • 50 per cent support the use of facial recognition by government agencies.
  • 47 per cent support banks in using facial recognition.

Online Privacy

  • 52 per cent are willing to share personal data with banks in exchange for better products and services.
  • With the exception of online banking services, the vast majority of Canadians say they are unwilling to share their personal data in exchange for better video streaming services, social media sites, digital advertising, and IoT devices.
  • 82 per cent support a change in the Officer of the Privacy Commissioner’s legal authority that would give it powers to make orders and issue fines.

Smart homes and smart cities

  • 48 per cent report having at least one smart home device in their household.
  • 30 per cent report having a voice-activated connected-home device.
  • 74 per cent have privacy or security concerts related to connected-home devices.
  • 7-in-10 are concerned about potential cybersecurity risks from foreign-owned network technologies like Huawei Technologies.

Online government services

  • 30 per cent indicate that in the last year they have had to access a government service online that they would have preferred to access in a different way.
  • 16 per cent indicate that they have used a fax machine to send documents to a government department or agency in the past year because it would not accept scanned documents by email.

Internet policy

  • 83 per cent believe it is important that government data, including the personal information of Canadians, be stored and transmitted in Canada only.
  • 60 per cent support requiring Canada’s largest mobile services providers to share their infrastructure to promote more competition.
  • 49 per cent support requiring foreign streaming sites like Netflix and Spotify to collect and remit federal sales tax.
  • Only 26 per cent support a new tax on internet services to fund production of Canadian cultural and creative content.


Democratic – Innovative – Competitive

Fake news

The term “fake news” has trended up in the popular lexicon like an aggressively curved hockey stick since 2016. While many have tried to take hold of the powerful phrase and warp its meaning to suit their own agendas, traditional media and regulatory bodies can generally agree that fake news is information that is fictitious in nature and is either not supported by facts or only supported by an intentional misreading of available information. The spectrum within that fictional space ranges from misleading or incomplete context to outright fabrication. Too often, when fake news items are encountered on social media platforms, they compete with authoritative media reports and are given equal weight.

According to Canada’s Internet Factbook, nearly 60 per cent of Canadians access news and current events online. More than three-quarters of Canadians report that they come across fake news stories at least sometimes. One-fifth of Canadians say it’s often, or all the time. Not only is the term “fake news” a buzz word, it’s a widely recognized problem.

Before the 2019 Canadian federal election, reports of sophisticated fake news campaigns impacting democratic processes in the 2016 U.S. election and the 2016 ‘Brexit’ vote in the U.K. were fresh on the minds of voters. In last year’s survey, 70 per cent of Canadians indicated that they were concerned that fake news could impact last October’s federal election.  This year, more than half of Canadians say they at least “probably” came across fake news stories about Canadian politics or politicians in the period leading up to, or during the 2019 election.

{CIGF Report :: Open :: Fake News :: Chart 1}

Canadians concerned about fake news during the election were vindicated last fall. Fake news platform The Buffalo Chronicle published a false story about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s departure from Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy as a teacher. While the claims were ultimately debunked, it didn’t stop other outlets from repeating the falsehood. It even spurred the opposition Conservative Party to issue a press release asking why Trudeau left the academy.

The Chronicle wasn’t the only instance where fake news played a role in the election. Researchers from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center reported that fake images of Trudeau in blackface were circulating online and among known operators of disinformation amplification. The images were referred to as “cheap fakes” because that while these specific images were fake, they were similar to real images of Trudeau in blackface that emerged during the election campaign. With both real images of the Prime Minister’s past and fake altered images circulating the web, it was harder than ever for Canadians to tell fact from fiction.

{CIGF Report :: Open :: Fake News :: Chart 2}

It’s no wonder that 76 per cent of Canadians are either only “somewhat confident” or “not very confident at all” with their own ability to recognize fake news stories. Canadians’ confidence in sniffing out fake news online is on the decline compared to 2019; just under three-quarters (73 per cent) are confident in their own ability to recognize fake news stories online, compared to 80 per cent confidence in 2019. Nearly six out of 10 say they’ve actually been fooled by a fake news item. This is particularly concerning during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many Canadians are looking for information about how to stay safe online.

With a similar decline in confidence happening internationally, social media firms are starting to react to the problem. Facebook committed to setting up a dedicated operations center to monitor activity across all of its owned platforms. It intends to remove fake accounts and reduce the reach of articles debunked by third-party fact checkers.

