Opinion: The Case for the Canadian Pirate Party Has Never Been Stronger

While the Canadian Pirate Party has been missing in action, Drew Wilson argues that the case for their presence has never been better.

The year was 2010. Canada was on the brink of a digital disaster. At the time, the Liberal party had long been voted out after pushing for a Canadian DMCA and Lawful Access legislation had both died on the order paper. Some had hoped that with the Conservative Party being in power, things would change on both of those fronts. After all, the debate was very public and there had been very strong debate over both issues.

Unfortunately, after the Harper Conservatives were sworn into power, it became very clear that the difference between the Martin Liberal government and the Harper Conservative government were practically identical on the issue of personal privacy and copyright reform. At that point, it became clear that neither party was fit to make the necessary changes to copyright and privacy law.

By this point in time, the movement of the Pirate Party internationally had grown quite strong. Sweden elected its first Pirate Party member, French and German equivalent’s were already organizing and getting elected. In fact, it seemed that nothing could stop this movement. So, naturally, the Canadian Pirate Party were able to do the leg work and become registered in 2010. Their registration and movement send a strong message to the rest of the political parties: the Pirate Party is here, they are here to stay, and Canadians are getting fed up with the status quo.

It was, indeed, exciting times for the party who would later run candidates in a select few ridings. While it wound up being a small number of candidates, the sky seemed like the limit. Sure, in their first election, they weren’t exactly a coast to coast to coast political party, but momentum was building in their favor. As I noted in a 2009 article, the Pirate Party had wind in their sails and that momentum had only grown since then.

The impact on Canadian politics was quite profound for a party that was only just getting started. The NDP only strengthened their resolve to push back against bad copyright and privacy policies. The Green Party had already commented that Canada didn’t need a Pirate Party when Canadians had the Green Party.

The Conservative party, for their part, eventually put together a “compromise” copyright reform bill perhaps in the hopes that this would stymie the movement. That “compromise” being that anti-circumvention would still be law to appease the foreign lobbyists while the fines would be capped at a reasonable number instead of having alleged file-sharers be on the hook for the very likely unconstitutional statutory damages. No one was really happy, but the Heritage Minister remarked at the time that everyone had a “little water in their wine”.

In the time since, the Pirate Party’s momentum seemed to wain. Electoral reforms meant that the party got deregistered in 2017. The party has since missed two elections, their website went offline, and their official Twitter account has seen no activity since 2019 (even then, we were prodding the party for a response during the previous election to which they basically posted a few pictures of government buildings). The registration issue still appears to be unresolved and it seems like the party has since largely been inactive.

While it seems that the party has seemingly remain inactive, the issues certainly have not. The current Liberal government has been pushing for a link tax law, there is huge controversy over the Rogers Shaw merger, Canadian privacy reform has been stalled due to government foot dragging, the government is building a regulatory hit list with Bill C-10 that threatens to curb free speech, there is the even more controversial proposals for website blocking and a possible “online harms” bill that also potentially threatens free speech, and the CRTC decision to send already sky-high internet and cell phone rates further into the stratosphere.

Support for the Internet has slid dramatically since 2010 with the Bloc supporting Bill C-10 that could censor voices in Quebec and the NDP has seemingly lost interest in protecting free speech. So, the political landscape now suggests that the only party left that can reasonably be trusted with digital rights is the Green Party. This only thanks to how it is generally unclear how the party would govern and tackle all of these important issues.

Suffice to say, the landscape is much different now than in the heyday of the Canadian Pirate Party. Political parties, even those that seemed to be strong advocates, are showing increasing disinterest in fighting for these issues. The issues themselves have grown substantially thanks to the Liberal party finding increasingly creative ways of attacking the free and open Internet largely at the behest of lobbyists. For those reasons, I believe that the Canadian Pirate Party is much more needed now than a decade ago. After all, the voices that can be relied on to defend critical issues affecting the Internet is much smaller now than back then.

While the political landscape is seemingly screaming for the presence of the Canadian Pirate party, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a response from the party that was threatening to shake up Ottawa. For me, the call to act hit right when there was a push for a Link tax law. For the Pirate Party, a wise choice would have been to dust off the Twitter account and start pushing back against this dangerous move. Essentially, call out the Heritage Minister for trying to attack at the very foundation of the Internet itself.

From there, while the debate started heating up, announce that a website is going to be forthcoming to let everyone know that the Pirate Party is back. Then, in an effort to fill some war chests, also announce something like a GoFundMe to try and reboot the party.

Then, when the Rogers Shaw merger story came down, point to that story and say that if you support lowering your cell phone and Internet rates, then consider supporting the party through donations to the equivalent of one month of your current cell phone or Internet rates. Know that the money is going to the cause of trying to block or potentially overturn such a decision.

After that, with the cash rolling in, reboot the website with a small staff with a simple WordPress infrastructure and point to that as how supporters have made that site possible. Then, make the case that the movement is only beginning of this fresh new era.

Then, when the CRTC decision came down, point out how the Liberal party is bent on making sure you pay more and use that as an additional drive to raise funding. After that, put together a petition to denounce the CRTC decision to let people know that, while the party isn’t in power, that doesn’t mean their voices can’t be heard now.

When the Bill C-10 debate blew up, point out that the situation for Internet freedom has never been more dire and use it as a call to support the parties efforts to get the party re-registered. If necessary, ask for help getting the political party back on track by getting the party registered and various processes to get candidates prepared for the next election. Also, start up a Wiki to begin the process of putting together stances on various issues. Let everyone know that when an election is called, the party will be fully prepared and that if people vote for the Pirates, it sends a clear message that Canadians care deeply about these issues and if the parties don’t respect that, then the votes will go to a party that do.

Sadly, the above steps never took place and the above scenario is simply fantasy at this point. Last we checked, the party is still dormant with an unclear future. Still, these are actually very reasonable steps. It’s not unrealistic to take advantage of the situation to re-boot the party. Even if the party would be unable to re-register and become an active party again, it’ll, at the very least, put other political parties on notice that raising cell phone rates and cracking down free speech isn’t going to be tolerated by the voting public.

At this point, all of what is going down either represents a missed opportunity of an opportunity that is gradually slipping away. While it is possible that the situation can still be capitalized on, it’s increasingly looking like that may not happen. With that, the voting public is left with uncertainty as to who to vote for as these issues continue to get debated. Do they vote for the NDP who have proven that they are increasingly unreliable to defend the interests of Canadians? Do they vote for a Green Party they know so little about? What about just giving up and saying that the current parties won’t address the issue and give up entirely? It’s a sad situation and, as long as the Pirate Party of Canada continues to remain silent, the situation only stands to get even worse.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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