Earlier this year, many Canadians were taken aback by reports of a secret trade agreement that conjured up images of iPod-searching border guards and tough new penalties for every day activities. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, currently being negotiated by Canada, the United States, Japan, the European Union, and a handful other countries, generated sufficient public concern such that then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice specifically denied any links between the treaty and proposed new legislation.
While the ACTA debate has largely disappeared from the public radar screen, the negotiations continue. Over the summer, I reported about attempts to establish a private consultation committee composed of industry groups that excluded public interest organizations. The status of the consultation committee remains unknown, but my latest technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports on newly obtained documents [13 MB] under the Access to Information Act that provide additional insights into the secretive nature of the negotiations as well as the results of a limited public consultation conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the spring.
The documents confirm that two countries – the United States and Japan – have emerged as the primary supporters and drafters of the treaty. Countries have met three times in recent months to discuss elements of the treaty with those two countries providing draft treaty language to the other participants just prior to the formal meeting. For example, in late May, the U.S. and Japan forwarded draft treaty language on new border measures provisions to the Canadian delegation, two weeks before a round of talks in Washington. According to Australian officials, subsequent meetings in Geneva and Tokyo addressed statutory damages and criminal provisions for unauthorized camcording. The next meeting is set for Brussels in early December with Internet issues on the agenda.