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Why a non-profit is pressing for 'right to repair' legislation in Canada

Both provincial and federal governments are getting pressed to enact "right to repair" legislation for electronic devices such as smartphones and computers.

OpenMedia petition has amassed more than 11,000 signatures

Laura Tribe, executive director of OpenMedia, wants 'right to repair' legislation across Canada.

A Canadian non-profit that advocates for an open and affordable internet wants Ottawa to make electronic devices like smartphones easier to fix. 

Less than two months ago, OpenMedia started a petition calling on the federal government to put in place "right to repair" legislation. It's garnered more than 11,000 signatures and raised thousands of dollars. 

"[Electronics are] treated as disposable," said executive director Laura Tribe. "There's nothing that will increase your cell phone bill more than dropping and shattering your screen."

Tribe says government legislation would force electronics giants to give consumers and small businesses the tools to repair those shattered screens, and other problems with brand-name gadgets, by forcing companies to make manuals, software and parts available at a "reasonable and non-discriminatory price." 

Currently, many devices can only be repaired by the manufacturer or not at all, she says. 

"We're really making sure people have the power to really own their devices." 

Ontario's 'right to repair' bill 

Earlier in May, the Ontario government voted down a private member's bill aimed at making tech repairs easier introduced by Liberal MPP Michael Coteau at second reading. 

Days before the vote, Coteau said in the Legislature, "[The current approach] forces people, too often, to simply throw away a product rather than repairing that product and supporting a local business that does that." 

Liberal MPP Michael Coteau tabled a private member's bill that was voted down in early May. (CBC)

When asked by Coteau if he would support the bill, Minister of Government and Consumer Services Bill Walker said the law would ultimately "limit consumer choice" by making electronics harder to access as businesses could choose not to bring new products to market in the province. 

"It would worsen Ontario's business climate, driving away innovation and jobs," he said, adding the bill would affect the intellectual property of the companies. 

Coteau is confident the bill will come up again in the legislature even if he's the one who revives it.

"We need to have some say and some control in the world around us when it comes to digital devices," he told CBC News. 

'Terrible for the environment'

Greenpeace points to another concern, arguing a law would be environmentally friendly.

"It reduces the amount of waste, particularly electronic waste," said Keith Stewart, the environmental groups's energy analyst. 

Stewart used his washing machine at home as an example. He paid for a repair person who told him the device was done. His son, however, quickly found a solution to the problem by looking up a video online. 

"The government claims to be for the little guy," he said. "This is how you can concretely help the little guy."

The federal Office of Consumer Affairs told CBC News it "supports consumer interest research and undertakes analysis on marketplace issues to inform and support public policy development."

However, it pointed out that the "right to repair" falls under provincial jurisdiction. 

OpenMedia says it hopes the federal government will step in once it presents the petition. 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller, dabbling in camping, canoeing and crafting. Email Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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