Where Canada’s Political Parties Stand on Digital Rights

Canada is currently in the midst of a federal election. While a few issues to get in the news, digital rights has fallen by the wayside. We here at Freezenet aim to help change that by bringing it front and center here.

For over a decade, I, as a reporter, have followed digital rights on the Canadian political scene. That means I’ve closely followed Canadian politics clear back when Liberal party leader Paul Martin was Prime Minister. Since then, I’ve seen Stephen Harper’s minority government and Stephen Harper’s majority government. This has given me insight into where political parties stand both while they were in power and while they are on the campaign trail. So, it is with great interest that I examine where parties stand today on digital rights issues and if anything has really changed. We’ll be examining 6 parties: The Conservatives, the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, the Green Party, and the Pirate Party of Canada to see where they stack up in policy both in the past and on their party platform. We’ll be choosing the party order based on how many seats were won in the last election.

Conservative Party

Given that the party created and passed Bill C-51, it’s easy to conclude they are against privacy.

When the TPP concluded, the Conservatives urged people to support the agreement which would dramatically curtail digital rights. It is quite clear they are in favor of “trade” deals which dramatically harm digital rights.

The water, however, is a bit more murky when it comes to restricting copyright directly. While the Conservative party did extend copyright, a major copyright reform bill passed that formalized the notice-and-notice regime as well as cut back damages related to small non-commercial offenses. It’s a mixed bag to be sure.

Digital Privacy: Opposes
Restriction of Copyright: Mixed
Trade Agreements that restrict user rights: Supports

NDP

When the Liberal party was in power, MP Charlie Angus famously criticized the Heritage Minister at the time for allowing only one side of the debate in on the lawmaking process and even went so far as to request that the “for sale” sign hanging over the ministers door be painted over. It was the same kind of deal when the Conservatives took power where members of the NDP criticized government moves to appease corporate interests over Canadian consumer rights. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find any current position on the issue, but it’s unlikely the position has changed more recently.

NDP also opposed Bill C-51, so their support for privacy is certainly there.

The NDP is also well known for coming out strongly against the TPP, so it’s easy to conclude that they are against restrictive trade deals.

Digital Privacy: Supports
Restriction of Copyright: Opposes
Trade Agreements that restrict user rights: Opposes

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party platform can be found here (PDF).

The first portion that seems relevant in their platform revolves around privacy:

Among our Five Eyes allies that collaborate on national security and intelligence sharing, Canada is the only country that does not have oversight of its security agencies by legislators. Liberals are committed to correcting this; we will create an all-party national security oversight committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities.

This is over top of the parties support for Bill C-51. The party said in a statement, the party said “Liberals welcome the measures that build on powers of preventative arrest, make better use of no-fly lists, and allow for more coordinated information sharing by government departments and agencies.”

So, it’s fair to say the party doesn’t support personal privacy.

In addition, we found this speech which contains the following:

Strong economies produce goods. Manufacturing is the number one investor in research and development. It provides good jobs outside urban areas as well as in urban centres. We will help manufacturers to modernize and to reach new markets. We will help small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets and help them gain a foothold in Europe. We need to be prepared for the Canada–European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

The comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was something we covered in extensive detail to find that it is very anti-consumer when it came to digital rights. The Liberal Party seems to suggest that they are supportive of this trade agreement.

In the same vain, we found the following in the Globe and Mail:

Justin Trudeau knows that to win the next election he must minimize the Conservative advantage on the economy. That’s why the Liberal Leader supports the recent trade agreement with the European Union.

But the TPP is different. The Liberals are determined to expand their base in Quebec. That means winning seats in rural Quebec. That means protecting supply management.

Would Mr. Trudeau be prepared to sacrifice those potential Quebec gains for the sake of attracting suburban Ontario voters by supporting the TPP? Logic suggests yes. But the Liberal Party’s DNA is rooted in its Quebec base. This will be no easy decision for Mr. Trudeau.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was something we covered extensively and found it to be the most anti-consumer agreement to date. While there was no firm policy decision on which way the party is leaning, some seem to speculate that the party will support it. Given the support for CETA, the provisions found in the TPP don’t seem to be too big of a problem for the party thanks to the similar provisions in there. So, we can conclude that the party supports restrictive trade agreements.

The party has a long history of supporting both the Canadian DMCA which would have brought in anti-circumvention laws, notice-and-takedown regimes, and statutory damages for non-commercial infringement. In a past election, Sam Bulte infamously lashed out at user rights advocates by calling them “Pro-User Zealots.

So, in short, this is where the Liberal Party stands on digital rights issues:

Digital Privacy: Opposes
Restriction of Copyright: Supports
Trade Agreements that restrict user rights: Supports

Bloc Quebecois Party

When it came to restricting copyright laws, we recall music groups pushed the party to, at one point, support restrictive copyright laws. In 2011, they issued the following stance to the CPCC when it came to much more restrictive bill:

The Law on copyright does not take into account the impact of new technologies, including the creation of the Internet, and must be changed as quickly as possible. As with any work worthy of being paid a salary, it is necessary for creators to receive their due, while ensuring that consumers benefit from this new way to access the artists’ creation.