Twitter took a broader approach and chose to ban all political advertising. More recently, it committed to remove altered or fabricated media created with the intent to deceive and likely to cause serious harm. In other cases where the content doesn’t pose a threat to public safety, Twitter will label it and warn users about sharing it more widely. While these efforts to combat fake news may not go far enough for some, it shows that major platforms have recognized that they need to play a more active role in curating what happens on their network.

{CIGF Report :: Open :: Fake News :: Chart 3}

Canadians aren’t satisfied with simply allowing social media platforms to self-govern what should be censored and what shouldn’t. Eight in 10 Canadians say the federal government should attempt to control the spread of fake news by imposing fines or other sanctions on social media companies that do not act to remove it from their platforms. Almost half of Canadians say they definitely believe it should, while one-third believe it probably should. Where social media firms are censoring content, it’s important they be open about the reasons for their decisions.

At present, Canada doesn’t have any laws that prevent the dissemination of fake news. However, the federal government did establish a panel to investigate and inform Canadians about threats to the integrity of the election due to misinformation campaigns from foreign states. The Critical Election Incident Public Protocol collaborated with government departments, law enforcement and intelligence agencies throughout the election period. It chose not to issue any warnings.

New and emerging tech

While Canadians are still coming to grips with the full impact of algorithmically-driven social media platforms that have failed to differentiate between truth and delusion, they’re now being asked to consider the effects of algorithms applied to the physical realm. Innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) are opening up new possibilities for government and commercial entities, like user-friendly software did in the 1990s. To be competitive in the future, it’s likely all organizations will have to deploy some form of AI.

AI may be much improved, but its scope is still limited. It tends to excel in tasks that involve making predictions based on repetitive pattern recognition. As a result, it’s being deployed in scenarios where it can assist with screening of information—from blocking unwanted content, to filtering out people that apply for jobs or loans.

A minority of Canadians support the use of AI for the following purposes


Passengers at airports


Government income assistance


Loan applicants


Job applicants


Blocking illegal content online

Canadians have differing levels of comfort with the idea of AI making decisions—though clear majority support has yet to emerge. The highest levels of support are for the use of blocking illegal content online, with 56 per cent either strongly or somewhat supporting it.

Facebook uses AI to automatically detect and block nudity. Facebook claims it has been successful in detecting and removing 96 per cent of nude images before any person reports them. It’s also trying to use AI to flag hateful speech for review by a human, but is finding less success in that regard as reliably detecting malicious intent in speech across 100 different languages is much harder than identifying bare skin. Still, Facebook claims that half of the hate speech it removed during the third-quarter of 2018 was accomplished using AI.

Outside of social media, telecommunications giant Bell has proposed integrating AI into its wireless network to block spam calls.

The concept of blocking online information, and how to do so, is controversial in general. In November, a Federal Court ordered Canadian internet service providers (ISPs) to take measures to block websites associated with an internet protocol television (or IPTV) service known as Gold TV. Gold TV offered unauthorized streaming access to TV subscriptions without owning rights to the content being streamed. The decision was the first time any Canadian court had ordered ISPs to block content on the Internet, and it did so in technical detail. One ISP, TekSavvy, is appealing the decision on several grounds, including that ISPs are not legally permitted to interfere with the content traversing their networks without approval of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

On February 5, 2020, CIRA filed a request to intervene in the matter. As a steward of the .CA domain, CIRA is interested in the decision’s impact on its ability to safeguard the technical functioning of the internet. CIRA has offered to provide guidance on the architecture of the internet and how turning to ISPs to block websites by default has harmful repercussions. Clearly, there is a tension between the open approach of allowing Canadians access to a neutral internet and the art of tinkering with its technical functioning to block some of its content.

Canadians are a bit more wary of using AI to screen passengers at airports, with 42 per cent supporting the practice. They become even more wary of the prospect of AI screening for government income assistance, with only 34 per cent in support. The Government of Canada has stated its intent to eventually apply AI in its operations, issuing a directive on automated decision-making to improve service delivery. It requires that any department using AI conduct an algorithmic impact assessment and, to provide transparency, inform Canadians when AI is being used to aid in decision making. Canada’s government is also innovating in the area of AI ethics, leading international talks on the matter and consulting the private sector to set standards for transparency and fairness.

