Bell request email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University

Bell request email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Bell Backroom Pressure: Internal Documents Reveal How a Brock University Executive Came to Provide Support for Website Blocking

Among the thousands of interventions at the CRTC to the Bell coalition website blocking plan, one of the submissions that stands out comes from Brian Hutchings, Brock University’s Vice-President, Administration. The submission claims that “Brock ardently supports the FairPlay Canada coalition” adding that “we are committed to assist the members of the coalition and the CRTC in eliminating the theft of digital content.” The submission sparked an immediate campus backlash. The Brock University Faculty Association filed a submission with the CRTC noting:

we stand in opposition to the intervention by Vice President, Administration on behalf of Brock University. Vice-President Hutching’s intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians, and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole.

Further, Brock University’s Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic wrote to the CRTC to remove any doubt that the submission did not represent the views of the university:

The submission of the Vice-President, Administration to the CRTC does not represent an official position or the totality of opinions at Brock University.

So how did the Vice-President, Academic come to submit to the CRTC and who did he consult? Given the role Bell played in the FairPlay coalition, it will not surprise to find that Bell Media was behind lobbying for the letter. According to documents obtained under provincial access to information laws, Mark Milliere, TSN’s Senior Vice President and General Manager (part of Bell Media) connected with Hutchings in early March with the assistance of Ryerson University professor Cheri Bradish, a former Brock professor.


Bradish email, obtained from Brock University under FIPPA


Milliere followed up a phone call with a letter to Hutchings, reminding him of TSN’s history of hiring Brock University grads and supporting its curriculum in asking for a letter of support to the CRTC:

Bell request email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Milliere attached a letter of support filed from Ryerson University and asked that a copy of the Brock letter on Brock letterhead be provided to Bell. The request points to a clear Bell strategy of obtaining support letters to shop around to other potential targets as the Ryerson letter was not public at the time and only filed nearly a week after the Hutchings letter.

On March 22nd, Milliere followed up with another email, asking whether Brock was able to write a support letter and inaccurately stating that the deadline for submissions was the next day.


Bell follow-up email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Hours later, Hutchings filed the submission with the CRTC. The access package suggests that there was no consultation within Brock or review by other parties. Milliere responded the following day with thanks, noting that “if you need anything from TSN, just ask.”


Bell thanks email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Given its other astroturfing efforts with its own employees, the Bell backroom pressure on universities is not particularly surprising. However, the documents confirm that the source of the largely discredited submission was Bell outreach (notably, Bell’s contacts at Brock were so limited that introductions from another university were needed). Further, had Bell not given a false deadline date to spur action (the original Bell letter included the correct submission deadline), it is entirely possible that the submission would have come on the final day, thereby eliminating the opportunity for other Brock executives and faculty to correct the public record.

The pressure at Brock was presumably mirrored at other organizations, confirming yet again the the FairPlay “coalition” was a Bell-led initiative and raising the question of which supportive interventions were the direct result of Bell outreach to business partners, grant recipients, or others beholden to Canada’s largest communications company.


  1. Making a mountain out of a molehill. Anytime you see a MeToo petition or a joint statement condemning some government policy or another there were people behind the scenes lining up support.

    I loathe Bell. But Bell is right: they employ university grads. The knee-jerk reaction from the “Brock community” is the usual mushy liberalism from people whose livelihoods aren’t at risk from piracy and who are happy with the solutions offered by Michael Geist and the Canadian government: litigate your woes. Litigation is expensive and out of the reach of anyone but Bell. Government regulations exist in all sorts of fields precisely so not every member of civil society has to litigate every difference with every other member of civil society. It is entirely reasonable, in today’s day and age of rampant piracy by people beyond the reach of a normal citizen (expensive litigation, difficulty in identifying and finding the pirates) that regulation of the Internet include the possibility of blocking access to criminal sites. Tour municipality makes you get a dog licence, but anyone can set up a pirate site.

  2. typo: Your municipality

  3. Auntie Bell says:

    George Bell – here’s a memo for you: everyone employs university grads. Your post is sadly reflective of the quality and substance of Bell’s “initiative” and your pouting of “leftie liberalists” is sadly the often repeated knee-jerk reaction whenever anyone disagrees with a self-serving corporatist agenda and has become more than tiresome.

