Copyright debate cut short for second time

After sitting on a Commons committee report for nearly two months, the Harper government has limited the final stages of debate on its long-awaited changes to the Copyright Act.

Government passes second time allocation motion to limit Commons debate on C-11

The Harper government has reached for the hammer once more to limit debate on a piece of priority legislation.

C-11, the government's bill to change the Copyright Act, was up for its first day of debate at report stage Monday when Government House Leader Peter Van Loan gave notice of a motion to limit debate on the final stages of the bill.

The time allocation motion passed Tuesday morning.

It's the second time Van Loan has intervened to speed the passage of C-11; in early February, the government limited debate at second reading.

The Copyright Act has not been updated since 1997. Changes were promised in the Conservatives' re-election platform, to "make Canada a leader in the global digital economy" and align Canada "with international standards."

When C-11 was introduced in September, Heritage Minister James Moore suggested it would be passed before Christmas.

While many elements of the complex and wide-ranging legislation were well-received and seen as overdue, some artists remain concerned about lost revenue with the proposed changes. 

C-11's provisions on "digital locks," used to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution, have been criticized as too restrictive, particularly for individuals or educational institutions.

Moore says the bill successfully balances competing interests and has dismissed its critics, even refering to opponents last June as "radical extremists."

Bill amended at committee

C-11 mirrors legislation from the previous Parliament that died when the 2011 election was called. A Commons committee was reviewing the legislation at the time, and Moore suggested that re-introducing the exact same bill would make it easier for a new committee to pick up where the previous one left off.

In fact, while the special Commons committee to review C-11 was formed promptly last fall, the vote at second reading (to send it to committee for study) didn't happen until February.

After that, the committee met 11 times, hearing from expert witnesses and reporting back to the House March 15.

Conservative MPs brought forward eight amendments and used their majority on the committee to pass them, while defeating other NDP and Liberal amendments.

The amendments reported back to the Commons are mostly technical. In a few places, MPs were told, the changes bring the bill more in line with industry standards.

In one instance, an amendment clarifies "private use" as applying to one individual, not a small group of family or friends.

Another provision in C-11 seeks to protect disabled individuals or organizations acting on their behalf from Copyright Act violations when amending digital property to improve its accessibility (adding captioning or descriptive video, for example). A government amendment to strengthen this provision had opposition support at committee, although MPs argued it did not go far enough.

A further amendment attempts to clarify the much-discussed "notice" provisions that would require internet service providers to notify customers who may be violating copyright, including changing the requirement to do so from "without delay" to "as soon as feasible."

One final day of debate left

Bloc MP André Bellavance and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who were not on the special committee that studied C-11, introduced more amendments during the report stage debate Monday. 

The Speaker allowed some opposition amendments to stand because they were sufficiently different from those considered at committee. But after the report stage debate ended on Tuesday evening, the House voted down all the opposition amendments, one by one.

Later on Tuesday evening, the House voted to concur with the committee's amendments and the bill passed at report stage.

When Van Loan proposed time allocation for the second time Monday, he noted the bill was on its 11th day of debate in the House, and reminded MPs the bill had been the subject of "extensive hearings" in the current and previous Parliament, hearing from "almost 200 witnesses."

The final day of debate at third reading and the final Commons vote before the bill moves on to the Senate have not been scheduled.


  • This story has been changed from an earlier version which said that C-30 contains a provision for the addition of subtitles to improve accessibility for the disabled, when in fact the bill provides for captioning.
    May 16, 2012 9:16 PM ET