Bill C-11, the copyright bill that will allow Canada to accede to an international copyright treaty that will improve access for the blind and visually impaired, was fast tracked on Tuesday with unanimous approval to consider the bill read, studied, and passed three times. There will be no House of Commons committee hearings on the bill, which now heads to the Senate for approval. The bill received first reading at the Senate today. With no hearings and little debate, the bill will pass quickly without any changes. I wrote about Bill C-11 last month, noting that it is a positive step forward but that some provisions may be unduly restrictive when compared to the implementation approach recommended by some copyright groups.
One of the most notable provisions (which was raised by Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities) is that the bill amends Canada’s anti-circumvention rules by expanding the exception on digital locks. NDP MP Charlie Angus, a veteran of the copyright battles on Parliament Hill, seized on the issue to ask whether the government would address the remaining digital lock restrictions. The answer from Minister Qaultrough: yes.
Charlie Angus: Mr. Speaker, I was on the copyright committee when the last legislation was put forward and the government absolutely refused to make the changes in the provisions that would have made it possible for people with sight issues to access materials. There was one fundamental principle, which was that the digital lock was sacrosanct. The problem is that this has affected university institutions, research, libraries, and digital archives.
However, it is not just sighted students who are affected in these situations. Universities will tell students who have hearing disabilities that the Copyright Act overrides their right to have closed captioning. Given the fact that these changes have been made, which are good changes, there is the issue of establishing a clear balance in the provisions of the digital locks, which will still be WIPO compliant, to ensure that libraries can do their work without facing punishment and that the rights of other individuals with perceptual disabilities not related to sight can supersede the sacrosanct provisions of the digital lock provisions in the present Copyright Act. Will those changes be brought forward?
Hon. Carla Qualtrough: Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question. We know that Marrakesh focuses primarily on the visually impaired, the blind, and others with more perceptual disabilities related to font size in accessible material. I have met with a lot of leaders in the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities who have brought that very issue to my attention. I am very keen to move forward with figuring out a way to address it. I am very excited that the deaf and hard of hearing are going to be an integral part of our consultations as we move forward on accessibility legislation. I respect the cultural aspect of deafness and being hard of hearing, and I assure the House we will ensure that question is addressed in the future.
The digital lock issue was raised several times during the debate as even the Conservative MPs noted the importance of the changes, despite the fact that it was their bill that caused the problem in the first place. The bill should pass through the Senate quickly, but the House of Commons debate may have opened the door to further digital lock changes in the future.