Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) UPDATE

Bill C-11, the Legislative Committee Has Been Struck It is Halloween: what could be more terrifying than to speak of copyright! So here is the bulletin promised in our last missive.
Just the facts

Several names were circulating for a few days and as per its obligation to name committee members within five days of the start of the second reading debates, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has established the Legislative Committee on Bill C-11. The committee is made up of 12 members and cannot begin its work before the House passes the motion in second reading. By this time, the House Speaker will have named the committee chair who will not be any of the twelve M.P.s identified below. Only four of the C-11 committee members, three of whom represent the governmental party, were part of the C-32 committee.

Charlie Angus

Timmins—James Bay NDP (C-32)

Scott Armstrong

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Conservative

Tyrone Benskin

Jeanne-Le Ber NDP

Peter Braid

Kitchener—Waterloo Conservative (C-32)

Paul Calandra

Oak Ridges—Markham Conservative

Andrew Cash

Davenport NDP

Dean Del Mastro

Peterborough Conservative (C-32)

Mike Lake

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Conservative (C-32)

Phil McColeman

Brant Conservative

Rob Moore

Fundy Royal Conservative

Pierre Nantel

Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher NDP

Geoff Regan

Halifax West Liberal

Tell me more

The government intends to see the law is promulgated as early as possible in the New Year – partly to finally get this prickled pear out of the way and because it also happens to be an essential piece of the free-trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union (CETA) currently in progress.

Since C-11 is a carbon copy of C-32, the government has decided to take up where the previous bill left off at the time of dissolution Parliament in March leading to the May elections. This way, the 142 witnesses who appeared before the House will not be recalled and the process will be considerably shortened. Since only four of the 12 members of the new committee have already studied Bill C-32, one wonders if the other members will take into account the past testimonies and if those voices won’t be lost in the race to the end.

Each of the witnesses who hope to be heard are polishing their presentations and proposed amendments so that their point of view echoes the arguments already presented, but in a altogether different political context than the one surrounding C-32. Once the committee is set in motion, which should happen within two days of the adoption at second reading, we should know who the Clerk is and where to send requests to appear at the Committee hearings. We don’t know yet when the vote on second reading will take place, nor do we know if the government intends to impose a limit to the debate, as it has done five times since the House returned on September 23rd.

The current debate is focused on digital locks, with apparently very little room for any other argument. Some activists (including Michael Geist) have managed to centre on the message that the only major fault of the bill is at that level. The Liberal party’s spokesperson on copyright law, Geoff Regan, has also focused his arguments against Bill C-11 on the issue of digital locks, saying, “It’s disturbing, but we all know why the Conservatives are force-feeding us one of the most restrictive digital lock provisions in the world.” When Bill C-32 was being studied, the Liberal party proposed the creation of a fund that would compensate artists, creators and rights holders. This time, the Liberals have decided to demonstrate their opposition during second reading and put forth an amendment aiming to strip C-11 of all content. In tabling his amendment, Mr. Regan has stated:

“As a result of the many problems in the bill, particularly the fact that the government has demonstrated that, after hearing 142 witnesses, reading 163 submissions and hearing from thousands of Canadians commenting on it online, in emails and so forth, it does not feel the need for any changes whatsoever, I want to bring forward the following amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and submitting the following:

“this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act, because it fails to:

a) uphold the rights of consumers to choose how to enjoy the content that they purchase through overly-restrictive digital lock provisions;

b) include a clear and strict test for “fair dealing” for education purposes; and,

c) provide any transitional funding to help artists adapt to the loss of revenue streams that the Bill would cause.”

The NDP issued a press release October 26 in which they declared that they oppose Bill C-11 because it would jeopardize Quebec culture. According to Charlie Angus, “Bill C-11 undermines artists’ royalties and removes rights of citizens.” This being said, there is no doubt that even if the Opposition were to vote en bloc against C-11 on second reading, it would be a purely symbolic gesture as the government’s majority will ensure adoption.

As expected, the position of artists and rights holders associations has not really changed, since the bill is the same. But strategies have inevitably changed and now the associations must focus on presenting politically acceptable amendments that will minimize as much as possible the negative financial impact that C-11 will have on a great number of Canadian artists and creators whose rights will be de facto expropriated.

Finally, as mentioned above, the modification of Canadian copyright law is piquing interest abroad. If Wikileaks has prompted officials to maximum discretion, there is no doubt that the United States is paying great attention to what is happening on the Hill and in the halls of power. Similarly, according to Canada’s chief negotiator for CETA, Steve Verheul, the Europeans, while “generally satisfied with C-32 / 11”, express some serious concerns. Chief among those is the exemption for fair dealing in education and the anticipated impact it will have on their own interests.

We will share our analysis with you throughout the process, which should be relatively short!