The importance of Petitions to Parliament

Each day in mid-morning I check my mail and am very excited when there are signatures to one of our petitions. Having passed 2500 signatures for our Users' Rights petition and 100 signatures for our IT property rights petition, I wanted to write about why petitions are important.

As written in the House of Commons documentation on petitions, "A public petition, signed by Canadian residents and addressed to the House of Commons, the Government of Canada, a Minister of the Crown or a Member of the House of Commons, is one of the most direct means for people to communicate with Parliament."

These are paper petitions that are printed and signed, with the original signed page handed to a member of parliament. To make it easier for Canadians we have a few people across Canada who will accept signed petitions in the mail and will organize to get these signatures to willing members of parliament. We also do the footwork required to ensure that the petitions are tabled, and we have had batches of signatures lost by the office of Members of Parliament (MPs).

Currently these are all physical pages, and cannot be digitally signed or sent electronically (including by FAX). While this may seem archaic, the signing of paper petitions and the managing of these papers shows a commitment to the issue that helps ensure parliamentarians know the importance of the issue to us.

After handing the signatures to an MP they are brought to the Clerk of Petitions, part of the Private Members' Business Office. Once verified they are sent back to the MP who then tables them in parliament during Routine Proceedings. The MP will say something about the petition which will become part of Hansard, the record of the debates in the House of Commons. The tabling of the petition, any response, and any debates are also indexed. Whenever a member of parliament wants to learn about an issue they will often start with these indexes, and thus having our views on copyright always in these indexes is critical.

As an example, if you look up "Copyright" in the Index of Journals for the current parliament you will find the following:

>>Creators/public rights
>>>>(Angus), (391-0575), 628, gr, 894 (8545-391-12-02)
>>>>(Rajotte), (391-0026), 60, gr, 229 (8545-391-12-01)
>>See also Drugs and pharmaceuticals--Generic medications

This documents two batches of petitions we have tabled, including the "responses".

See also: Debates (HAnsard) Index browse >> COP (Which includes "Copyright", "Copyright Act" and "Copyright Law"). You can also do a search on the word "Copyright"

Having a large number of people signing petitions also indicates the number of people interested in this issue. Copyright is a rather obscure area of law, so having over 2500 people sign (100 times the minimum of 25 needed for a petition) is very important. Parliamentarians will know to multiply this by a large factor given many more people will be interested in this issue than managed to find out about, understand, and sign this petition.

Some time in the next few years there will be a committee hearing on a new copyright bill. I expect to be invited as a witness, and when I do I will be able to quote the number of people who signed each of our petitions as indication of the number of people I am trying to represent. Each signature not only provides me moral support for the work I am doing in this area, but also an amplification of what I am trying to do when interacting with parliament.

"Mr Chairperson, I am here to try to represent thousands of people who have signed the Petition for Users' Rights in Copyright, and the hundreds of people who have signed the Petition for Information Technology Property rights .. Thank you!"

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On the number of signatures

When we first drafted the petition for users' rights, I heard indirectly that somebody working in the Heritage department had said that "you'll be lucky to get the 25 signatures necessary to table the petition", so the fact that we've got over 100 times that many is a huge deal - a great shock for the people who actually do the legwork of drafting the bills, as well as MPs themselves.

Now if we could just get to 25000 signatures, it would be something that parties would actively campaign on...