Canadian Heritage Minister, A Conflict of Interest?

A lot has been said in Canada about Copyright. From educational interest to musical interests to interests in copyright stakeholders all the way down to user rights.

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

What hasn’t been said is the person who is currently looked to for these pressing copyright issues. Recently, some interesting information has been revealed about her.

Some might remember the Sam Bulte incident as it has sparked a lot of controversy for her accusing Michael Geist and the EFF (Electronics Frontier Foundation) to be “pro-user zealots”. Some might argue that this comment helped her demise in the polls during the last federal election. Copyright reform, on the other hand, has been the issue of hot debate. Since Bill C-60 died on the order paper from the fall of the government, interest groups such as the Canadian Art Professionals and the Canadian Music Creators Coalition have voiced their opinions in government over Copyright reform.

So what does the Minister of Heritage, Bev Oda, think of all of this? It’s been hard to say. One of her most publicised quotes on these issues were on the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) treaties in April. Since then, things have been reletively quiet – until recently that is.

One notable story this week was a report on lobbiests that represent interest groups such as the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) who have been holding “backed closed door meetings and private lunches at taxpayers’ expense.”

On June 13, 2006, during question period, the member from Mississauga-Brampton South known as Naveep Singh Bains accused the Minister of Heritage of a conflict of interest. The basis of this accusation was from files submitted to the Ethics Commissioner from Bev Oda which allegidly states that Bev Oda owns shares to the company “Alliance Productions Limited”. A part of the accusation is that Alliance Productions Limited also benifits from the Canadian Television Fund grant – a grant she is responsible for.

Parliament member Hon. Navdeep Bains, who accused her of this posted a transcript here.

Hon. Navdeep Bains (Mississauga—Brampton South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my colleague knows very well that the issue is not whether the minister has complied with disclosure requirements. The issue is whether or not she has placed herself in a conflict of interest.

When the minister responsible for the allocation of government funds to film and television producers has a financial interest in a company that stands to receive such funds, there is at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Can the minister tell the House herself that she has not had any discussions or discussed any matters with the production company in which she holds a financial interest?

Hon. Bev Oda (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I am happy to confirm that I am in full compliance. In response to the question, I have had no discussions.

In fact, I would like to point out that only a member of the Liberal opposition would even suggest that a member of Parliament interfere when it is an independent body making those decisions.

One may draw connections between Copyright reform and her allegid “financial interest” in Alliance Productions Limited especially given the fact that she has remained reletively quiet when it comes to issues surrounding Copyright reform, WIPO, etc.

What has been known is that Copyright reform may not happen until the Fall. What will be on it is still anyones guess at this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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