Thoughts on C-32 committee members from the Conservative Party of Canada.

Of the 12 members of the C-32 committee, six of them were from the Conservative party of Canada. This included chair Gordon Brown (Leeds—Grenville, ON). Three members were there for almost all meetings: Mike Lake (Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB), Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, ON), and Peter Braid (Kitchener—Waterloo, ON). While the other members included Sylvie Boucher ( Beauport—Limoilou, QC) and Kelly Block (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, Sask) when the committee was formed, they were substituted with other Conservative members including Ed Fast (Abbotsford, BC) who became very active, Hon. Maxime Bernier (Beauce, QC) who became acting chair at one point, as well as Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton—St. Albert, AB), Daryl Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings, ON), Hon. Michael D. Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills, ON), Leon Benoit (Vegreville—Wainwright, AB), Mike Wallace (Burlington, ON) and Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges—Markham, ON).

I can’t offer much of an opinion on some of the members that didn’t say much, and were there largely to ensure that the right number of Conservative members were there at all meetings.

Gordon Brown did an amazing job as chair. Parliament was falling apart all around the committee, with an increasing number of scandals being discussed and the tribal partisan drums beating loudly in nearly every other committee. Even with this, this committee held together quite well, and should be seen as an example of how committees should run. While there were some heated moments, the emotion was far more often directed towards or about the witnesses, and far less about the tribal partisan attacks we are all being subjected to during the election.

Mr. Brown had a death in the family, and Hon. Maxime Bernier stepped in as acting chair during meetings 16 (Broadcasters as witnesses), 17 (CIPPIC and myself as witnesses) and 18 (Witnesses included Margaret Atwood). Meeting 16 and 18 were two meetings where emotions did run fairly high.

Mike Lake was well versed in this area of policy, and this could be seen in the questions he asked in both this committee as well as his work at Industry committee. My impression was that he asked questions that went towards obtaining good policy, and was willing to ask questions even where he could have suspected that the answer wouldn't fully agree with the bill. He was one of the most friendly of the MPs to those who sat in the gallery like myself, opening conversation during the break between witness groups. He was also one of the more active members on Twitter, willing to engage people there as well. My hope is that he becomes a member of whatever committee (hopefully a special legislative one) that studies the next “An Act to amend the Copyright Act”. I also hope to meet him one-on-one and discuss the various areas of technology law that he has shown great interest in.

Dean Del Mastro is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and has been an active member of the Heritage committee since being elected in 2006. Mr. Del Mastro could be seen as the strongest defender of Bill C-32. Where the bill proposed things which our community would agree are good things, he would aggressively push that policy forward. The same was true of policies which we would strongly disagree with, such as technical protection measures. As a member of Heritage he would have been hearing for years from a subset of stakeholders on Copyright about how infringement is the most critical change underway in copyright dependant marketplaces, and the claim that radical changes to the law will solve those problems.

Possibly the most memorable exchange involving Mr. Del Mastro was on March 10’th when Ms. Margaret Atwood was a witnesses. Committee had been hearing from witnesses that were making controversial (and many say incorrect, including myself) statements about Fair Dealings. Ms. Atwood dialled the rhetoric up further by suggesting that the extension of fair dealing to include education was somehow a removal of property. “There are only four ways in which property can be removed from its owner without consent: one, theft; two, expropriation, which does however include some payment; three, confiscation, as from criminals; and four requisition, as in a war.”

Likely frustrated with hearing this type of statement yet again, Mr. Del Mastro aggressively challenged Ms. Atwood in his questions. Peterborough Liberal candidate Betsy McGregor seemed to think this was condescending (Note the URL. At first she used the title “Stay classy Dean, you know you’re a jerk when you’re rude to Margaret Atwood”), and pointed people to a video someone posted of the exchange. I think it is unfortunate that people are expected not to challenge controversial statements if they are made by otherwise well-liked famous people. After these controversial statements I also engaged with Ms. Atwood on Twitter and on her Blog, which turned out to be a far better format for this type of exchange as it didn’t get as heated.

Ed Fast quickly emerged as someone who largely dismissed the rights and interests of stakeholders who weren’t copyright holders. After his first two meetings he received commentary from Michael Geist in an article Pulling a Fast One?: Who Is Really Hurt By C-32's Missing Fair Dealing Circumvention Exception. On the final day of committee meetings he suggested a number of interesting things that I would strongly disagree with:

  • ”this balance we're seeking to strike appears to have shifted the balance primarily in one direction, and that's away from protecting creators and their copyright”
  • ”I've reviewed the Copyright Act. There's no reference to user rights. That term is not used. In fact, the only reference to user rights that I've seen is in the CCH case, where I believe it's used once.”
  • ”When we create additional rights for users, perhaps to circumvent digital locks, that's a derogation of the powers or the rights that copyright holders have.“

When I was a witness before the committee I spoke about there being a number of different classes of owners whose rights need to be recognised and respected in changes to Copyright law. While the Conservative founding principles include protecting property rights, Mr. Fast essentially rejected the interests of audiences and owners of tangible media, owners of information technology, and software authors who need IT property rights protected in order to protect a competitive software marketplace.

He seemed to believe that legal protection for digital locks with no exceptions was required to protect the interests of copyright holders, something I obviously strongly disagree with. Misunderstood and misapplied technical measures has likely lost more revenues to creators than copyright infringement, and the harm of non-owner digital locks goes far beyond copyright related issues. These statements by Mr Fast were made after I was a witness and clarified that in a majority of DRM scenarios the copyright holders don’t even hold the keys to the locks, and thus it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these non-owner locks don’t help the interests of copyright holders. While he might acknowledge his focus was only on copyright holders to the exclusion of anyone else’s rights, I believe that what he focused on promoting at committee would also be extremely harmful to the interests of nearly all copyright holders as well.

Peter Braid attended every meeting.

While he did ask many questions that brought out answers that were generally in support of the bill, he didn’t really say much that hinted at his own views. I was never given the impression this was an area of policy he felt any personal attachment to. He did mention RIM a few times, appropriate given his riding.

Kitchener—Waterloo is a pretty high-tech riding. I was invited to the University of Waterloo to give a talk on copyright that overlapped the last election. I sent in questions to each of the candidates running in area ridings, and the only reply I received no reply from Mr. Braid. Some people have suggested that he owes his election to vote splitting with candidates and parties that offered stronger positions on technology law. With such a close race last election, and the unlikelihood of a similar vote split from the technology community this election, I am surprised he didn’t offer ideas on technology law that might attract technology literate voters.