Canadians are least supportive of screening loan applicants (33 per cent support) and job applicants (30 per cent), perhaps aware of the threat of AI reinforcing societal biases. For example, in 2018 Amazon made headlines after they decided to abandon an AI-powered recruitment tool that was found to be discriminating against female applicants.

Confidence that institutions will act in the public interest is relatively low


Local/municipal government


Federal government


Provincial government


The news media


Internet service providers in Canada


Large, global technology companies

In general, Canadians hold more confidence in democratic institutions to act in citizens’ best interests than other institutions. About half or more Canadians held at least a fair amount of confidence that local, provincial, and federal levels of government will act in their best interests. This is particularly important during national crises like Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer held at least a fair amount of confidence in the news media (33 per cent), ISPs (31 per cent), and large, global technology firms (22 per cent). These numbers reinforce the idea that trust is a critical factor on the internet—and who you place it in is important.

Fake news may have Canadians feeling more uncertain than ever about the credibility of the information they encounter on the web, and that lack of confidence has extended to a general uneasiness when new technologies are combined with regulatory power. However, they still view the government as their best ally in keeping the impacts of these new factors in check.


Private – Safe – Secure

Online privacy

If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. In a world of free online services, this adage has proven apt.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought Facebook executives in front of U.S. lawmakers, internet users have woken up to the surveillance economy they’re participating in. Cambridge Analytica didn’t have to steal anyone’s information in order to use it for its political campaign advertising. Instead they attained it through a simple quiz delivered via Facebook’s platform. It wasn’t even until after a public backlash that Facebook made changes to its own terms of service to deter what Cambridge Analytica did. Still, ad-driven business models operated at scale by Silicon Valley tech giants are making people feel their privacy is under threat, or even non-existent. Regulators around the world are responding with new rules that focus on personal data and consent.

{CIGF Report :: Trusted :: Online privacy :: Chart 1}

Canadians remain just as concerned as they were in 2019 that businesses with access to their personal data will share it with third parties without consent, with 86 per cent at least somewhat concerned.

With the exception of online banking services, most Canadians indicate that they are unwilling to share their personal data in exchange for better products and services.

{CIGF Report :: Trusted :: Online privacy :: Icons 1}

In Canada, the appetite to share personal data in exchange for better products and services is low across the board. Online banking is the area Canadians are most comfortable, with 52 per cent of Canadians at least somewhat willing to provide their data if it means better service. It’s a sheer drop-off after that, with only 26 per cent at least somewhat willing to do so for video streaming services, 23 per cent for social media websites, 16 per cent for digital advertising, and finally just 15 per cent for internet-connected devices like baby monitors. This is a dramatic decline findings in our 2019 Canadians Deserve a Better Internetreport, which showed that 72 per cent of Canadians were willing to disclose some or a little personal information in exchange for valuable content or service. In only a year, Canadians have determined that the privacy bargain they signed up for is not worth the cost.

Many Canadians are tending towards privacy because they don’t trust businesses to follow the rules. More than four in 10 Canadians think it is not very likely or not likely at all that a majority of businesses in Canada comply with federal privacy legislation. In a similar vein, Canadians mostly feel that businesses aren’t punished for abuses of privacy. More than four in 10 Canadians say businesses that don’t comply with federal privacy legislation hardly ever or never face penalties. It’s fair to say that Canadians don’t feel their privacy is safe online. In CIRA’s most recent cybersecurity survey, the concerns of Canadians appear justified as only 58 percent of small and medium-sized business surveyed indicated they reported a breach of their customer’s data to a regulatory body.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is responding to that fear. The commissioner oversees compliance with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the federal privacy law governing the commercial sector. In his annual report filed in December, Commissioner Daniel Therrien recommended reforms that would strengthen privacy law. It calls upon the government to explicitly recognize privacy as a fundamental human right. Organizations would require a good reason to collect and retain personal information and obtain meaningful consent.

The commissioner also wants better enforcement powers, including the ability to investigate firms proactively and issue binding orders and fines. At present, the Commissioner must take an organization to court in order to make its directions a legal requirement. It’s currently working to bring Facebook before the Federal Court to impose its most recent set of recommendations following an investigation into the social network.

