Meera Nair

remembering Brian Dickson (1916-1998)

In Posts on May 19, 2016 at 6:04 am

Brian Dickson, more precisely The Right Honourable Robert George Brian Dickson, was born on 25 May 1916. Appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1973, he became Canada’s 15th Chief Justice in 1984. The centenary of his birth is a fitting time to remember his contribution to what many of us take for granted: the capacity of our legal system to adapt to the changing mores of Canadian society. Dickson also brought the subject of law closer to all Canadians, he championed clear, effective writing that was comprehensible on a wider scale. “We are not writing simply for legal academics or other judges. The cases we deal with … affect every man, woman, and child in the country.”

Robert J. Sharpe has written extensively about Brian Dickson in journal articles, and together with Kent Roach, authored a book (A Judge’s Journey, 2003). From the personal and professional details published, it is apparent that Dickson’s perspective on law was shaped by many chapters of his own life. As a child, he was confronted with the spectacle of ill-fated Prairie farmers who laboured for a lifetime, only to lose everything in the Depression. Following his studies in law, Dickson served in WWII; there, a severe injury resulted in an amputated leg and constant residual pain. Post WWII, he coupled a successful career as a corporate lawyer with constant public service. At the height of his corporate career, he chose to forsake it and immerse himself entirely in public service by accepting an appointment as a trial judge in Manitoba. A later appointment to the appellate court of Manitoba eventually led to his Supreme Court tenure.

Dickson’s life experiences abetted and honed his concern for maintaining harmony between the dignity of the individual and the well-being of the community. That dual priority, coupled with a brilliant mind, enriched Canadian public life for generations to come. As Chief Justice, Dickson set the tone during the early years of constitutional interpretation following the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

The Charter marked a prominent moment in the journey towards Canadian sovereignty. It defined our rights and freedoms, and placed ownership of those qualities firmly in Canadian hands. The Charter protected citizens against legislation enacted by governments that, despite perhaps best intentions, compromise the larger purpose of having a constitution. In the days following his appointment as Chief Justice, Dickson was keenly aware of the role of the Supreme Court as guardian of Canadians’ constitutional rights:

When there is breach of the fundamental rights and freedoms under the Charter of rights, we have been given the right, the duty and the responsibility to deal with it and it is our duty to strike [the violation] down.
–  quoted by John Hey, “The New Face of the Law,” Macleans, Vol 97, Issue 18, 1984

More than thirty years have passed since the Charter was unveiled; many Canadians are likely unaware of how contentious that desire for a Made-In-Canada constitution had been, and with what mistrust the Charter had been eyed when it did arrive. Some Canadians resisted decoupling the nation from the British yoke of sovereignty over Canadian affairs. Others worried that the courts would become too powerful, disrupting the role of Parliament. Another anxiety was that Canada was merely aping the mantra of rights emanating from our southern neighbors. But in a speech in 2013, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (who has described her own early perspective of the Charter as “disinterested curiosity”) gave the definitive outcome: the Charter has stood the test of time and has helped forge a uniquely Canadian society.

[The Charter] reflected the kind of society Canadians wished to build for themselves and for generations to come. While patriation symbolized the raw fact of self-determination, the Charter made a statement about the ideals to which Canada should dedicate itself. Every nation needs a basic statement of what it stands for. For Canada, the Charter was that statement. …

[T]hirty years on, I think most would say that the patriation of the constitution was vital and that the Charter has stood the test of time. Canadians, polls consistently tell us, take pride in their Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has, quite simply, become part of the Canadian identity. And it does not hurt that in the years since its adoption the principles enunciated in the Charter have been emulated abroad and the decisions of the Supreme Court interpreting them studied by courts and scholars throughout the world.

The distinctiveness of our Charter, and its capacity to foster balance among rights for all, may very well lie in its preamble. Our cherished constitution begins with a disclaimer:

S.1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Our guaranteed rights are limited. That statement is not as paradoxical as it sounds; in terms of individual interaction, it is not difficult to foresee that an unbridled enjoyment by individuals of their rights could lead to the violation of others’ rights.

But those justifiable limits must be carefully handled. Early on, Dickson set the standard for application of the limiting clause. In R. v. Big M. Drug Mart Ltd. (1985) he wrote:

At the outset, it should be noted that not every government interest or policy objective is entitled to s. 1 consideration. Principles will have to be developed for recognizing which government objectives are of sufficient importance to warrant overriding a constitutionally protected right or freedom. Once a sufficiently significant government interest is recognized then it must be decided if the means chosen to achieve this interest are reasonable‑‑a form of proportionality test. The court may wish to ask whether the means adopted to achieve the end sought do so by impairing as little as possible the right or freedom in question.

Shortly thereafter, Dickson went further in defining the role of courts when consideration of the Charter itself is required. In R. v. Oakes (1986) he wrote:

The Court must be guided by the values and principles essential to a free and democratic society which I believe embody, to name but a few, respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, commitment to social justice and equality, accommodation of a wide variety of beliefs, respect for cultural and group identity, and faith in social and political institutions which enhance the participation of individuals and groups in society.

