Canadian CRTC Caption Laws

August 29, 2017 BY ELISA EDELBERG
Updated: June 3, 2019


Canada’s D/deaf and hard of hearing population has been advocating for higher captioning standards since the 60s. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
has done a lot of work in the last decade to give Canadians a chance to voice their opinions and to make positive changes in the broadcast TV space.

Closed Captioning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

In 2007, after recognizing the extreme importance of closed captioning, the broadcast industry established two closed captioning working groups under the direction of the CRTC. One working group was created for the French TV market and another one was created for the English TV market. Both groups included representatives from television broadcasters, distributors, groups representing D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as well as captioning providers.

The goal of these working groups was to form captioning standards that would ensure consistent and reliable closed captioning quality throughout the Canadian broadcasting system. Based on the work done by the two groups, the CRTC formed policies that would institute:

  • The quality and quantity of closed captions
  • Protocol for monitoring and reporting on captioning quality
  • A vehicle for consumers to file complaints regarding closed captioning


The CRTC requires most broadcasters to caption 100% of their programs during a broadcast day, which consists of the hours between 6 AM and midnight. They must also ensure that 100% of advertising, sponsorship messages, and promotional content is captioned. Finally, they must provide viewers with closed captioning – if captions are available – for all programming aired overnight, which encompasses the hours from midnight to 6 AM.


The CRTC also set quality standards for captioning. For pre-recorded programs, broadcasters must strive for a 100% accuracy rate. Live programing holds a slightly lower percentage at 85% for French and 95% for English. This difference between French and English is due to the closed captioning techniques which are used by each market.

Several additional policies to address are:

  • Limiting lag time
  • Correcting errors before re-broadcasting the program
  • Providing sufficient on-screen information
  • Controlling formatting
  • Ensuring the captioning of emergency alerts

In addition to setting these quantity and quality standards, the CRTC requires broadcasters to put in place a monitoring system to ensure that closed captioning is included in the broadcast signal and that captioning reaches the viewer in its original form.

An Added Level of Protection

As an added level of protection, the CRTC accepts complaints regarding issues with closed captioning. These types of policies are sometimes hard to keep track of, so the CRTC takes complaints in order to ensure that broadcasters comply with their standards. Action can be taken on behalf of complaints that are made to the CRTC.

Additionally, when an issue is suspected, the CRTC can request monthly calculations to monitor and evaluate compliance. In a case where it seems there is ongoing non compliance, the CRTC can impose additional requirements to oversee a broadcaster.

All broadcasting complaints must be filed in writing.

The Let’s Talk TV Initiative

The CRTC’s 2013-2014 Let’s Talk initiative aimed to get the input of the Canadian people and open the conversation regarding what they want to see in TV. The CRTC asked Canadians to share their views on three questions in particular:

  1. What do you think about what’s on television?
  2. What do you think about how you receive television programming?
  3. Do you have enough information to make informed choices and seek solutions if you’re not satisfied?

More than 13,000 people voiced their thoughts and opinions by joining in the conversation. It was found that the people want access to high quality content, that they want value in choice, that they want to understand what they’re paying for, and how to settle disputes with their service providers. There were many decisions and outcomes that came out of the Let’s Talk TV campaign, which are pictured below.


Let's Talk TV. We Heard You. From past to future: simsurb: consequences for mistakes; live super bowl ads - end of 2016 season. Over the air: free high-quality TV. 30 Day Cancellation policy: no more cancellation fees. Create Content: promotion and discoverability; creating content for a world stage; new platforms; programming that can compete; removing barriers to innovation. Connect choice: $25 max affordable entry-level service; pick-and-pay + small reasonably priced packages; diverse choices; viewers in control; code of conduct for broadcasters and TV service providers. Protect tools: empowering TV viewers to make informed choices; easy to understand agreements for TV services; code of conduct for TV service providers and their customers; improved access for Canadians with disabilities.


CRTC Captioning in the Online World

As a result of the Let’s Talk TV initiative, the CRTC expects that closed captioning be extended to online broadcasting in addition to traditional broadcasting.

Even when content is online, the CRTC:

  • Expects that if the content had captioning in its traditional system, it must also when online
  • Requires that broadcasters report yearly on the availability of captioning for their online content


Click below to learn more about web accessibility around the world.

Learn More Web Accessibility CTA


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