Canada’s Election Results Signals Bad News For Digital Rights

The Canadian election was certainly based around the concept of change. With the Liberal majority win, it could very well be change for the worse. We look into what could be in the future for digital rights.

When it comes to policy of a government on a whole range of issues, an election can very easily affect the direction of the government a lot. Environmental policy can go from simple plundering for resources to conservation. Trade policy can go from an open door policy to protectionist. When a government transitions from one majority government to another, these kinds of dramatic changes aren’t completely out of the question. That’s what makes elections so critical to every sector including in the area of digital rights.

We followed the election closely and even went so far as to offer a party-by-party analysis. We asked where each party stood on international trade agreements that would have a negative effect on digital rights, privacy (like warrantless wiretapping), and the policy on copyright. With these questions in mind, we did some digging to find the answers. The answers weren’t always easy to find. One big reason was the fact that copyright and privacy simply wasn’t on the radar by major media outlets or top of mind by many Canadians prior to election day.

With the previous seat count, we can actually determine how many sitting members were for digital rights based on our research. In total, we determined that 104 members of parliament were supportive of digital rights (NDP and Green members). Meanwhile, exactly 200 members of parliament were opposed to digital rights (Conservatives and Liberals). Since we couldn’t exactly determine where the Bloc stood on these issues, they are simply excluded as neutral on the issues. After this election, there was a total of 45 members of parliament who support digital rights. This presents a drop of a staggering 59 seats. Meanwhile, the number of members of parliament who are opposed to digital rights rose to 283, a massive 83 seat gain. So, pure numbers alone show that this election was a major setback for digital rights.

Now, having been through both minority and majority governments, we are familiar with how often shorter-lived governments can have an impact on digital rights. In fact, issues of warrantless wiretapping and Canadian DMCA’s have a long history of dying on the order-paper between both Liberal and Conservative governments. If the bill in question is still just a bill when an election is called, it will have to start from the very beginning when the next government is formed. Minority governments can have a huge impact on anti-digital rights bills dying on the order paper. If the bill is controversial enough, it can be delayed because opposition parties can vote it down. Any delays puts it at major risk of dying on the order paper. Had this election result been a minority government, this could have been a silver lining in all of this because it could effectively been opposed. Unfortunately, with a Liberal majority, this is not the case. So, the Liberals can pass any draconian copyright or wiretapping law they want and all they need is the support from within their own party. So, this option is completely out of the question.

So, the question then becomes: where does the Liberal party stand on all of these issues. As we previously discussed, the Liberal party has a long history of being on the opposite side of digital rights advocates. Most famously, one MP lashed out at a debate by calling Michael Geist, EFF, and supporters “Pro-User zealots”. After some serious research, we’ve determined that the party opposes digital privacy, supports the restriction of copyright, and is supportive of trade Agreements that restrict user rights.

So, what about the election itself? Given how little privacy and copyright was mentioned, it is safe to conclude that there was very little mobilization of digital rights advocacy. Towards the beginning, there was some discussion about Bill C-51, but as discussion of Bill C-51 faded, so did support for parties who support digital rights. That support and awareness simply never recovered and, by election day, the MP numbers who support digital rights were completely decimated.

The natural question then becomes, what has become of the digital rights movement. For a vast majority of voters, either digital rights was an issue of concern, but not a big enough concern to convert it to votes, or digital rights was simply forgotten altogether. Whichever way or combination it ended up being, this was a disaster for the movement.

The reality is, the digital rights movement has to start over to square one in Canada. Good starting places would be general education about the issues and why it matters to peoples daily lives. Organization of awareness campaigns would be another method. Awareness campaigns have proven effective before on these issues, so it is a question of willpower. It’s about picking up the pieces, starting small, and working towards putting digital rights back into the public eye.

As for the future of digital rights under the leadership of Trudeau, that future is very uncertain and very bleak. The most likely thing to happen is that warrantless wiretapping will be tabled and passed. There will be significant lobbying by foreign corporations to bring in unprecedented strict copyright laws which will also be passed. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will likely be ratified. There is a slim chance that some of these issues will once again die on the order paper, but opposition will likely only serve to delay the inevitable. That puts the best shot to oppose these laws in the court system where one hopes that the Supreme court would actually defend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as privacy laws. Even then, that is a gamble. Another possibility that is extremely unlikely is that the Liberal party does a complete 180 on their policies on these issues. They have a long history of opposing digital rights and it was more or less how they vowed to run the country for the foreseeable future. The party was barely questioned on these issues, so it wasn’t on the radar when they were elected. So, the electorate proved that these issues simply do not matter to them when it came time to vote. That puts a complete 180 almost in the category of wishful thinking.

At the end of the day, this is a terribly reality for digital rights advocates. It would be understandable of some wondered if the digital rights movement is dead in Canada. With a majority Liberal government, things will most likely get far worse for advocates before it gets better barring some kind of miracle.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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