Editorial: Digesting the Canadian Election Results and Subsequent Possible Online Policy

Most Canadians and many around the world are waking up to the reality of what happened during the election – that is a Conservative majority government. The question remains, how will digital policies shape up now?

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

Let’s point out something very obvious: Bill C-60 during the Liberal government, Bill C-61 of the later Conservative government, and Bill C-32 of the previous Conservative government. What are a few things these bills had in common? They all dealt with copyright. They all had American style copyright reforms in them (earlier ones more than the later ones), and they all died on the order paper because each government was under a minority government situation and they dies on the order paper as a result.

Now, what makes this government different than the others in the past? It’s a majority government meaning that Canadians won’t have their say on issues until 2015 because there are more Conservatives then there are all other political parties combined. This means that the one thing protecting Canadians from bad copyright policy is gone and that has a lot of people very nervous for the future of Canada in an online world.

Michael Geist has weighed in on this saying that there are pitfalls and opportunities on the horizon because of privacy reform and the more progressive copyright law seen in the previous session. Russell McOrmond watched the election and offered up some advice including this: “Don’t blindly follow the protectionist demands of the US democrats”.

While others have yet to weigh in, there’s that sense that somehow, politicians within the Conservatives can be swayed to table sound policy – especially on issues like copyright. I can’t say I’m that optimistic because the Conservatives have primarily been a “my way or the highway” type of party to begin with. Since they have the majority of the seats, they hold all the keys, and thus, they are accountable to no one. They don’t have to listen to Canadians any more at this stage for the next four years.

I really almost don’t want to run through what is up at the cutting block because it sickens me just thinking what can happen in the next four years, but it is, nevertheless, the informative thing to do to begin with.

Removal of Funding from Opposition Parties

When the Canadian Pirate Party managed to joined the political process in Canada, it was seen as a major victory for those who focus on online issues because if any party understood issues like copyright and privacy online, it would be the Pirate Party of Canada.

Now, the Conservatives have vowed to end public subsidies to political parties. Normally, parties receive 2 dollars for every vote. With the Conservatives vowing to end that, it will mean smaller parties will be substantially harmed including, very likely, the Pirate Party. What this will do is essentially Americanize the political system in Canada so that only parties that have the backing of large corporations can be heard. That could mean that, in the future, online rights will have a very hard time trying to survive a corporate sponsored political system because political parties then have to go to multi-million dollar companies to get funding or risk being drowned out on the airwaves and the teams of publicisits online.

Conservatives have vowed to gut this policy, so it’s very unlikely it’ll be around by 2013.

Privacy Online on Life Support?

The Conservatives did suggest that they will create an omnibus anti-crime bill soon after coming in to political power. Bundled in that will very likely be the surveillance legislation that online advocates have been fighting against for years. In past iterations, this legislation has been about gathering information on unsuspecting people online without a warrant. Realistically speaking, if it gets any worse now than before, it’ll essentially be the same thing as the warrantless wiretapping going on in the US.

Since Conservatives are famous for their jet’s n’ jails policy as far as opposition parties are concerned, this is just about a guarantee that we’ll have that. So, maybe researching VPN services would be the next best option for Canadians at this point and the moment such legislation is tabled, take up such services because the government will very likely be watching your communications whether for legitimate or illegitimate reasons.

The Canadian DMCA

This should be just about self-evident to most copyright watchers. Bill C-61 was pretty much the Canadian DMCA at its worst under the Conservative governments of the past. They tried a more moderate approach to appease voters with Bill C-32 in the last session, but with the pressure of being accountable off of their shoulder, chances are, the Conservatives will simply revert to the worse of the two laws. We certainly know from Wikileaks that when Conservatives are in power, American corporations write our laws – especially on copyright issues. What are corporations pushing throughout the world right now? Just ask New Zealand where Wikileaks revealed, much to the dismay of some political parties there, how Hollywood dictated to New Zealand that they are going to have a three strikes law. So, at this stage, I personally think that it’s a very real possibility that Canadians will be fighting a three strikes law in the future.

There are also a few other options plausibly on the table on copyright. In the US, there was the push to pass something called the “INDUCE” act that outlawed “inducing someone to infringe. Some critics felt that any piece of technology that could theoretically be used to infringe could also be inducement. One offshoot possibility that I can say is too early to tell is whether or not copyright could be so strict, that even discussing infringement could be a crime. That possibility isn’t as likely as a copy of the INDUCE act, but I can say that this would be a worst case scenario.

There is also the matter of international agreements. With ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement), there’s really no barriers now to stopping some of the worst kinds of international pressure to change the criminal code at this stage should they both be finalized in the next four years. TPP in particular would worse ISPs to become copyright cops and create the much reviled three strikes law in case the Conservatives don’t create one on their own.

Conclusion

Yes, this is entirely speculation and yes, there needs to be a continual reminder that Canadians want better lawmaking in these areas, but I can’t say I would be surprised if Canadians are ignored on these important issues. I should know being in a Conservative stronghold myself. I know how much (lack) of representation a constituent gets first-hand if they live in a Conservative riding. When Harper runs the Canadian Charter through a Conservative branded shredder made in China, he’ll do it with a smile and assurance that it’s for our own good. Don’t like this outlook? Prove me wrong.

I seriously hope, above all else, that I am completely wrong on this and the Canadian government doesn’t choose to enact half of this, but I personally wouldn’t count on a positive outlook in the future.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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