Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly travels to California this week with an agenda that includes meetings with Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. Given the recent announcement in the budget that the government plans to “review and modernize” the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, the discussions may help shape an issue that could have a profound impact on the Internet in Canada as there are concerns the government may attempt to shoehorn Canadian cultural policies into telecommunications law.
My Globe and Mail column notes that Ms. Joly’s consultation last year on Cancon in a digital world revealed there is a strong appetite within the traditional Canadian culture lobby for bringing policies such as cultural taxes and mandated Cancon requirements to the Internet. The groups claim the Internet is rapidly replacing the conventional broadcast system as a means of distributing cultural content and that the longstanding analog rules should be shifted into the digital environment.
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The federal government has yet to release its response to last year’s national security consultation, but at least one thing is increasingly apparent. Lawful access, the regulations that govern police access to Internet and telecom subscriber information, will be back on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s legislative agenda. My Globe and Mail column notes that the details of the complex new rules that would grant warrantless access to some telecom and Internet information system are still a work-in-progress, but the final outcome is sure to raise concerns with the privacy advocates as well as telecom and Internet providers.
A cybercrime working group comprised of senior officials from federal, provincial and territorial governments have spent months developing the new lawful access framework. It recently held two invitation-only consultations on the issue with Canadian telecom and Internet companies as well as civil society groups and academic experts. I participated in the latter event, which was held under Chatham House rules that allow for disclosure of the content of the meeting without attribution to specific commentators.
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U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is expected to file a notice of renegotiation of the North American free trade agreement within weeks, paving the way for talks that could reshape the Canadian economy. It became clear last week that the renegotiation will involve much more than just a few “tweaks”, as a U.S. congressional hearing saw officials trot out the usual laundry list of demands including changes to agricultural supply management, softwood lumber exports, and anti-counterfeiting measures.
Those issues will undoubtedly prove contentious, yet my Globe and Mail article notes that more interesting were comments from Mr. Ross about the need for new NAFTA chapters to reflect the digital economy. The emphasis on digital policies foreshadows a new battleground that will have enormous implications for Canadian privacy laws and digital policies.
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Canada last overhauled its copyright law in 2012, bringing to a conclusion more than a decade of failed bills and lobbying pressure. The public debate over the Copyright Modernization Act was often framed by disputed claims that Canada was weak on piracy, with critics arguing that updated laws were needed to crack down on copyright infringement. As the government prepares to conduct a statutorily-mandated review of the law later this year, the landscape has shifted dramatically with court cases and industry data confirming that Canada is now home to some of the toughest anti-piracy rules in the world.
My Globe and Mail column notes that the change in Canadian law is best exemplified by a ruling last week from the Federal Court of Canada involving the sale and distribution of “modchips”, which can be used to circumvent digital controls on video game consoles. Nintendo filed a lawsuit against a modchip retailer in 2016, arguing that the distribution of modchips violated the law, even without any evidence of actual copying.
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The Canadian government has prioritized innovation as a marquee policy issue. There are signals that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will use the upcoming budget to overhaul the myriad of innovation funding and support programs that have cost billions of dollars with only a limited return on investment. There is no reason to doubt the commitment to innovation, but a national strategy must involve more than changes to how the government doles out cash incentives.
Yet when presented with the opportunity to address a core component of any serious innovation strategy – the communications sector that provides the foundation for the digital economy – Mr. Bains last week took a look at a market that the Competition Bureau found suffers from coordinated behaviour among the three dominant providers and simply whiffed. The decision to approve the merger of BCE and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) with only minor tinkering seems certain to increase wireless pricing for Manitoba residents and eliminate one of the few competitive bright spots in Canada.
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