A supermajority of Canadians (82 per cent) support Therrien, with more than half strongly supporting the change to the commissioner’s legal authority to give the office the power to make orders and issue fines.

There are indications that privacy law will be the subject of government bill soon enough. The Prime Minister makes clear in his mandate letter to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry that the Privacy Commissioner should gain enhanced powers based on a new set of online rights. Legislation to do so could be included in a new Digital Charter. But in his annual report, Therrien described the current government proposals as “inefficient” since it doesn’t provide fining powers without collaboration with the Attorney General and a judge. Therrien, and it seems many Canadians, would prefer the Commissioner to have the same direct-fining power held by privacy watchdogs in the U.S. and the E.U.

Internet of Things

Data privacy is becoming an even more pressing issue as the internet enters new areas of our lives. During the early 2010s, the digital trail of personal information left behind by each of us was limited to actions taken on the web. However, in recent years, connected devices or the Internet of Things (IoT) have pushed the digital realm into our homes and cities. Suddenly, our interactions in the physical realm are leaving behind digital breadcrumbs and it’s often hard to know who’s following them.

{ CIGF Report :: Trusted :: Internet of Things :: Chart 1}

Canadians are more concerned about threats to their privacy and security as a result of the IoT devices in their homes than they were in 2018. Almost three-quarters of Canadians have at least some concerns about how their IoT devices impact make them vulnerable to outside snooping. Compare this with 2018 data which shows that only 62 per cent of Canadians were concerned about the privacy or security concerns that come with IoT devices. Yet that fear isn’t stopping many Canadians from buying and using IoT devices.

Right now half of Canadians say they do not have IoT devices in their home, which is down from 56 per cent in 2019. Almost one-third of Canadians have one or two IoT devices, and a few (2 per cent) have 10 or more. In addition to devices like internet-connected appliances and lightbulbs, IoT devices can also include a voice-activated assistant, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

In 2020, 30 per cent of Canadians report owning such a device, up from 18 per cent last year. Canadians are surrounding themselves with more connected microphones despite some of them being concerned about spying. Three in 10 Canadians think their mobile device definitely or probably listens to them via the microphone, without their permission, according to the CIRA Factbook.

3-in-10 report having a voice-activated connected-home device






Don’t know

In 2019, Canadians learned that what they said to their smart speaker wasn’t limited to being heard by a digital assistant. Sometimes, strangers are listening in on those commands spoken in the privacy of the home. The news came in a series of revelations:

  • In April, Bloomberg reported on Amazon’s team of contractors that are hired to listen to the voice recordings captured by Echo smart speakers. 
  • In July, Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS learned that Google employees listen to audio files recorded via Google Home smart speakers and the Google Assistant smartphone app.
  • Later that same month, The Guardian learned that Apple was doing the same with Siri recordings, including those from its Apple HomePod smart speaker.

All three technology firms responded to the reports, saying the recordings weren’t intended for spying purposes, but to improve the quality and accuracy of the voice assistants. However, none of them had notified users of the possibility of their recordings being heard by another person beforehand. Worse yet, employees hired by the firms to listen to the recordings acknowledged that they often heard the results of “false positives,” or private moments recorded when no one intended to speak to the smart assistant, but it was triggered anyway.

Smart Cities

Google is collecting Canadians’ data online via its search and web services, collecting it in the home with its IoT devices, and its sister company could soon scour data in the streets. Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, entered into an agreement with Waterfront Toronto in October 2017 to develop Toronto’s Quayside neighbourhood in an innovative smart city project. Since that time, concerned citizens and media have been pressing Sidewalk Labs for details on what data would be collected and how it would be used.

{CIGF Report :: Trusted :: Smart cities :: Chart 1}

Most Canadians are not comfortable with the idea of living in a smart city, and another 18 per cent say they’re not comfortable at all. Should they live in a smart city environment, 58 per cent of Canadians believe that it’s very important for them to have control over the amount and type of personal data that’s collected about them in public places. Also, 54 per cent of Canadians believe that visitors to a smart city should be able to opt out of having their personal data collected by technology.

