Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-11, an act to amend the Copyright Act which concerns access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities.
Over 800,000 Canadians live with blindness or partial sight, and around three million Canadians are print disabled. This includes impairments related to comprehension, such as autism, and impairments related to the inability to hold or manipulate a book, such as Parkinson's. Around the world, there are more than 314 million people living with blindness or visual impairments, 90% of whom live in developing countries.
I am one of those people. I am very significantly visually impaired. In fact, I am legally blind, which means that I have less than 10% corrective vision. That is not a lot of vision and one cannot read a lot when one has that vision. That is why I am so very pleased to be personally speaking to this very important piece of legislation.
Persons with print disabilities need to be able to read and access information to participate in society, including in the job market. However, there is a significant shortage of accessible books. Of the million or so books published each year, less than 7% are made available in formats accessible to visually impaired persons. What that means for somebody like me is that when I walk into a bookstore or a library, I do not get to choose what I read. My decisions are motivated by what material is available for me to read.
While there are audio books and e-books on the market, these formats are not typically accessible for someone who lives with blindness or print disabilities. For example, many commercial audio books or e-books are not easily navigable by a person with a print disability.
The shortage is also caused by the fact that copyright laws are inconsistent among countries, making it difficult to share accessible books across borders.
The Marrakesh treaty was negotiated to address this problem. This treaty establishes international standards for exceptions in national copyright laws to permit the making, distributing, importing, and exporting of accessible books. The goal is to facilitate the global exchange in accessible materials for the benefit of persons with print disabilities all over the world. Following the negotiation of the treaty, over 80 countries signed it. To date, 16 countries have either ratified or acceded to the treaty. These include Israel, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, Brazil, Mali, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, India, El Salvador, the Republic of Korea, and Mongolia. The treaty will not come into force until 20 countries have ratified or acceded to it.
I am proud to say that we have introduced legislation in the House that would bring our copyright law in line with the Marrakesh treaty. Canada is playing an important role in working with other countries to bring the treaty into force internationally. The first step in Canada's domestic process is to pass this legislation, which will position us for the next step: accession to the treaty.
The legislation will make several targeted but important changes to Canada's copyright law to ensure that we meet the requirements of the treaty. For example, the bill will permit users to make large-print books subject to certain safeguards such as commercial availability limitations. In addition, the bill will expand the scope for making and providing, or providing access to, accessible copies outside of Canada by removing the limitations with respect to the nationality of the author.
Another important change the bill will make is to the technological protection measures, or digital locks, in the legislation. The bill clarifies that circumvention of digital locks will be acceptable as long as it will be for the purpose of providing access to persons with perceptual disabilities, and to permit persons with perceptual disabilities, or those helping them, to benefit from the exceptions for persons with perceptual and print disabilities.
The bill will also provide for exporting accessible format copies directly to beneficiary persons outside of Canada. The law will be clarified to indicate that organizations such as libraries could provide or provide access to accessible format copies directly to the beneficiary persons outside of Canada. However, they could only do so on the condition that the beneficiary person had made a request through a non-profit organization in the country to which the accessible format copy would be sent.
Another area of protection for copyright owners is the provision of moral rights. The amended act will continue to provide protections for these important rights, ensuring that users will respect the integrity of the work and reputation of the creator when making and providing adapted copies.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the benefits that will result from the coming into force of this treaty.
First, there will be greater access to books for persons with visual impairment or print disabilities, for example, in Braille and audio formats. This will include improved access to materials in Canada's minority languages and in French, reflecting the diversity of our Canadian culture.
Many different groups of Canadians with disabilities will benefit from this initiative. Students will have better access to print materials, helping them continue with their studies and better engage in the Canadian workforce. According to recent survey data, approximately 30% of students with visual impairments discontinue their education, which is significantly higher than the national average. They do not have access to books. They do not have access to printed materials.
Many Canadians will have the opportunity to enter in the labour force because of this legislation. Current data suggests that approximately one-third of Canadians with a visual impairment are not in the labour force.
Seniors, the group with the highest rate of visual impairment, will have better access to reading materials, which will help them maintain their quality of life.
Canadians from minority language groups will have better access to books in a variety of languages.
Schools, libraries and charitable organizations that work with Canadians with disabilities will benefit from reduced duplication in the production of accessible material.
I will pause here to talk briefly about the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. What this would do for the CNIB, and those of us who are clients of the CNIB, is quite frankly revolutionary.
There are innovations that we can bring to bear to facilitate the making and sending of accessible materials, thus increasing access through a global network.
Second, while the legislation would expand the exceptions for accessible materials for persons with perceptual disabilities already in our law, it would also include safeguards so that copyright owners would be encouraged to provide commercially available versions and continue to be able to enforce their copyrights against copyright pirates.
Once the Marrakesh treaty is in force, organizations that make accessible format copies of books, such as braille and audio versions, will benefit from resource sharing. According to the CNIB, the cost of creating an accessible format version of a book can range from $1,500 to $5,000 per title. Allowing organizations to exchange copies across borders would result in access to a wider range of books in a variety of languages. It would also result in a more efficient use of resources. These benefits would not just apply in terms of access to the arts. It would support access to a greater variety of books, including textbooks and for research, expanding opportunities for people with perceptual disabilities.
Implementing the Marrakesh treaty is a priority for our government because we realize that creating a more inclusive environment for Canadians with disabilities reflects our collective values and fosters greater opportunities for all Canadians. Libraries, education institutions and organizations that help persons with visual impairment or print disabilities would benefit and be better able to support the education and employment of persons with disabilities.
Canada has an opportunity now to be one of the first 20 countries to ratify or accede Marrakesh, the number required to bring the treaty into force.
I encourage all hon. members to support the swift passage of this important legislation. There is no reason that Canadians with disabilities should have to wait for access to literature that will enable them to better participate in our economy and in our society. More can be done to ensure that copyright laws do not create additional barriers for those with a print disability and that users have access to the latest and best published materials from around the world.
Let us be leaders, not just in Canada but also on the international stage. Let us show the world how persons with disabilities are treated in Canada, which is with respect and dignity. Let us continue to forge a path toward an active and inclusive Canada.