Even before the Charter, Dickson had championed broader consideration of the social context of disputes, decisions and penalties. Sharpe describes a particularly poignant element of Dickson’s approach to law; in his early days as a trial judge, “… before passing sentence, he spent a day at Stoney Mountain Penitentiary and then proceeded to visit the Selkirk Mental Hospital (p.15).”

Along with situating the law within Canadian life, Dickson also ensured that decisions were accessible to all Canadians. Accessibility in this sense meant comprehensible. Dickson eschewed the formalistic, jargon ridden prose of the courts of the day; he championed clear prose, within reach of those outside of the legal sphere.

For Dickson, it was no longer sufficient for courts to rely solely on a mechanical recitation of precedent; a good judgment began from principle and was substantiated by reason. Dickson led by example and set a new standard for the Canadian judiciary. Even his criticism of the poor quality of existing judgments is precise, evocative, and leaves a reader wanting more: “Thoughts straggle across the printed page like a gaggle of geese, without form, without beginning or end, lacking in coherence, convincingness, conciseness (quoted in Sharpe and Roach, p.204).”

It may be overstating it, to say that but for Dickson most Canadians outside the purview of Law would have been unable to participate in matters of law. However, it is more than reasonable to claim that Brian Dickson’s stance hastened our opportunity.

wrapping copyright in the maple leaf

In Posts on April 24, 2016 at 7:21 am

On Friday, The Globe and Mail published “Kids will suffer if Canada’s copyright legislation doesn’t change” by Kate Taylor. I usually enjoy reading Taylor’s work; her capacity to grasp the heart of an issue by delving into underlying facts is often impressive. Unfortunately, on this occasion, her exploration is incomplete and emotion is presented as analysis.

While amendment of the Copyright Act is a year away, there should be no doubt that lobbying has begun. As per the time-honoured script, the essential step is to wrap copyright in the maple leaf. The very fabric of Canada is under assault, and only strengthening copyright can save us all. The script makes for good drama, but is short on evidence.

Taylor, like John Degen last month and Heather Menzies earlier this year, places the challenges of Canada’s educational publishing industry at the feet of the 2012 statutory expansion of fair dealing. (Such a selective invocation of Canadian copyright-related history conveniently omits any mention of the role played by Access Copyright in bringing about the decline of collective licensing.) The claim that reduced revenue from textbook sales is due to unauthorized copying is not new. But when put to the Supreme Court, after consideration of all the facts, a majority of the judges felt that the conclusion did not logically follow:

Access Copyright pointed out that textbook sales had shrunk over 30 percent in 20 years.  … [but] there was no evidence that this decline was linked to photocopying done by teachers … several other factors [are] likely to have contributed to the decline in sales, such as the adoption of semester teaching, a decrease in registrations, the longer lifespan of textbooks, increased use of the Internet and other electronic tools, and more resource-based learning (para. 33).

But the rising use of Internet-based materials does not placate those who have taken it upon themselves to protect our children. Taylor writes: “ … teachers increasingly turn to free online materials, using fewer Canadian sources in the classroom and fewer materials directly tied to the provincial curriculum. [Advocates] are concerned there is no quality control of free material.” It is entirely plausible that the causality runs the other way: teachers are finding quality materials online, materials which also happen to be free. (The Khan Academy comes to mind.) But in the hands of those opposing any dilution of the traditional publishing industry, “free” and “online” are invoked with a dismissive air at best, or a pejorative connotation at worst.

Setting aside the prospects for alternative publishing models (for now), let us assume that Taylor’s, Degen’s and Menzies’ analyses are correct.  Let us assume that all the ills of the educational publishing sector are solely the fault of fair dealing. What then? Have any of them considered that years of expanding the scope of copyright has only meant that even more Canadian dollars flow out of the country than stay in? Since before Confederation, the market north of the 49th parallel has been dominated by foreign copyright holders. First British, then American. Copyright is a blunt instrument; any discussion of remedy via copyright should not ignore the trade imbalance. Applying copyright with broad brushstrokes through blanket licensing means fewer Canadian dollars are left to focus exclusively on Canadian creators.

Copyright governs much more than educational publishing, but even if it was confined to educational publishing, an important question has been left unanswered: Do Canadian sources make up the majority of all materials in all subjects taught in primary, secondary and tertiary education in Canada? If the answer is Yes, please provide evidence. If the answer is No, it is astounding that in the name of Canada, taxpayers, students and families are being chivied to provide more of our hard-earned dollars to predominantly benefit non-Canadian entities.

The effort spent railing about fair dealing could be better spent seeking measures that will target support directly to Canadian creators. Given the renewed spirit of federal-municipal relations, why not lobby for dedicated funding for school boards to support creation of open-education resources (OER) specifically to fill the need for Canadian content? Canadian history, geography, and politics could be addressed by local writers and illustrators, in collaboration with teachers, librarians, and archivists. How about seeking some manner of matched funds, to encourage every municipality to sponsor a writer-in-residence? What about expanding the existing Public Lending Right program to address nonfiction educational materials? A little imagination could bring about surprising dividends.