{CIGF Report :: Trusted :: Smart cities :: Chart 2}

When it comes who should own the data created with IoT deployed in a smart city, about one-third of Canadians think it should belong to the local government. Only four per cent believe it should belong with the companies that deployed the technology. Another 28 per cent say neither the government nor the company should own the data, and 14 per cent believe both parties should own it. In general, there’s a lot of confusion over what the average scenario is, with more than one-quarter of Canadians saying they don’t now who typically owns the data collected about individuals in a smart city. It’s such new territory in Canada that no real precedent has been set.

Sidewalk Labs had an idea to address this problem. It suggested creating an Urban Data Trust to control the data, an objective third party that would have government appointees tasked with making decisions about who would get access to data and for what purpose. Sidewalk Labs said it wouldn’t have decision-making power on the trust, and it would submit to the trust’s authority. In a response to that proposal, Waterfront Toronto decided to take a different route. It said government should control the data, and only after consent for its collection is attained.12

In February, Waterfront Toronto approved many of the development proposals that Sidewalk Labs put forward and planned to vote on May 20 on whether to proceed with a rough sketch of the overall project. Then, on May 7th, Sidewalk Labs unexpectedly announced they were pulling out of the Toronto’s Quayside Project, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the primary contributing factors.


Technology’s reach into new realms clearly has Canadians worried about the control they can hold over their own personal information. At the same time that surveillance-driven business practices are coming under scrutiny, outright criminal attacks on personal data are also on the rise.

More than 28 million Canadians were affected by a data breach between November 2018 and November 2019, according to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The report marked the first year that Canadian organizations were required by law to report data breaches to the Commissioner. Of the 680 incidents reported, 397 were unauthorized access and 54 incidents were theft.

{CIGF Report :: Trusted :: Cybersecurity :: Chart 1}

With so many affected by data breaches, Canadians want the government to get involved. Almost eight out of 10 Canadians believe the government should provide resources and infrastructure to Canadian businesses to help protect from cyberattacks. Two-thirds of Canadians either somewhat support or strongly support more government funding for better cybersecurity infrastructure.

CIRA is developing a way to secure IoT devices deployed in smart cities. CIRA Labs is working with Ottawa-based accelerator L-SPARK to develop CIRA Secure IoT Registry. This registry would establish trust between mobile operators, cloud service providers, IoT device makers, and end-users. Similar to operating a domain registry, an IoT device needs to be able to transfer between owners and connect with various cloud service providers. As 5G networks proliferate across Canada, they are expected to result in a massive influx of IoT devices in a variety of sectors. CIRA is working directly with network operators, including the GSMA, to ensure Secure IoT Registry is ready to handle the load.

Increased security for 5G devices is especially important. Right now, seven in ten Canadians are concerned about potential cybersecurity risks associated with foreign-owned technology companies like Huawei Technologies.

By using end-to-end encryption, the Secure IoT Registry will generate a unique security certificate for each and every device on its network. This will help ensure that nobody other than the device owner or administrator is in control of. It will also help protect against so-called “man in the middle” attacks where a bad actor or mobile network operator can interfere with the IoT device’s connection. If adopted widely, the Secure IoT Registry would reduce the chances of mobile operator meddling on next generation 5G networks.

CIRA also protects more than one million K-12 students, several hospitals and dozens of municipalities with it’s cybersecurity solutions designed exclusively to protect Canadians. These solutions evolved naturally from CIRA’s expertise in securing Canada’s DNS, and will soon be expanded to include protection for individual Canadians and families.

Earlier in this report, we saw that Canadians trust government the most out of all institutions with their personal data. Canadians also want their government to take stronger actions to keep their data safe from corporations and cyber criminals. Those actions come in the form of stricter regulatory bodies, and more resilient infrastructure.


Transparency – Accessibility – Education

Beyond keeping its citizens safe from the new threats posed by the digital realm, the government has a key role to play in providing services, crafting and implementing new policies, and educating its people in ways that will impact culture and economic opportunity.

Government services

In 2018, Canada released a digital government vision that laid out its modern service strategy. It contains many modern principles in service design that are now familiar to Canadians from their consumer experiences. The federal government wants to continuously improve its many government services, making them more accessible by presenting a single point of entry to the public despite the many agencies and organizations within the government.  For most Canadians, the current COVID-19 pandemic and widespread social distancing has underscored the importance of easy access to government resources and information. It is setting service standards for priority services and delivering real-time reporting to create better transparency. It’s bringing together a unified digital strategy that delivers a user-focused experience organized around a “moments in life” approach via the website, enabling citizens’ digital self-serve options with the My Service Canada account portal. The strategy extends to 2022.

