While the Harper government last week passed accountability legislation in the House of Commons, my weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) suggests that another form of lobbying exists that requires closer scrutiny – lobbying that is financed by the government itself. According to government documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, last fall the Ministry of Canadian Heritage entered into a multi-year agreement with the Creators' Rights Alliance, a national coalition of artists groups and copyright collectives with members both small (the League of Canadian Poets) and large (SOCAN and Access Copyright). The CRA has eight objectives, which notably include "to ensure that government policy and legislation recognize that copyright is fundamentally about the rights of creators" and "to ensure that international treaties and obligations to which Canada is signatory provide the strongest possible protection for the rights of creators."
The Canadian Heritage – CRA agreement, which could run until 2008 at a total cost of nearly $400,000, appears to be designed primarily to enable the CRA to lobby the government on copyright reform. In return for $125,000 annually, the CRA provides the Ministry with its views on copyright in the form of comments, analysis or research papers (other deliverables include a policy conference, website communications, and a regular newsletter).
The contract raises several issues.