On the heels of last week's posting on election financial support for Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda, the Hill Times runs a special op-ed I've written that focuses on an unreported CRIA lobby effort from earlier this year (Hill Times version, homepage version). According to information released under the Access to Information Act, at 10:01 in the morning of February 6, 2006, at the precise moment that a new Conservative cabinet was being sworn into office at Rideau Hall, David Dyer, a senior consultant with the Capital Hill Group and a registered lobbyist for the Canadian Recording Industry Association, sent an email to Patricia Neri, the Director General of Canadian Heritage's Copyright Policy Branch.
The email included a suggested outline for a March 2nd event focused on copyright reform. It envisioned a meeting with the Canadian Heritage Deputy Minister Judith LaRoque, two hours of presentations from speakers sympathetic to CRIA's position, lunch with deputy ministers from Heritage, Industry, and International Trade, and a private meeting with the soon-to-named Minister of Canadian Heritage.
One month later, virtually the identical scenario played itself out in Canadian Heritage's Gatineau offices and in the private dining room of a swank nearby restaurant. In the weeks following the Dyer email, CRIA worked closely with Canadian Heritage to develop the copyright policy event. An invitation, drafted with CRIA's assistance, was extended to seven different government departments and agencies. Dyer also warned that CRIA would be coming to Ottawa with a financial request. The music lobby group was planning a study on the Canadian music industry and was seeking $50,000 in funding from Canadian Heritage to help support the project.
Twenty government officials, representing Canadian Heritage, Industry, International Trade, Justice, the Competition Bureau, Copyright Board of Canada, and Privy Council Office, gathered in the boardroom of Deputy Minister Judith LaRocque for a two-hour presentation that criticized prior Canadian copyright reform efforts and urged the government to adopt laws similar to those enacted in the United States.
After the formal presentations, the speakers, CRIA executives Graham Henderson and Richard Pfohl, Dyer, and Assistant Deputy Ministers from Canadian Heritage, Industry, and International Trade enjoyed lunch and drinks at Canadian Heritage's expense in a private dining room at Le Panache restaurant. The speakers and CRIA personnel, joined by a photographer to commemorate the occasion, later returned to Canadian Heritage for a private meeting with Minister Bev Oda.
During the last federal election, former Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Secretary Sarmite Bulte found herself in the eye of a political storm after it was revealed that the leaders of several copyright lobby groups, including CRIA, were hosting a fundraiser on her behalf just four days before voters were set to go to the polls. Given that controversy, it is astonishing to find that just days later the same lobby groups were back planning private events for government officials.
The column concludes by noting that in recent weeks, several groups, including the Canadian Federation of Students, the newly-formed Canadian Music Creators Coalition, Appropriation Art: A Coalition of Arts Professionals, and the privacy community, have stepped forward to publicly call for a balanced approach to copyright reform that puts the interests of Canadians and Canadian artists first. Lobbyist-backed closed door meetings and private lunches at taxpayers' expense do little to instill confidence that those calls are indeed being heard.