“Counterfeiting Can Kill”

The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security held a hearing this morning on counterfeit goods.  The panel was well stacked, featuring the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, and the CRIA.  Given that composition, the resulting comments will come as little surprise – a Chamber of Commerce representative professed embarrassment over Canada's IP laws, the CACN representatives passed around an extension cord without sufficent grounding while asserting that "fatalities are inevitable" and that IP enforcement is a "lost cause" in Canada.  A CACN lawyer noted the great success of educating six and seven year-olds about counterfeit toys that do not contain a tag indicating that they are made of new materials.  Graham Henderson indicated that it was about "jobs, jobs, jobs" and that Kenya provides a model for addressing IP issues (though he neglected to mention that like Canada, Kenya has signed, but not ratified, the WIPO Internet treaties).

The panelists all claimed that Canada's IP enforcement system is outdated and thus requires significant new resources and legislative change.  There was also considerable emphasis on creating a Canadian IP enforcement infrastructure, with Henderson calling for the creation of an IP Crime Task Force and IP Co-ordination Councils at the federal and provincial levels.

The committee was incredibly receptive to this message.
Some MPs noted focused on the economic issues claiming that the link between strong IP protection and an information economy was "almost self-evident", while Liberal MP Sue Barnes offered to join in the counterfeit education campaign by passing along anti-counterfeit messages to her constituents.  Bloc MP Serge Menard went further, arguing for criminality of mere possession of counterfeit goods, a position that even the panelists rejected.

What was most striking about the hearing – which Committee members assured would lead to a report – was how unwilling (or unable) committee members were to scratch beneath the lobbyist claims.  For example, when asked about the economic impact in Canada, panelists provided a series of anecdotes about stores that accept cash-only, but were unable to cite any evidence or real data.  Indeed, the numbers that were offered focused on international counterfeiting costs, which were described as major global issue.  How the panelists might reconcile growing international counterfeiting in the very countries that committee members were told Canada should emulate was left unaddressed. 

Similarly, while panelists spoke of flea markets and malls full of fake DVDs and knock-off handbags, no one thought to ask how that poses a health or security risk.  When another panelist discussed prosecutions of the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and DVD piracy operations, no one asked whether this was an indicator that cases were being brought in the right circumstances and seems to indicate that Canadian law can address these issues.  When yet another panelist focused on the desire to alter proceeds of crime legislation to include copyright, no one noted that it was the copyright industries that originally wanted it excluded.

None of this is a surprise.  The MPs on the committee were there to be educated about the issue and received one perspective.  The danger lies in only receiving a single perspective and then proceeding to deliver a report effectively crafted by the anti-counterfeiting lobby.  If the committee is serious about advancing the policy – rather than the view of a select lobby – it will expand the hearings to include further perspectives that extend beyond simple soundbites that "counterfeiting can kill."


  1. Kenya's Copywars says:

    If the report in the link below is any indication of Kenya’s “model” for addressing IP, I’m not sure I would like to see it here in Canada.

    [ link ]

  2. Xetheriel Angelknight says:

    Conterfeiting Can Kill?
    Its a far stretch from “Counterfeiting can kill” to “Counterfeiting *does* kill”. I’ve heard of extension cords and power bars that are not properly grounded. I’ve also been on the understanding that unsafe goods like this have been purchased from local dollar stores with no labels or packaging. This is more of a public safety and education issue than an issue with counterfeit goods. If people are willing to put their familys at risk by purchasing non-CSA approved goods at a local dollar store, rather than spending a few extra bucks and getting goods that are safe, then I say they deserve what they get.

    What really bugs me is that when small markets are selling large quantities of counterfeit DVS’s, handbags or clothing, why aren’t local law enforcement shaking these places down and making an example of them? Counterfeiting is illegal. I wasn’t aware of a grey area. There need be no tightening of the laws to make it any more illegal than it already is.


  3. Only *real* counterfeiting is harmful
    Hold on a second…

    *Real* and *actual* counterfeiting can kill. I don’t want to be taking sugar pills that are sold to me as medication. I don’t want a rip-off electronics made with cheap parts that could start a fire. I don’t want poorly-built car components that could cause a failure at 100Kph on the highway. *Those* can all kill.

    But, I’d really love to see a tech-looser of a media exec fumble over explain how thought-crime — sorry, “IP counterfeiting” — is harmful to anything but their ill-conceived fat wallets.

  4. Russell McOrmond says:

    Do we have a response?
    I am wondering if we want to author and jointly sign a community response to this? As policy coordinator for CLUE [ link ] I would like to be involved. While this isn’t one of the committees we normally deal with, it seems that our political opponents are trying to confuse MPs by bringing PCT [ link ] issues in venues that should have nothing to do with PCT. The issue that they were discussing should have been clarified to be a labelling issue, not PCT.

  5. Just a few quick comments to clarify what has been discussed so far…and believe me, I’m not defending CRIA or Mr. Henderson. As was suggested by Xetheriel Angelknight “countefeiting is illegal, I wasn’t aware of any grey area”. It is all grey, counterfeiting is not illegal this is the point people are trying to make. Certain aspects of incidents involving counterfeit goods can be criminal, but there is no law against counterfeit products per se. The issue for the electrical products as you described is not accurate either. In Canada, electrical products must be tested and labelled as such. The cheap cords in the dollar stores are labelled with fake stickers with the intention of fooling people into believing they are legitimate, so I don’t think it is a good argument to suggest people get what they deserve.

    Brent, Intellectual property is what medicines, cars and electronics are made of? I’m not sure if you really understand the difference between IP counterfeiting and “Real” and “actual” counterfeiting as they are the same thing.

    I just find it a bit disheartening that Michael Geist makes some legitimate points about the issues and then attached to that are distorted and opinionated comments. I could elaborate, but my intention is not to criticize anyone as I’ve kind of accomplished, but I just want to make sure the discourse in these areas are correct.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Counterfeiting can kill”. This argument itself is misleading. Some patented pharmaceuticals can also kill. So why give them the exclusive right to kill? It’s open secret that some counterfeits are really good and the quality is no less than the genuine. Some others are also worth of your money (ironically, a lot of genuine products are not). So when we blame counterfeiter, shall we also blame the arbitrary pricing of some big brands? You can simply say there are other choices on the market and thus you should not copy. But this can not justify your high prices.