Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak against Bill C-52, an act to amend the Radiocommunication Act. According to the Liberals, we need this bill to fight the “financial and cultural damage that illegal satellite dishes and the piracy of intellectual property have caused in our country”.
It is interesting that just today the Minister of Canadian Heritage tabled the response of her department to the report that was put forward by the heritage committee, of which I am vice-chair, on the state of broadcasting in Canada.
What is interesting is that in spite of this urgency, the minister in her response was totally silent on this issue. Let me repeat this very serious thing that they are talking about, that they have to fight the financial and cultural damage that illegal satellite dishes and the piracy of intellectual property have caused in the country.
This line of reasoning happens to come directly from a June 2003 presentation to the Liberal caucus by the Coalition Against Satellite Signal Theft. The coalition made a presentation to the Liberal caucus, but it should not be too surprising that the minister was paying particular attention because the coalition members did, after all, donate 25% of her spending limit in the 2000 election, or over $15,000 to the election campaign of the Minister of Canadian Heritage. One would have to say that it obviously got her attention.
On page 18 of the coalition's presentation, it calls for increasing fines for individuals watching unauthorized television from $5,000 to $25,000 and a year in prison. It also calls for a restriction of imports of dish network and direct television systems and the seizure of such systems at the border.
Bill C-52 implements every recommendation of the coalition. It is interesting to note that Bill C-52 was first read on October 22 this year, roughly a month before the CRTC's November 14 deadline for public submissions on how to best support Canadian television drama. Presumably those submissions could have informed the debate on Bill C-52, as we struggled with issues about grey market and black market and the most important issue of all, how to encourage more Canadians to watch more Canadian programming, stories about Canadians by Canadians and for Canadians. However, the government is more interested in doing what it is being directed to do by the people who were the major donors to the minister's last election.
Our objective is to encourage Canadian programming. Bill C-52 is a big step backward and may in fact be counterproductive. Further, I do not believe that Bill C-52 is even necessary to solve the problems identified by the Coalition Against Satellite Theft to the Liberal caucus.
In Canada at present there are two authorized satellite service companies; Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice. The first of these, Bell ExpressVu, has a serious problem with people stealing its signals. For example, on October 21, 2002, Quebecor president, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, told the CRTC of a fall 2000 Léger marketing survey showing that fully 20% of Bell ExpressVu's 1.2 million subscribers were not paying for the service. He said:
ExpressVu's system is so simple, it possesses an irresistible attraction to hackers and signal pirates.
He went on to say:
ExpressVu should be forced to improve its system to deter hackers and pirates.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters agreed saying that ExpressVu should regularly report to the CRTC on the number of receivers it had sold and the number of active and inactive accounts.
We know that Bell ExpressVu has a much bigger problem with hackers and pirates than Star Choice, primarily because Star Choice uses Motorola's proprietary video distribution system DigiCipher II just as Canada's digital cable services do. I am unaware of a coalition to stop digital cable theft or major signal problems for Star Choice. Therefore, presumably a fairly significant part of the problem with people stealing Bell ExpressVu signals is within the company's own ability to fix it.
Bell ExpressVu and the Coalition Against Satellite Signal Theft are not just concerned about the people who steal their signals. They are also concerned about people who steal the signals of American satellite service companies like Dish Network and DirecTV.
Therefore, the Liberal government wants to crack on the people who are stealing the signals of Dish Network and DirecTV. Essentially the coalition says that if Canadians are able to get free TV channels by stealing from Dish Network and DirecTV, there is little incentive for people to subscribe to ExpressVu, or Star Choice or digital cable. Of course I agree. However before we agree to spend taxpayer money to solve the problem, we need to ask what the coalition members have done.
For example, this is really instructive. People who watch Dish Network or DirecTV need to know what is on. Many people subscribe to a magazine called Satellite Direct . It is a TV guide published “exclusively for owners of DirecTV system”. It is what one reads if one wants to find out what is on tomorrow night on HBO Showtime or ESPN. Here is the interesting thing. The magazine is published by Vogel Communications which is the same Edmonton based company that publishes Vu Magazine , the official guide for Bell ExpressVu satellite system. If one is looking for people stealing DirecTV or Dish Network signals, we might think that one of the first places to start would be the subscription list of a Canadian magazine that tells black market television watchers what is on next week. However, instead of going after Vogel, Bell ExpressVu contracts with it to publish ExpressVu's own TV guide.
I am going to repeat that because it is so astounding that Bell ExpressVu contracts with Vogel for ExpressVu's TV guide and the same publisher publishes a magazine called Satellite Direct which is the way that the black market viewers can see what is on their black market channels. Therefore, we have a situation where Bell ExpressVu is calling on the taxpayer to solve a problem that is well within the corporation's own grasp, but it does not end there.
The Liberals at the coalition's urging are now planning to block the import of Dish Network and DirecTV systems and seize them at the border. Before we consider such a drastic step, we should ask what steps this government and the coalition will take to ensure that no Canadian dishes are sold in the U.S., which of course is zero.
Not only does Bill C-52 call for tax dollars to be spent fixing problems within the coalition's reach, it also discriminates against many minority groups.
