Top Secret by Michelangelo Carrieri (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/8xzAnc

Top Secret by Michelangelo Carrieri (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/8xzAnc

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Why So Secret?: Government’s Communications Law Panel Plans to Keep Public Submissions Under Wraps for Months

The deadline for submissions to the government’s Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel passed last week. I posted my submission yesterday, joined by several other organizations representing differing perspectives (CRTC, CBC, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, Writers Guild of Canada, Internet Society Canada Chapter, CMCRP). However, public availability of submissions will apparently be the exception for the foreseeable future. The panel has rejected an open and transparent policy making process in which public submissions are publicly available, choosing instead to keep the submissions secret for months.

Parties submitting to the review process were advised that their submissions would be made public (“Written submissions will be made publicly available through the Panel website after the deadline.”). Yesterday, the panel’s website was updated to list the 124 organizations that have met with the panel behind closed doors (I met with the panel last fall) and to note that they have received 2,000 submissions. Yet despite the notification that submissions would be made public after the deadline, the panel has decided to make it long after the deadline with no intention of public posting until after the panel has released its initial report, which could come as late as June 30th.

The secrecy associated with a panel that already conducts most of its activities in secret is contrary to the open-by-default approach promised by the current government. Public availability of the submissions is typically the standard: submissions to the House of Commons committees conducting the copyright review are posted online, the CRTC posts the submissions it receives online, ISED posted responses to its public consultation on Copyright Board reform soon after the deadline closed, and Canadian Heritage posted submissions to its digital Cancon consultation within two weeks of the submission deadline. The notion of waiting months to post submissions to a public consultation would rightly be rejected by the CRTC or House committees as inconsistent with a transparent policy process.

Indeed, keeping the submissions secret for months benefits no one. Rather, it fuels concern about the secrecy of the panel process, it means that stakeholders are unable to assess and consider data and policy proposals from other stakeholders, and it leaves everyone wholly dependent on the panel for an accurate summation of thousands of submissions. What did Netflix say to the government? What about Bell or Rogers? What about the report commissioned by the CMPA from PricewaterhouseCoopers that purports to propose a new broadcast distribution system? How about submissions from individual Canadians concerned with communications policy?

For the responsible ministers – ISED Minister Navdeep Bains and Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez – this is a bad look that signals the panel is more interested in secrecy than sharing the substance behind what Canadians are saying about their communications law. I have filed an Access to Information request for the submissions (and would be happy to update this post with links to other publicly posted submissions), but ATIPs should not be required for public submissions. The panel should reconsider its approach and post all submissions as soon as possible.

[Update: Submissions also posted by:

4 Comments

  1. Seriously, why do we even have to fight for that transparency at all? And this from our own government!

  2. Being able to respond and counteract other submissions with fact and reason is very important. I waited until late in the submission period before submitting my submission to the BC Legislative Committee considering how to respond to the Federal PIPEDA mandate to pass Substantially Similar Provincial Legislation or have PIPEDA apply Provincially. That let me respond to ridiculous claims by Business Council of BC spokesman Kevin Evans, and others. They seemed to be trying to wrap themselves in the Provincial Flag and drum up the equivalent of “States Rights” resentment against supposed Federal Intrusion. I was able to use Public Opinion Surveys conducted by Equifax Canada to show the huge Opionion Gap between “Business Leaders” who saw a chance to make a buck by invading privacy, and the vast majority of the public that wanted uniform privacy protection in all areas of their lives from coast to coast. I ended up being cited twice in the committee report that recommended passing what became the PIP Act.

  3. Lisa Macklem says:

    The irony….

  4. Pingback: News of the Week; January 16, 2019 – Communications Law at Allard Hall

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