My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, Ottawa Citizen version, homepage version) focuses on the growing attention paid to counterfeiting and the use of misleading data as part of the debate. The RCMP has been the single most prominent source for claims about the impact of counterfeiting in Canada since its 2005 Economic Crime Report pegged the counterfeiting cost at between $10 to 30 billion dollars annually. The $30 billion figure has assumed a life of its own with groups lobbying for tougher anti-counterfeiting measures regularly raising it as evidence of the dire need for Canadian action. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins cited the figure in a March 2007 speech critical of Canadian law, while the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, Canada's leading anti-counterfeiting lobby, reported in April that the "RCMP estimates that the cost to the Canadian economy from counterfeiting and piracy is in the billions."
Yet despite the reliance on this figure – the Industry Committee referenced it in its final report – a closer examination reveals that the RCMP data is fatally flawed. Responding to an Access to Information Act request for the sources behind the $30 billion claim, Canada's national police force last week admitted that the figures were based on "open source documents found on the Internet." In other words, the RCMP did not conduct any independent research on the scope or impact of counterfeiting in Canada, but rather merely searched for news stories on the Internet and then stood silent while lobby groups trumpeted the figure before Parliament.
A careful examination of the documents relied upon by the RCMP reveal two sources in particular that appear responsible for the $30 billion claim.