Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate on Bill C-11. This is not the first time I have had to debate the issue of copyright.
Back in the 1990s, which dates me somewhat, because some people would say I am a veteran as I have been here for awhile, we dealt with copyright law. I think it was Bill C-32 at the time, although I would need to verify that. We were confronted then with the same things that Bill C-11 confronts us with now, which is the necessity for balance between the rights of consumers, of artists and of the creators of the material that is consumed, to put it crassly. Unfortunately, it seems to us that we are not striking that balance right now.
There is no denying that there are some good things in the bill and that there is strong support for it in certain quarters. However, the reality is that it is the same bill that was before the House in the previous Parliament. A number of people who came before committee at that time indicated a desire for changes. We thought there was substantive progress in terms of where we could effect some change to strike a better balance within the bill and yet we are now confronted with the same bill without any changes whatsoever.
Perhaps the most popular provision of the bill is the one that would allow Canadians to transfer the material they bought from one platform to another. In layman's terms, it means that when people by a CD they can transfer it onto their iPod or computer as a backup and not be faced with criminal charges. That is appropriate because I would suspect that in this day and age that is what most people do. People transfer their music to their computer so that they can transfer it to their iPod and manipulate it to have playlists and whatnot. Personally, I think it is quite appropriate that Canadians who are paying for copyrighted material should be able to use it on their own platform, but not for the purposes of transferring it to friends, selling it or whatever. The bill recognizes that, as it should, and, therefore, we would be tempted to support the bill on that basis alone.
However, out comes the digital lock. The way it came about is, to say the least, very troubling. We now have good evidence that this is as a result of pressure from our neighbours to the south. We even had evidence that two government ministers had asked the United States' authorities to put Canada on the list of piracy to put greater pressure on parliamentarians to adopt the bill back then and to justify the existence of the digital lock. That adds a major sticking point and one that causes great imbalance. If we give anyone the right to prevent owners of copyrighted material to use it for their personal pleasure and benefit, we give that right away to large corporations because they put a digital lock on works that have been purchased and paid for legitimately. It skews the bill entirely and destroys whatever balance might be there. On that basis alone, it causes a great deal of difficulty.
There are other difficulties. We might be going a little too far with the exceptions on education. We have heard a number of artistic groups say that they were concerned and worried about that.
We thought that the amendments that were introduced might perhaps be woven into the Bill C-11 edition of the bill but that seems not to be the case. Therefore, we have another imbalance that has been created here that we had hoped would have been addressed but has not been.
I will tell the House a bit about what happened back in the nineties with that bill and why I would be opposed to it now.
I was on the government side. We had the bill before us. We had over 50 witnesses come forward. It was obvious that this chasm, which we are seeing again, was prevalent then between the distributors and the creators of copyrighted material. We were rapidly going into a logjam. I became very sympathetic to the plight of the artistic creators, those who were creating this material, because, without them, the entire industry would not exist. We need to protect the rights of the artists in our country.
To break the logjam that seemed to be coming, I introduced from the government side, imagine that, four amendments to my government's legislation. It did not sit well with everyone, and I recognize that, but the four amendments were actually carried at committee and became part of the bill.
One of the amendments was to change the definition which ever so slightly tilted the legislation at that point in favour of the creators. It was to define what a reasonable effort to find the owner of the copyright would be. In the first definition, it was that one went to one or two stores to find the owner of the copyright. That would be very easy to do, but not really fruitful in terms of a real search of who owned the copyright.
I introduced the motion that a reasonable effort to identify and find the owner of the copyright would be to refer to a collective. A collective, of course, is the creation of artists and artistic communities to defend their rights, to defend their copyright. By the way, I know it has been said and I will repeat it, copyright is not the right to copy. Unfortunately, too many people see it that way.
To defend the rights of the copyright, the right of the owner, the creator, we said that a reasonable effort would be to go to the collectives that represent that group of artists. That definition was accepted. It is in the law now and it is what protects.
I am saying this as an example that at the time we had a committee that could and would change the government's legislation, even amendments coming from the government side. I do not think we will see much of that in this Parliament, unfortunately. If I thought we could see some of the government members willing to put amendments forward, say, to get rid of the digital locks, then I might be tempted to support sending the bill to committee so that we could see the constructive work of committees at play, but we are not likely to see that.
My experience, unfortunately, in this Parliament is that the government's majority shuts down anything coming from the opposition side. We have seen it with Bill C-10, so much so that now with Bill C-10, the Senate has had to correct the lack of appropriate dealing with bills in this House.
I have seen it in my own committee where every constructive suggestion coming from either the NDP or the Liberals is automatically shut down. Not seeing any willingness on the government side to be constructive in terms of real work at committee stage, I am reluctant to support sending the bill to committee, because there is this digital lock and there are other provisions.
The bill eliminates ephemeral rights, an important source of income for artists. Given this government's obstinacy, we have no choice but to challenge it.
I will give another example which is a little bit off topic, but I think you will see the relevance, Mr. Speaker.
In the Liberal minority government, we introduced a notion that we would refer bills to committee before second reading so that committees had a chance to work at the bill constructively. The government always had the ability to stop anything that came forward that was way out of line by just not going any further with the legislation.
Two-thirds of our legislation was referred to committee before second reading. It gave the opposition side of the House, at the time the Reform Party, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, a chance to really exercise their craft as legislators positively and constructively. It worked, and by and large, it worked well. Parliamentarians did their job properly. The committee engaged in real work. The witnesses knew they could come to committee and offer constructive suggestions, positive amendments, and that they would be considered.
The Conservative government never does that, not even when it was in a minority situation. Therefore, given all of that, we cannot help but vote against the bill.