The Liberals led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were first elected in 2015 on a platform that emphasized transparency, consultation, and innovation. The signals were everywhere: it released ministerial mandate letters to demonstrate transparency, renamed the Minister of Industry to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to point to the importance of an innovative economy, and soon after the cabinet was sworn in, Canadians were awash in public consultations (I recall participating in an almost instant consult on the Trans Pacific Partnership). With promises of entrenching net neutrality, prioritizing innovation, focusing on privacy rather than surveillance, and supporting freedom of expression, the government left little doubt about its preferred policy approach.
As I watched Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault yesterday close the Action Summit to Combat Online Hate, I was left with whiplash as I thought back to those early days. Today’s Liberal government is unrecognizable by comparison as it today stands the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history:
- As it moves to create the Great Canadian Internet Firewall, net neutrality is out and mandated Internet blocking is in.
- Freedom of expression and due process is out, quick takedowns without independent review and increased liability are in.
- Innovation and new business models are out, CRTC regulation is in.
- Privacy reform is out, Internet taxation is in.
- Prioritizing consumer Internet access and affordability is out, reduced competition through mergers are in.
- And perhaps most troublingly, consultation and transparency are out, secrecy is in.
Earlier this year, the Canadian government launched a timid consultation on copyright term extension. After years of rejecting copyright term extension beyond the international law standard of life of the author plus 50 years, the Canadian government caved to pressure from the United States by agreeing to the equivalent of life of the author plus 70 years in the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA). With a 30 month transition period to allow for consultation, this represents an opportunity to mitigate against the harms of term extension.
I submitted my response last night and it is posted here. The submission cites a wide range of experts – including Justice Minister David Lametti and former US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante for the proposition that registration for the additional 20 years is not only permissible under international law, it is desirable. I also include a lengthy appendix of the some of the Canadian authors and leaders whose works will not enter the public domain if term is extended. These include Gabrielle Roy, Marshall McLuhan, Margaret Laurence, Louis St. Laurent, John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, René Lévesque, Jean Lesage, John Robarts, and Bora Laskin.
In early 2018, Bell led a consortium of companies and organizations arguing for the creation of a new website blocking system in Canada. Complete with a new anti-piracy agency and CRTC stamp of approval, the vision was to create a new system to mandate site blocking across ISPs in Canada. Canadians challenged the so-called FairPlay proposal and the CRTC rejected the Bell application on jurisdictional grounds. Since that time, the Canadian courts have been dealing with site blocking requests (the Federal Court of Appeal is soon set to hear arguments on the issue) and the Canadian copyright review conducted by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology decided against recommending the creation of a new administrative system for site blocking.
Having spent a good chunk of Monday talking to reporters about the proposed Rogers merger with Shaw, I thought it might be worth highlighting my initial three takeaways. First – and this is stating the obvious – the deal will result in higher prices and less competition. There is no need to overthink any of this. Removing a company that some have touted as the best chance at a viable national fourth carrier would leave some of Canada’s biggest markets (notably Ontario, Alberta, and B.C.) without a much needed competitor. Canadians already pay some of the highest prices for wireless services in the world and if this merger is approved, the situation will only get worse. Indeed, when Rogers promises that it will not raise prices for Shaw/Freedom Mobile customers for three years, it is effectively committing to raising them as soon as the clock runs out on that timeline.
Wrong Direction: Months After Bill C-10 is Tabled, Canadian Heritage Releases Draft Policy Direction Still Short on Details
Months after its introduction, it is fair to say that Bill C-10, the broadcasting reform bill, has not been the government’s finest performance. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has made claims about the economic benefits that his own department is unable to support, made inaccurate statements about the inclusion of economic thresholds and news in the bill in the House of Commons, and misleadingly compared his plans to the policies in Europe.
From a substantive perspective, even supporters have acknowledged that the bill eliminates the policy objective of Canadian ownership of the broadcasting system (Canadian Heritage officials have offered easily debunked talking points about the issue), drops the prioritization of Canadian performers, fails to address concerns about intellectual property ownership, and punts so many issues to the CRTC that it will take years for any new money to enter the system. If that were not enough, there is the failed process, including fast-tracking the bill to committee before completing second reading and the prospect of a constitutional challenge. Not to be forgotten is the astonishing secrecy: decreased Parliamentary oversight of policy directions and the need for MPs to demand access to basic documents such as costing estimates and draft policy directions that were withheld by Guilbeault and his department.