A Made-In-Canada approach to education is not a new concept. Law professor Myra Tawfik describes early 19th century efforts in Lower Canada to secure appropriate learning materials for children:

Lower Canadian teachers began to write or compile their own teaching manuals and schoolbooks. Preferring these to British or American imports and wanting to print multiple copies for use in their schools, they quickly discovered that the cost of printing their manuscripts was well beyond their means. Consequently, they began to petition the House of Assembly asking that it either assume the cost of printing or grant a sum of money to defray the costs (p.81).

Notably, when the House of Assembly delivered the requested support, it came with conditions regarding price and distribution.

As Canada approaches its 150th birthday, with a nod to the spirit that prompted the Massey Commission, the creation of the Canada Arts Council, and the emphasis upon Canadian Studies’ programs, it is time to focus on Canadian creators in a meaningful way.

 

celebrating a parody, 49 years later

In Posts on April 5, 2016 at 8:00 pm

The inclusion in 2012, of education, in the categories qualifying for fair dealing, has received disproportionate attention, made up of as much umbrage as applause. Far more important additions made at the same time, parody and satire, have almost gone unnoticed. Their protection was long overdue.

The first case in Canada to address parody against a charge of copyright infringement was Ludlow Music Inc. v. Canint Music Corp (1967). The dispute centred on the song This Land Is Your Land, written by Woody Guthrie (1912-1967). Canadian songwriter Alec Somerville, of The Brothers In Law, crafted new lyrics to Guthrie’s tune and retitled the song as This Land Is Whose Land.

But distribution was short lived. In a case which began on 6 April 1967 and ended on 10 April 1967, Somerville’s creation was declared as infringing upon the copyright of Woody Guthrie’s work. Jackett P. of the Exchequer Court of Canada granted an injunction restraining further sales of the album.

It must be noted that royalties were offered for use of the tune of Guthrie’s creation, under the premise that there were two copyrights at issue: (1) the copyright of the tune and (2) the copyright of the lyrics. While Somerville relied on Guthrie’s tune, Somerville’s lyrics were entirely his own creation. However, that offer was rejected and Jackett P. decided that both tune and lyrics are encircled by a song’s copyright.

Ironically, the tune was hardly Guthrie’s alone. Nick Spitzer of NPR writes:

Guthrie had a keen ear for the recordings of Virginia’s Carter Family, and he was not afraid to borrow. A 1930 gospel recording, “When the World’s on Fire,” sung by the Carters, must have provided the tune for what would become “This Land Is Your Land.”

In Ramblin Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (2004), biographer Ed Cray further traces the tune to the southern gospel hymn Oh my loving brother. But this too is hardly surprising. Creative effort necessarily relies, consciously or not, on borrowed aspects of earlier works–creativity is always a collaborative undertaking. Skillful borrowing is the very essence of parody as it must capture the distinctiveness of the original creation and the creator.

An essay published in The Spectator on 20 May 1853, makes this point forcefully:

Every line ought to make us say, that is pure Tennyson or pure Browning, as the case may be; though the notion of the poem as a whole being connected with Tennyson’s or Browning’s name, should be an instant cause of laughter. … The parodist, then, to be successful, must have the most delicate sense of literary form and the fullest sympathy of comprehension for the work of those he parodies, as well as a true sense of humour and a special dexterity in the use of words and phrases.

That capacity, to invoke an original, to have a fullest sympathy of comprehension of the parodied work, as well as to couple humour with dexterity when crafting a new work, might have been written with Somerville in mind. Just as Guthrie’s work was in reaction to the  syrupy nature of Irving Berlin’s creation God Bless America, Somerville provided a more accurate and irreverent view of Canadian history. His variation on Guthrie’s song was expressly intended for release in 1967, the year of Canada’s centenary. (The album carrying the song was titled Exposé 67.)

Yet that fact likely added to the problem; the dispute was not settled on musicology alone. In 1959, Ludlow Music Inc. had licensed Guthrie’s work for adaptation and distribution in Canada, via revisions prepared and performed by The Travellers. The rights for this authorized Canadian version were held by Ludlow Music Inc. and the song was to play a prominent part in the centennial celebrations of 1967:

This song is a patriotic song and has been widely distributed in schools throughout Canada. The song will again be published in 1967 by the Centennial Commission in the songbook “Young Canada Sings — “Le Jeune Canada Chante”, 10,000 copies of the songbook will be distributed throughout Canada. Attached … is a copy of a letter from The Centennial Commission to Ludlow Music, Incorporated requesting permission to use the song “This Land is Your Land”. Ludlow Music, Inc., has consented to such use in both 1966 and 1967 (para. 11).

Ludlow Music Inc., unimpressed with Somerville’s work, sought to protect the innocence of the Canadian public:

… the use of words which are in bad taste and insulting to the Canadian public with the music of the composition “This Land is Your Land” will cause incalculable damage to the Plaintiff and destroy the meaning and acceptance of the song in the minds of the Canadian public (para. 12).

It is difficult to assess Canadian sensibilities of 49 years ago, but likely we are more resilient today. Canadians may judge for themselves, the merits of This Land Is Whose Land.

 

 

 

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