Currently, illegal downloading is wrong for artists, who receive nothing from their creations, while Internet service providers are the only ones to receive the fruit of others’ work.

Bill C-32, introduced in June 2010 by the Conservatives, not only empowers the industry and is limited to addressing the consumers who pay for it, however, their access to the Internet.

So, it would appear that the party supports restricting copyright.

When it came to warrantless wiretapping, lawful access, and user privacy, we were unable to find any information on where the party stands on that issue.

When it comes to restrictive trade deals, the Bloc seems to be mixed on the issue depending on the deal. When it came to the TPP, the party was opposed to only particular parts of it. Meanwhile, the party has expressed seemingly mixed support for CETA:

the party says CETA gives Canada a chance to incorporate more progressive rules into its trade agreements which would respect labour rights, environmental protections and engage civil society more fully. The Bloc would like to see new benchmarks for investment protection so that environmental and public health policies are not challenged as trade barriers.

So, this is where we were able to determine where the party stands on the three issues:

Digital Privacy: Unknown
Restriction of Copyright: Supports
Trade Agreements that restrict user rights: Mixed

Green Party

When it came to discussing warrantless wiretapping, we were able to discuss the issues with members who were opposed to the idea. The party also stated that the passage of Bill C-51 was “reckless

So, it would appear that the party supports privacy.

When it came to copyright, in the past, the Green Party tried to bring proposals to an unbalanced copyright bill. The party, back in 2009, also several progressive stances on copyright laws.

While we are less familiar with the parties current position, we have no reason to believe this has changed. So, it looks like the party is opposed to severely restricting copyright laws.

when it comes to trade deals that would restrict user rights, the Green Party rolled out a campaign urging lawmakers to oppose it.

So, having seen all of this, it’s safe to say that the Green Party and NDP positions are quite similar on a basic level:

Digital Privacy: Supports
Restriction of Copyright: Opposes
Trade Agreements that restrict user rights: Opposes

Pirate Party

A lot of the positions can be easily found in their party platform. On copyright anti-circmvention:

– The ‘Digital Locks’ provision will be removed from the Copyright Act.
– Circumventing locks on media and the production of tools to do so will be held to be legal.
– Media with digital locks must be visibly labelled as such.

On copyright terms

We will shorten copyright terms from the current length of the author’s lifetime +50 years to a more economically justifiable length of 10 years from the date of publication.

Copyright owners will be granted the ability to commit their works to the public domain permanently at any time.

On surveilance:

– Require law enforcement to obtain a court order in order to perform any covert surveillance of specific individuals or groups.
– Where obtaining a warrant would prevent the police acting on an immediate threat or pursuing a lead in an investigation, a court order should be obtained alongside the ongoing surveillance and, if denied, the subject of the surveillance must be informed.
– Enforce laws that if the court finds that the surveillance was for political, personal, or other illegitimate purposes, the official who gave the order for the surveillance could face penalties.
– The court order required should be proportional to the amount of surveillance, the degree of the suspected offence and the amount of evidence against the individual or group.

On privacy:

– We will forbid private third parties from intercepting or monitoring communication traffic (i.e. telephone calls, post, Internet traffic, emails), and require specific warrants to be issued by a court before the police or government agency are allowed to monitor communications traffic (including meta data).
-We will ensure that the freedom to encrypt data and communications is not abridged or limited and that access to, and creation of, the tools that make secure communications possible is not restricted.
We will significantly strengthen data protection laws, ensuring that companies and the government holding personal information give people more information about their rights; apply a effective level of security to data; and are clear about their policies on data retention and amendment of said policies. A person who chooses to permanently delete their data on a private web service has the right to expect that their online data has been permanently deleted with the exception of a minimal amount of data for billing purposes. This does not include the data that the user has voluntarily shared in the past and is beyond the of control of the provider.
-Oppose mandatory data retention laws that require service providers to retain user’s private information. This practice violates a user’s privacy rights.
We will make it easier to apply to a court for compensation where data protection laws have been breached. We will also increase the penalties for any breaches of data protection laws, proportionally to the scale of the breach.
-Impose penalties on service providers and telecom companies who give out private information to third parties (including government) without a warrant or user consent.

So, there’s a much more progressive approach in the areas of copyright and privacy.

Finally, on trade deals that restrict user rights, we have seen the party help spread awareness of the dangers of such agreements via Twitter.

So, as a roundup of the positions of the party:

Digital Privacy: Supports
Restriction of Copyright: Opposes
Trade Agreements that restrict user rights: Opposes

Final Thoughts

When it comes to digital rights, there’s definitely two sides in which parties stand on. On the one side, you have parties that have taken up anti-user rights positions such as the Liberal Party and the Conservative. On the other side are parties that do stand up for digital rights such as the NDP, Green Party, and the Pirate Party. The only party that is somewhat unclear is the Bloc Quebecois where we couldn’t really establish their position. We certainly welcome any additional sourced information that would clarify their positions. While it is unclear how digital rights will play out in this election, it is helpful to see where parties stand.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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