Want to be able to fix your own smart devices? Guelph group says now's the time to speak up

Cambridge MP Bryan May has introduced a bill that would stop manufacturers from requiring broken smart devices be sent to authorized individuals for repair. The bill has received support from the Guelph Tool Library and volunteers there are calling on others to speak out.

From special screws to need for heat guns, repairs can be tricky, says Guelph Tool Library member

Cambridge MP Bryan May, who introduced the private members bill in February to allow people the right to repair their own devices, says everybody has a story about an appliance that they have that breaks down, and 'it's cheaper to buy a new one than it is to fix it. And they just sort of accept it.' (Jon Castell/CBC)

A federal private members bill that would allow people to repair a broken cellphone or smart devices rather than replace it is receiving local support from the Guelph Tool Library and Repair Cafe.

"There's lots of benefits to repairing things," says Michaela Rye, the COVID-19 outreach co-ordinator for the Guelph Tool Library which also runs a repair café.

"We try to divert as much waste from landfills as possible by repairing things," she said of the repair café, but noted some companies make it really difficult for them to do that.

"Unless you have the skills or the expertise to repair something, it's not a sustainable option for anyone which results in lots of impacts on our environment," Rye said.

She said not having the right to repair a device can also be costly, particularly for people on lower incomes.

That's why Rye and the tool library not only support a new private member's bill that would give people the right to repair their own devices — they're advocating for others to join them in speaking out.

"We're trying our hardest to get the word out, get connected across Canada with repair cafes and tool libraries to spread the word to lobby each MP to vote in favour of this," she said.

Law being used in way 'never intended'

Bill C-272 is a private members bill introduced by Cambridge MP Bryan May. It would amend the Copyright Act in Canada. Current rules make it difficult for people to fix broken smart devices on their own. Instead, broken items need to be sent back to the manufacturer to be fixed.

The manufacturers "are utilizing the Copyright Act in a way that it was never intended," May said in an interview.

"You have to send it back to that particular manufacturer. You can't take it to the repair shop. You can't go to have a technician repair it by your choice or if you have the skill set, you don't have the right to repair," he said.

May said manufacturers have created technological protection measures, or TPMs, that restrict the ability for a device to be diagnosed, maintained or repaired by anyone not authorized to do so.

He says if his bill is passed, it would be up to the provinces to mandate companies to provide better manuals and diagnostic tools to repair the product. That would cover anything with computer capability to be fixed from smart phones, gaming consoles, appliances, vehicles, and tractors.

May introduced the bill in February and it passed second reading on June 2. It's expected further discussions would continue this fall, unless there's a federal election called before then.

Bryan May is the MP for Cambridge. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Difficulty doing repairs

Rye says it's unfair smartphone companies make it difficult to open a phone for a simple repair.

"A lot of times they use things like special screws that no one has or different things, so it either makes it impossible to do the repair or you need to go through them specifically," Rye said.

"Now we're getting waterproof or water resistant things, it's hard to break into the back. And you need things like heat guns to tamper with the phone."

Rye said while right now, they're talking about cellphones and smart appliances, the right to repair could eventually expand to people's vehicles.

She said the tool library has connected with 30 similar organizations across Canada and they're planning an online conference for September to discuss the issue further.