    • Funny, most citizens would be opposed to a store setting up to sell unapproved by Health Canada prescription medications from China without a prescription, precisely, and would want the store shut down. Post my work on a Chinese pirate site, ohhh, that’s freedom of expression, ohhh, you have to be a corporate hack to want to interfere with free enterprise like that, go sue the Chinese pirates if you like, but don’t touch my civil liberties. Why can’t I have the civil liberty of walking into a store and buying Chinese medications without a prescription and without them being cleared for import and sale?

      • richmond2000 says:

        more accurately you analogy would be if BAYER was allowed to call up a city works department and have a road TO a STORE that MAY BE selling a perfectly SAFE medicine that is NOT imported through the “proper” channels and expecting the city to comply at THEIR COST AND WITH NO COURT OVERSIGHT

        even directly referring to your version health canada has to go through the court system and get warrants ETC

        • No they don’t. They send a letter saying that the person/company is not in compliance and if they don’t comply they will be prosecuted. That’s Health Canada making an administrative evaluation of whether the person or company in question is in compliance. If you get a letter like that and you believe they are in the wrong, you launch an administrative appeal. It all takes place outside the courts, until you get someone who openly defies an administrative order and keeps on doing what they’re doing. Just like a pirate site under the blocking proposal. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you appeal and present your evidence. To a CRTC panel.

          • But sure, eventually, if all other avenues fail, Health Canada will turn to the criminal justice system. And what that means in practice is that they or the police at their request raid your premises, charge you under the relevant Act or the Criminal Code ad SEIZE YOUR ILLICIT GOODS as evidence at trial. If you believe they aren’t illicit, you have to go to trial with your witnesses and your lab tests and whatever and prove it’s just sugar and water and not what they say it is.

            Well, a pirate’s stock in trade is digital files, generally stored on an offshore server. They can’t be seized for two reasons: there is not a limited number of physical copies to seize, and they’re not on Canadian territory. So obviously you shut down the site in lieu of seizing the contraband, and let the pirate appeal. I can see all the world’s torrent site owners lining up to appeal, I really can.

          • Total Health Centre in Williams Lake [B.C.] was the scene of a raid Feb. 22 [2018], where several products, including unauthorized prescription drugs were seized.

            According to Health Canada, the products seized included progesterone creams, thyroid and L-dopa capsules and high-dose vitamin D products. Consumers are warned to not use these products.

            Health Canada said they were informed of an issue by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, and seized injectable products and unauthorized prescription drugs from the centre.

  4. Nicholas says:

    George: I consider myself a little more tech savvy than your usual member of the normal citizenry but I am by no means knowledgeable enough to set up a ‘pirate’ site as you claim. I do not see ‘today’s day and age of rampant piracy’ and honestly, wouldn’t know where to go if I were to try and search out that pirated content.

    Now, that being said, I don’t think piracy is the important part of this story. It’s the strong arm tactics by a member of the technology industry to support their goals. I would expect this of a totalitarian regime but Canada? No. It’s wrong. Plain and simple.

    • You’re tech savvy but don’t know how to find pirated content? I applaud you, but you are part of a minority. Every grad student in the country knows how to find pirated books. Huge numbers of film buffs and music fans know how to find pirated books and movies. Novelists report that their books are on dozens of sites the moment they are released.

      I think your rhetoric is a little overblown. Totalitarian to ask an institution to sign a petition asking for new federal regulations around a criminal act? I think you need to visit a totalitarian country for a little perspective. I told you, I hate Bell. I expect to hate Bell. What really bothers me, if you’d like to know, are professors of law with cushy public jobs pushing an agenda, in the most intellectually dishonest manner possible, that means wiping out the livelihood of individual Canadian creators.

      With respect to a neighbouring post on this site and my comments on it, why does Doctor Geist report inane stories like “scientific journal publisher reports no lost income from piracy,” but would never dare make the same claim about publishers of novels, for example, while at the same time never acknowledging that the situation there is different from that of the cases he likes to report.