More than one-in-ten indicate that they have used a fax machine to send documents to a government department or agency in the past year because it would not accept scanned documents by email.






Don’t know

Despite these digitization efforts, there’s still work to be done. Sixteen per cent of Canadians say they had to use a fax machine to send documents to a government department or agency, because they wouldn’t accept scanned documents by email. Also, just because online services are often a convenient option doesn’t mean it should be the only option. Three in 10 Canadians say they had to access a government service online when they would have preferred to access it via telephone, mail, or in person.

With the internet providing access to government services and being increasingly necessary for economic participation, Canadians recognize its vital nature to every citizen. More than half of Canadians say that universal access to high speed internet is critically important for Canada’s overall economic growth and prosperity, up from 38 per cent last year. Another 35 per cent say it’s somewhat important. Given that many Canadians are also accessing digital government services with their smartphones, many feel it’s important to provide more options for wireless service in the market. Six in 10 Canadians support requiring Canada’s largest mobile service providers to share their infrastructure with new or small providers in order to increase competition in the mobile sector.

Just 3-in-10 say they are aware that some of Canada’s internet infrastructure runs through the United States






Don’t know

Many Canadians are surprised to hear that some of Canada’s internet infrastructure runs through the U.S. This year only 31 per cent said they were aware of this fact, which is lower than in 2019 and 2018.

Because of the lack of internet exchange points (IXPs) across Canada, most internet traffic originating from our country must flow south of the U.S. border. Even when Canadians are browsing another Canadian-based website, the data often transits through a major exchange point in the U.S., where it is under the jurisdiction of a different set of laws.

Canadians prefer that their data stay within their own country when possible. Eight in 10 believe it’s important that ISPs and online service companies invest in building up Canada’s internet infrastructure inside its own borders. Canadians also prefer that all data be treated equally on the internet, with about two-thirds supporting the principle of net neutrality.

If you’re curious about tracking the route your data is taking across the internet, try using the IXmaps tool developed at the University of Toronto. Funded by CIRA’s Community Investment Program, IXmaps educates about where Canadian internet traffic is moving around the world and highlights suspected surveillance sites operated by the National Security Administration or U.S. carriers.

Internet policy

Aside from delivering digital services itself, the government plays a role in shaping policy in how corporations can deliver digital services. For example, broadcasters that used to rely on airwaves or cable to deliver their content to audiences are increasingly converging to digital delivery. New competitors in this space that never operated under traditional models, like Netflix, are pushing content to users around the world without any physical presence in many jurisdictions. Currently Canada’s broadcasting regulations do not apply to over-the-top (OTT) providers like Netflix, Apple and Disney. These services are also able to evade local tax regimes, giving foreign entities a competitive advantage over local firms.

Support for government intervention varies across different digital policy areas


Requiring foreign streaming sites like Netflix and Spotify to collect and remit federal sales tax


Adding a tax on internet services that would go toward funding the production of Canadian cultural and creative content


Requiring Canada’s largest mobile services providers to share their infrastructure with new or smaller providers in order to increase competition in the mobile sector

Historically, broadcasters in Canada have been required to set aside a specific proportion of funding and airtime for Canadian-made content. The CRTC sees this as a means to protect Canada’s cultural identity. So far, internet-based content has not been subject to such regulation. But about half of Canadians feel it’s time to level the playing field, supporting a requirement for streaming sites like Netflix and Spotify to collect and remit federal sales tax. Only 21 per cent of Canadians oppose the tax.

Quebec and Saskatchewan already require online services to collect sales tax, raising tens of millions of dollars on it in 2019. During the federal election, the Liberal Party campaigned on putting a three per cent tax in place on over-the-top services like Netflix, as a stop-gap measure until the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development agrees upon a set rate across participating countries. This proposal has since been abandoned, but the issue remains: what should Canada do – if anything – about how foreign media streaming services are taxed?

While Canadians support applying sales tax (HST) to streaming services, they don’t support a new tax on Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Only 26 per cent said they strongly support or somewhat support a tax on ISPs to fund production of Canadian content. Canadians recognize that the role of the ISP is as a provider of a connection to the internet, and that it shouldn’t be held responsible for regulating the content delivered through that connection. Taxing ISPs would also raise the price of internet service for Canadians, which would be unfair to those that use it for critical communications, access to government services, and for employment purposes. The recent Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review report explicitly recommends against a tax on ISPs to support Canadian content. However, it does recommend that all media content undertakings that benefit from the Canadian media communications sector contribute to the funding of CanCon.

