Industry and Heritage

Question period in the House of Commons today, the last of the session, featured the following exchange:

"Ms. Bev Oda (Durham, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Canada has a world class Internet infrastructure in our schools but the heritage minister's new copyright legislation makes it restrictive, onerous and possibly more costly for schools, teachers and students to download on-line educational material.

This legislation will make routine classroom activities illegal. Why do the government and the minister want to make our students and teachers pay more for materials they are using now or make them criminals under a new copyright law?

Hon. Liza Frulla (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. opposition member knows very well that we promised to table the copyright law in June, which we did. We also said that as far as the education matter is concerned, we will study it and focus on it solely after second reading of the bill. We will study the education matter because it does not have consensus.

I also want to say to my hon. critic that children can be in school but once they become researchers and authors, they also to have their copyrights reserved and paid for."

I could focus on the fact that I'm delighted that Ms. Oda has targeted the issue of copyright, the Internet and education. I wrote about the same issue earlier this week and I think it will emerge as the most discussed shortcoming of Bill C-60.

Alternatively, I could focus on how Ms. Frulla's comments are so obviously off-base, but it is difficult to know where to start. Those familiar with copyright will want to ensure that she is familiar with the fair dealing provisions that speak directly to the use of copyright works for research; political strategists will question how any minister can possibly think that pursuing an anti-education position is wise; and millions of Canadian parents, facing shrinking school and library budgets, will simply shake their heads and remember what the Liberals stood against at election time.

While those issues are worthy of comment, this provides a good opportunity to briefly discuss copyright policy responsibility in Canada, which is shared by the Ministers of Industry and Canadian Heritage. The Canadian Heritage minister introduced Bill C-60, but the drafting of the bill and the accompanying press release came from both departments.

The Minister of Industry's copyright responsibility comes directly from the Copyright Act itself. Section 2 of the Act (the definitional section) defines Minister in the Act as the Minister of Industry. The Minister of Canadian Heritage is not mentioned in the Copyright Act. That Minister garners copyright policy responsibility through the Department of Canadian Heritage Act. Section 4, which lists the Minister's powers and responsibilities, includes 4(2)(j) which grants responsibility over "the formulation of cultural policy, including the formulation of cultural policy as it relates to foreign investment and copyright."

This distinction came to mind as I read Ms. Oda’s question, which focused on Bill C-60’s impact on education and the Internet. While the question was addressed to Ms. Frulla, to my mind, this is properly a question for the Minister of Industry. The Canadian Heritage Minister has responsibility for copyright within the formulation of cultural policy. Had Ms. Oda asked about compensation for authors whose work is used in schools, I can understand why the Canadian Heritage Minister might respond. But that is not what she asked. Her question was very specifically about the educational environment and the Internet, which falls outside the mandate of the Canadian Heritage Minister.

I have no doubt that Industry Minister David Emerson played an important role in seeking to bring some balance to Bill C-60 as reflected in provisions such as the notice and notice approach for ISPs. It is time for similar balance in the House of Commons. Canadian MPs are headed out of Ottawa for the summer, but when they return in the fall it is essential that the Copyright Act's Minister move to the forefront of the copyright file.

Comments are closed.