      You want a definition of totalitarianism? That’s totalitarian. Reading Geist’s blog is like reading a North Korean newspaper: Pork production is up this year! (That’s the only positive economic indicator we could find in the whole economy, the country is in ruins, our people are starving, the pork is actually exported to China for hard currency for our apparatchiks, but pork production is up! It’s an indisputable fact. A fact just like those found on Geist’s blog.)

    • And you’re taking my claim that “anyone can set up a pirate site” a little too literally. Yes, a small group of people, or one person for that matter, can easily set up a music or movie torrent site for others to contribute files to and “share.”, the Pirate Bay, and many others. They’re pretty low tech, actually, and all kinds of people – millions – have figured how to upload to and download from them. Books are even easier and take less server space. Go to bookzz or lib.gen or and have a look. So the fact that you “don’t know how to set up a pirate site” is a little irrelevant, given that there are hundreds of them out there – *someone* knows how to set them up, and I don’t think they’re NASA scientists.

  5. I am just writing to say that I disagree with much of what George has to say. While I would concede that it is easier to access pirated content than it should be in my opinion, I have yet to hear of a solution that does not solve this problem with more problematic tradeoffs (website blocking, ISP data collection for enforcement, etc.)

    • I’d be “blocked” if I tried to sell real estate without a licence, but running a pirate site is OK. How is blocking the site “problematic” (leave aside ISP data, that’s not being discussed here).

  6. Pingback: Bell-owned TSN allegedly lobbied Brock University to support FairPlay Canada coalition – Technology and Electronics

  7. James Bliwas says:

    Bell is wrong on the merits of its argument and wrong on the tactics.

    Dr. Geist has documented the actual low amount of piracy in Canada, and how Canadian anti-piracy and anti-[counterfeiting laws are among the strongest and toughest in the world.

    As for Bell, its tactics in rounding up academic support for its untenable and easily-disproven arguments would not be so abhorrent if it were not pretending to hide behind an astroturf body. Bell’s actions are as repugnant as when, in the U.S., opponents of the Affordable Care Act hid behind astroturf groups claiming Obamacare would create “death panels” to get rid of elderly people who were sick and dying, and denying them access to health care.

    Bell should focus on delivering telecommunications at a fair price with customer service that wasn’t easily confused for an oxymoron.

    • He’s documented low rates of piracy in Canada? Nonsense. Piracy is rampant the world over.

      And as I’ve stated repeatedly, a law is pointless if it is not enforced by the criminal justice system (and it’s not) and the contravention is too expensive too pursue through the civil justice system (and it is).

      Pretty glib comment.

      And yes, I abandoned Bell long ago. Horrible service. I have mega corporations. Although the small players in the field are no better. It’s a generalized state of taking the consumer for a ride because you can. If someone knows a Canadian telecom worth giving my business to, please let me know. Otherwise they’re like banks: very few and all bad.

      • typo: I hate mega corporations.

        And the analogy withe Obamacare fight is specious. In one case the claims were specious and outright lies. In the other case, site blocking, either side can be argued on its merits. You people always argue your points with supposedly self-evident truths that aren’t.

  8. typo: I hate mega corporations.

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  12. Pingback: Bell-owned TSN allegedly lobbied Brock University to support FairPlay Canada coalition – High Tech Newz

  13. But how do you feel about mega corporations @George?

  14. richmond2000 says:

    you would be “blocked” AFTER a court order was filed NOT because RE/MAX said so with ZERO proof and NO recourse on your part

    the BIG issue is the LACK OF ANY government / court or EVEN 3RD party oversight it is PURELY censorship control by a GROUP of companies

    • The Real Estate Council of Alberta (RECA) has issued a consumer alert, accusing a Calgary man of dealing in real estate without a proper licence.

      RECA claims Derek Johnson, also known as John Davis, preys on home owners in financial difficulty that are facing foreclosure.

      The Council says Johnson is currently operating under the name “Joe Rheal Estate” with the website

      “The Real Estate Council of Alberta has issued a direction to Johnson to cease unlicensed practice,” according to a news release issued Thursday.

      “Johnson has ignored this direction to stop. The Council is taking further action.”

    • more specious arguments: not REMAX, but a “Real Estate Council” with authority to regulate its industry. Like the CRTC, not Bell. You can only argue by muddying the waters and slipping in outright lies.

  15. Pingback: Bell Threatens Brock University Exec into Supporting Censorship

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