Meera Nair

An Open Letter

In Posts on February 20, 2010 at 9:55 am

February 20, 2010

Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Industry
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Re: Copyright for Canadians

Dear Minister Clement,

In September 2009 I responded to the Federal Government’s call for input towards revision of Canada’s copyright law. You and your colleague, Minister Moore, appeared genuine in your efforts to design a copyright policy that will be forward thinking and operate for the betterment of all Canadians. As previous ministers of both Liberal and Conservative inclination have shown a disturbing tendency to look to the American entertainment industry for input to Canadian law, your position was a refreshing change. However, my optimism has faded in light of the following matter.

During the consultations the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) attended a town hall meeting in Toronto. As speakers were to be chosen by lottery, the students were aware that they might not be afforded the opportunity to speak. They prepared a flyer stating the CFS position on copyright and tried to distribute it amongst other attendees. Their proposal included: expanded fair dealing, regulation of technological protection measures, a proposal of “notice and notice” to limit ISP liability, and the elimination of crown copyright. Notably, this position is shared by many Canadians, including those involved in the high-technology growth industries, education, and the independent music industry. This same position would also be described as anathema to the American-backed members of the entertainment sector.

The distribution of the flyer was halted by the event’s organizers and security staff informed the students to desist or be removed from the premises. That representatives of the Federal Government of Canada felt the need to prevent the peaceful distribution of a flyer is discouraging at best and a violation of Charter rights at worst. I asked my Member of Parliament, Bill Siksay, to investigate the matter.

Mr. Siksay’s office forwarded to me the response received from your ministry. In a letter signed in your name, it states:

The town hall events were very popular and the Toronto event filled up weeks in advance. Recognizing that time would not permit everyone a chance to speak, a lottery system was used to give all participants an equal opportunity to make their views known. As I understand, CFS chose to distribute leaflets at the event in response to this lottery system. Based on the need to ensure that participants at the event were able to efficiently and securely register and access the meeting room, CFS representatives were requested to not conduct this activity at the venue.

I asked Ben Lewis, the Communication Coordinator of the CFS, for a comment on this letter. He indicated that neither he, nor any other students involved, had been contacted by the Minister’s office. He concluded saying:

The notion Mr. Clement puts forward that our handing out of flyers to interested parties in any way interfered with registration for the event is completely unfounded.
Respectfully,
Ben Lewis

It is perplexing that the students were not offered the opportunity to explain their actions. Instead of extending that measure of courtesy, governmental staff chose to malign the behavior of the students. Far beyond any concerns I have of copyright law, this event further diminishes the integrity of the Federal Government of Canada.

A colleague of mine has often told me that such integrity exists only in the eyes of the naive; regrettably, he may be right. However, at this time I choose to believe otherwise and ask that you redress this matter.

Sincerely,

Meera Nair, Ph.D.
Burnaby, BC

cc: Bill Siksay, Honourable Member of Parliament
cc: Canadian Federation of Students

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