Government has a challenging task ahead of it in a country that is so geographically large with a population that is just one-tenth of the superpower that resides to the south. A delicate balance has to be found in making the infrastructure layer of the internet widely accessible while also ensuring that the impact of the content it delivers doesn’t diminish Canada’s distinct culture. CIRA looks forward to discussing these issues and more at the Canadian Internet Governance Forum on November 24th and 25th.

Conclusion and Recommendations

To prevent the spread of disinformation:

  1. Canadians need the skills required to spot misinformation and fake news content. Investment in digital and media literacy for all Canadians is more important than ever.
  2. Social media platforms must continue taking proactive steps to curb the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. 
  3. As tactics for spreading disinformation during elections evolve, so too must the response. Elections Canada should formalize the critical election incident public protocol and monitoring with the intelligence and security communities, alongside other election stakeholders

To protect Canadians’ privacy:

  1. The Privacy Commissioner should be granted stronger enforcement powers, including the ability to conduct investigations and issue orders and fines, in order to hold companies accountable for mishandling personally identifiable information.
  2. The government should develop comprehensive data protection legislation to make privacy the default setting on the internet and ensure that Canadians have control over what data they are sharing and who is using it.
  3. The government should work to ensure that Canadian businesses of all sizes gain a better understanding of our privacy legislation as well as best practices for the safe collection, storage, and processing of personally identifiable information.
  4. Canadian businesses, ISPs, content providers, and all levels of government need to invest in Canadian infrastructure, such as internet exchange points and cloud services based in Canada to keep users’ data within our borders. This is particularly important to ensure our infrastructure can handle increased demands during public emergencies like COVID-19.

To improve cybersecurity:

  1. Governments should invest in tools, platforms and processes that provide individual Canadians and their families, as well as small businesses, with protection against cyber-attacks, hacks and privacy breaches. Canadian businesses and organizations of all stripes need to prioritize cybersecurity in their operations.
  2. Employees and individuals need to develop their knowledge of cybersecurity hygiene, including the ability to detect and evade phishing emails, ransomware schemes, and fake online shops.
  3. The IoT device industry should commit to a certification regime including standardized labels and/or trustmarks as well as accountability measures. Federal and provincial consumer protection and privacy authorities must play a role in educating consumers about the risks associated with IoT devices.


To ensure an open, trusted, and people centric internet:

  1. Businesses, civil society organizations, users, and other organizations engaged in global internet governance must educate Canadians about how internet governance works and how they can become involved.
  2. Lawmakers and regulators must take steps to ensure that Canadians are meaningfully consulted when developing policies that impact the safe, stable and secure operation of Canada’s internet
  3. To promote greater public interest participation in internet governance and regulatory processes, the Canadian government should provide greater funding to civil society organizations to allow them to engage on key internet and digital rights issues.
  4. Policymakers must continue to champion the principle of net neutrality, which ensures that the internet can operate as a level playing field for new ideas and organizations of all sizes to compete online.
  5. Since its inception, the internet has served as an open, global platform. Canada’s internet policymakers should strive to respect the spirit of the web as much as possible and refrain from mapping 20th Century regulatory regimes onto such a valuable communications platform.

About CIRA and this report

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is a member-based not-for-profit organization, best known for managing the .CA internet domain on behalf of all Canadians, developing and implementing policies that support Canada’s internet community and representing the .CA registry internationally. We are building programs, products and services that leverage all the internet has to offer to help build a better online Canada, while providing a safe, secure and trusted online experience to all Canadians.

The Strategic Counsel provided CIRA with this report in order to examine Canadian views on issues relating to media literacy, internet privacy, cybersecurity, and governance in support of the Canadian Internet Governance Forum (CIGF).

An online panel was used to survey a total of 1,254 Canadian internet users (age 18+) between the dates of January 8-20, 2020. The total sample is proportionate to population by gender, age and region. You can find the full survey results here

Findings build on previous research found in CIRA’s Internet Trends and CIGF research from 2016-2019.

About the author
Josh Tabish