Canadian Election Has Internet Advocates Watching

A lot is at stake in Canada, and the 23rd may be considered ‘zero hour’ as election coverage commences after the ballots close at 7 PM. What does the Canadian election have to do with peer-2-peer users?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Experts like Michael Geist and David Fewer would agree the federal government has actually been very active on internet concerns as virtually every issue now hangs in limbo. So perhaps every Canadian file-sharer or anyone who uses the internet may want to pay close attention to this race more then any other.

Where do the parties stand on the various issues? That’s a question CIPPIC and Russell McOrmond have been trying to determine.

Rewind back to December when CIPPIC published a series of questions in an effort to assist Canadians determine where the parties stood on issues surrounding the internet. Things looked positive at first when smaller organizations like the marijuana party answered quickly (who also had some interesting stories to help bring clarity onto where they stood on the issues.) The initial enthusiasm gradually became harder to maintain as the larger parties held off answering these questions – answers many hoped would assist their decision at the ballot box.

In a press release issued today, CIPPIC has expressed disappointment over the lack of responses. “We are disappointed,” said Philippa Lawson, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law. “While we know that this election was prompted by the sponsorship scandal, and that Canadians are concerned first and foremost with issues such as health care and employment, we expected that all major parties would at least answer our questions. The issues we raised are all ones that Parliament will be addressing this year or next.”

There is no doubt the government was dealing with the issues last term with Bill C-60 (Copyright Reform), Bill C-74 (Internet Surveillance), Bill C-37 (Do-Not-Call), and a number of other bills (most of which were scrapped because of the election.)

So what about the responses CIPPIC did receive? Any kind of response is better then none at all, but Mrs. Lawson had this to say in the press release, “We received some clear and thoughtful responses from smaller parties, but very little from the major parties…Neither the Conservatives nor the Bloc bothered to respond, while the Liberals provided only vague responses and the NDP didn’t answer the questions we posed. Of the parties that stand a chance of electing MPs, the Greens were the only ones to set out clear positions on most of these important issues.”

The silence held by the Bloc and the Conservatives could make the decision process more difficult for voters concerned about the internet. In fact, one may wonder if either party even cares about these issues – or perhaps don’t wish to make it an issue at all. Either way, if one needs to find more coverage, looking to the mainstream media likely yields limited results. This is where bloggers come in real handy to help fill in the gap where major news broadcasters fail to fill. Michael Geist blogged tirelessly on urgent Canadian internet issues and would prove to be a centerpiece to many issues for other major Canadian digital rights issues.

One of the biggest issues during the election for digital rights activists was the Sam Bulte Incident where various Copyright Stakeholders planned to host a fundraiser for her. She later denounced the idea of calling it a ‘fundraiser’ (and for those who read the invitation, it actually does say ‘fundraiser’ on it) and claimed that it was merely a celebration. Whatever one calls it, it came with a hefty price of 250 Canadian dollars (which today would be about 214.65 USD, 177.68 Euros or 122.19 Pounds) per plate. On top of this, Michael Geist also notes, “Her 2004 riding association return posted on the Elections Canada site shows contributions of $67,737 (the fifth largest total among Ontario Liberals). That amount breaks down as $38,789 from individuals (57 percent), 19,848 from corporations (29 percent), and $9,100 from trade unions (13 percent), which include several copyright collectives.”

This raised serious concerns for many Canadians. In response, Online Rights Canada decided to throw a bash of their own to counter the fundraiser and deliberately hosted it one hour before the Sam Bulte event near the same location.

Of course, trying to sneak quietly in the background, Bev Oda, a Conservative MP was reported to have “accepted donations from the same groups.” Perhaps it was wise of her not to be so vocal in an effort to detract attention.

Later, Sam Bulte was captured on video (a video that has since spread) calling the EFF, Michael Geist and Canadians everywhere ‘pro-user zealots’. A sentiment by the Copyright Stakeholders as they try and discredit boingboing by stating that “It’s crazy and false.” They even go further by calling people like David Fewer “The piracy lobby.” The notion Sam Bulte claimed to have was that she supports artists. It was a notion quickly slammed by Canadian musician Matthew Good.

Now, according to Pollstr, Sam Bulte appears to be losing to the NDP candidate while Bev Oda is in good shape to win her seat. It would appear as though the copyright stakeholders have a plan ‘B’ in full action.

Meanwhile, it appears as though Russell McOrmond has been hard at work in making the internet a Canadian election issue by getting parties to take the Copyright Pledge. The Christian Heritage Party and the Canadian Action Party have both taken the Copyright Pledge. There have been cases of single candidates taking the Copyright Pledge (like what one may see in the Sam Bulte Video.)

Where do parties stand on the issues? Perhaps the only way one can get any answer is by asking the individual candidates (as heard here and here.)

Some good clues may lie in the previous election for where canidates currently stand. Stephen Harper is most notable for saying that “we need to get back to the negotiating table” over the softwood lumber dispute while the Liberals tabled the controversial bills (C-60 and C-74.) These two examples might cast a very dark shadow for those hopeful on a fair and balanced debate on these issues. A saddening notion that Geist had blogged about.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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