What about the grey market? This is where Canadians use a fictitious U.S. address to subscribe to satellite channels that are not distributed by ExpressVu or Star Choice. Often these are minority cultural and religious programming for which there is not a large domestic market and subscribers are paying far more money for each channel received than either Bell ExpressVu or Star Choice would charge for a similar domestic channel.
In our view the deployment of any existing or new police resources to patrol neighbourhood for satellites rather than criminals is inappropriate and wasteful.
I watched a program last night that talked about the terrible scourge of child pornography and child pornography rings and the fact that the investigators were incapable, simply because of an overload of work, to get to this terrible scourge in our society. Yet the government is actually be thinking of deploying police resources to patrol neighbourhoods to find out what people are watching on their home television. That is disgraceful.
The Liberal government and the Coalition Against Satellite Signal Theft speak in terms of promoting Canadian culture and the potential unravelling of the Canadian broadcasting system. These are serious allegations so we need to look at both of them.
First, let us look at promoting culture. Bell ExpressVu's website prominently features the logos of ABC, Citytv, CBS, Fox, NBC and A&E, but only one of these is Canadian. The mailouts that Bell ExpressVu sends to subscribers highlights U.S. movies like Bringing Down the House, Chicago and Daredevil. The movie network is owned by Astral Media, whose chairman of the board, Andre Bureau, gave $5,000 to the 2000 election campaign of the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The network bills itself as a “Canadian premier pay-tv channel” and has written promotional materials that state that the movie network offers the “Best of HBO and Showtime”.
With all due respect to the government, the Coalition Against Satellite Theft, Bell ExpressVu and Astral Media, I do not consider The Sopranos, Six Feet Under or Curb your Enthusiasm to be very reflective of Canadian culture.
The fact is that the average English speaking Canadian can easily spend an entire evening watching TV without seeing a single minute of Canadian programming.
Quite simply, the past practices of giving Canadian satellite companies and broadcasters special TV channels exclusive rights to broadcast foreign, mostly U.S., programs in Canada in exchange for a promise to produce quality Canadian drama is not working. The two things are not related.
If we were to say to the U.S. that we would let its satellite companies distribute U.S. content in Canada if it distributes Canadian programming in the U.S. and around the world, we would face two problems. There would be huge opposition from Canadian companies that make big profits from distributing U.S. programming in Canada, and we would find out that we are really short on good quality content. That is why the CRTC is looking at supporting Canadian television drama.
In the study that our committee did, it was clearly demonstrated that the volume of Canadian drama has actually increased but that viewership has decreased. It is an issue of quality, not quantity.
Now let us consider the potential unravelling of the Canadian Broadcasting System. When we buy a Star Choice or ExpressVu system we can time-shift. In theory we could watch the same program five times in a single evening. In practice it means we can watch Law and Order at 10 p.m. eastern time on Wednesday night on any one of seven CTV stations. At the same time, viewers in Lloydminister, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Kitchener and Ottawa cannot find their local CTV station, even though Bell owns CTV.
Local news is a big part of Canadian content and it is being ignored by Canada's satellite companies. In the U.S., the satellite home viewer improvement act of 1999 prevents satellite companies from transmitting a national network signal into a home if that transmission would compete with a local affiliate.
No one needs seven stations carrying Law and Order but all Canadians have a real interest in local news from their community. Local news is part of what defines local communities and keeps them together.
Bill C-52 would focus taxpayer dollars on problems that Bell ExpressVu can solve by itself. It hurts ethnic and religious groups and does not offer an additional minute of Canadian quality drama. Finally, it ignores the erosion of local news.
We in the Canadian Alliance believe that the legal reception of Canadian satellite signal in the U.S. would open up a market 10 times the size of the Canadian market and expose Canadian content if we were to enter into a reciprocal agreement with the U.S. that the legal reception of American satellite signal could be received in Canada legally.
What we would give for the ability of Canadians and Canadian content to have 10 times the exposure is the issue here. What we should be doing is entering into an understanding that there is no conceivable way that this law or any other law will enable the government, the regulators, to stop Canadians from accessing the programs that they want.
We propose that the government negotiate with the U.S. to allow signal reception on both sides of the border. We are aware there are program ownership issues and copyright issues but we are also aware that there is technology that would permit control of reception of signal. We want Canadians to have choice. We want the market to decide. Technology continues to evolve that will not permit the control of signal. Canadians want choice.
The bill is an ill-thought bill. The bill completely ignores technological reality. The bill is unenforceable unless we are prepared to deploy many hundreds of millions of dollars to a police force to go up and down our streets to find out what people are watching in their own homes.
The argument that the government will propose, of course, is that it will stop the equipment from coming in across the border. What happened with cigarettes? When the government increased the taxes and said that it would be creating more of a barrier to cigarettes, although they are very small they come in very large cartons, those cartons continued to come into Canada.
If we are in the business of creating law in Canada, we must create law that is actually enforceable. We must create law that has the support of Canadians, otherwise we simply encourage anarchy.
I say again that what will happen is that technology will overtake the ability to regulate the theft of satellite signal.
The bill, as I stated, is an ill-thought bill. The bill is one that is simply reflective of going after the end user. The bill is simply reflective of where the government wants to go in some kind of a world that really in fact does not exist.
We want there to be a proper control and proper regulation within the marketplace and Bill C-52 does not cut it.