The Hill Times is reporting that Patricia Neri, the Director General of Copyright Policy at Canadian Heritage has been removed from her position to become a special advisor to Assistant Deputy Minister Jean-Pierre Blais with "duties still to be determined." While people move all the time in government, this development is noteworthy – not just because it comes mere weeks before a copyright bill may be unveiled, but because there are mounting rumours that the move comes as a direct result of a conflict of interest concerns.
Personnel at the Copyright Policy branch were advised by email late last week that the move was for "personal reasons," though Neri apparently stopped coming into work soon after Labour Day. According to multiple sources, the personal reason involves a personal relationship with one of Canada’s leading copyright lobbyists.
While Neri’s personal life is no one’s business but her own, this does raise troubling questions about the quick passage of Bill C-59, the anti-camcording legislation, since Neri appeared as a witness before a Senate hearing on the bill with the lobbyist in the room. The Privy Council Office places particular responsibility on public servants that appear before a Parliamentary committee since they do so on behalf of the Minister.
Further, when was this known to senior officials at Canadian Heritage? If weeks ago, why does it appear that no one took action, particularly since this came at a time when Neri was briefing Josée Verner, the new Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the Prime Minister’s Office on copyright matters?
This is not an easy issue to raise, but if these reports are true, it surely creates at least a perceived conflict of interest contrary to Government Ethics Guidelines on a file that is very controversial and likely to grab the spotlight this fall. The Hill Times notes that Canadian Heritage has been slow to comment on the situation other than to confirm the move. Although it is important to protect the privacy of those affected, public confidence in the copyright process will be undermined if there is not a frank and full disclosure about who knew what and when.