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The panelists all claimed that Canada's IP enforcement system is outdated and thus requires significant new resources and legislative change.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."