With the Canadian media continuing to cover the U.S. interest in Canadian copyright law (CBC, National Post) and the Globe publishing a pair of notable responses to yesterday's Ibbitson column (CMCC members, MP Charlie Angus), it is worth expanding on one issue that I flagged in my response to the Ibbitson piece. I commented that he had incorrectly equated signing a treaty (which represents only a supportive gesture) vs. ratifying a treaty (which creates new legal obligations). Howard Knopf neatly characterized it as the difference between dating and marriage.
It should be noted that many countries sign but do not ratify treaties.
Indeed, Canada has a fair number of international treaties that is has signed but not ratified, including a 1988 Convention on International Bills of Exchange and International Promissory notes. On the copyright front, Canada has signed but not ratified the WIPO Internet Treaties. We are not alone in that regard as the European countries have not formally ratified the treaties, nor have countries throughout South America (Bolivia, Uraguay, Venezuela) and Africa (Kenya, South Africa, Namibia). Moreover, the majority of the world's countries have not even signed the treaties, much less ratified them.
Our history with the WIPO Internet treaties indicates that even signing the treaties was never an absolute certainty. The treaties were completed in 1996, yet in November 1997 then-Heritage Minister Sheila Copps was asked about signing the treaties and expressed some uncertainty about a specific time frame for doing so (Canada ultimately signed in late December 1997). There was seemingly little urgency on the issue soon thereafter – the 2000 Canadian Heritage Performance Report does not even mention the treaties. While Heritage (or more accurately Copps) placed ratification on the policy agenda in 2001, there were clearly still misgivings within the Canadian government. In November 2003, then Industry Minister Allan Rock cautioned against hasty ratification of the treaties. In sum, the notion that Canada failed in its copyright commitments or that has long been an active supporter of the WIPO Internet treaties is a myth – there have been some misgivings from the very start.
The public pressure from the U.S. has placed the spotlight on this issue, but the old adage about glass houses and throwing stones comes to mind. Six years before WIPO completed the Internet treaties, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child took effect. Today 192 countries have ratified the convention (Canada ratified it in 1992). The U.S. signed the treaty on February 16, 1995, yet alongside only Somalia, has not ratified it and has indicated that it has no intention of doing so. Indeed, U.S. officials have publicly stated that they do not accept obligations based on the treaty, despite the fact that they signed it in 1995. Perhaps someone might like to remind Ambassador Wilkins and the U.S. Senators of this treaty the next time there are claims that Canada has failed to live up to its international treaty obligations.