With little fanfare, Quebec passed website blocking legislation last week. Bill 74 took effect on May 18th, setting up a likely court showdown between the Quebec and federal governments. As discussed in several articles and posts over the past year (here and here), Quebec’s Internet blocking legislation requires Internet service providers to block access to a list of online gambling sites to be identified by the government-backed Loto-Québec. The government now characterizes the legislation as a matter of consumer protection, but it did not initially hesitate to emphasize that its primary goal was to increase revenues for Espace-Jeux, its officially sanctioned online gambling service.
The government’s public consultation on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has stopped in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal in recent weeks as a growing number of people speak out on the agreement. Tens of thousands have also written to the government on the issue with some beginning to consider trade strategy alternatives.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the interest in other trade options stems from three developments. First, the TPP may not have sufficient support to take effect since under the terms of agreement both Japan and the United States must be among the ratifying countries. Implementation has been delayed in Japan where politicians fear a political backlash and seems increasingly unlikely in the U.S., where the remaining presidential candidates have tried to outdo one another in their opposition to the deal.
The revolving door between government and lobby groups has long been a source of concern in the United States, where lead government IP officials have regularly jumped to lobby groups representing music, movies, and software interests and vice versa. In recent years, that has included the USTR official responsible for copyright in ACTA and the TPP moving the MPAA, the lead software industry lobbyist joining the USTR, and the general counsel of the Copyright Office joining the top international music association.
The Lobby Monitor reports that the revolving door has apparently migrated to Canada, with the former Director of Regulatory Affairs for Music Canada joining the government to play a key role in copyright policy, only to be replaced by the former Director of Parliamentary Affairs within the Prime Minister’s Office, who was the lead on the surprise copyright term extension for sound recordings passed in 2015.
Earlier this month, I appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade alongside Jim Balsillie to discuss the TPP. My opening statement can be found here and a full transcript of the session here. A second panel of Barry Sookman and Lawrence Herman followed to support the TPP. The following exchange was one of the most noteworthy:
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal: Do you see any negative impacts of the TPP on an average middle-class Canadian?
The Chair: It’ll have to be a short answer.
Mr. Barry Sookman: I don’t see any.
Mr. Lawrence Herman: I don’t either.
The responses were unsurprising given that supporters simply ignore multiple studies that have found negative impacts. NDP MP Tracey Ramsey picked up on this immediately with a follow-on question:
Bill C-11, the copyright bill that will allow Canada to accede to an international copyright treaty that will improve access for the blind and visually impaired, was fast tracked on Tuesday with unanimous approval to consider the bill read, studied, and passed three times. There will be no House of Commons committee hearings on the bill, which now heads to the Senate for approval. The bill received first reading at the Senate today. With no hearings and little debate, the bill will pass quickly without any changes. I wrote about Bill C-11 last month, noting that it is a positive step forward but that some provisions may be unduly restrictive when compared to the implementation approach recommended by some copyright groups.
One of the most notable provisions (which was raised by Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities) is that the bill amends Canada’s anti-circumvention rules by expanding the exception on digital locks. NDP MP Charlie Angus, a veteran of the copyright battles on Parliament Hill, seized on the issue to ask whether the government would address the remaining digital lock restrictions. The answer from Minister Qaultrough: yes.