Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to speak to Bill C-8, the combating counterfeit products act. I am happy to say that the bill passed through the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology with all-party support. The committee heard many witnesses and introduced a number of amendments that improve this important piece of legislation.
However, before I speak to the particulars of Bill C-8, allow me to remind the House of the important measures that our government has already taken and will continue to take to support Canadian consumers. In the recent Speech from the Throne, the government committed to taking strong action to protect consumers and families that is aimed at lowering prices, enhancing access and choice, and ensuring fair treatment.
The modernization of our intellectual property laws has also brought real benefits to consumers. Last year, Canada's long-standing copyright laws were updated and brought into the 21st century through the Copyright Modernization Act. The amended copyright act allows for legitimate and commonplace actions by Canadian consumers to be protected under copyright law. Canadians no longer have to be concerned about the legalities of time shifting television programs on their personal video recorders, transferring music from their CD collection to their MP3 player, or remixing music or videos for non-commercial purposes and sharing it on social media. By enacting the Copyright Modernization Act, the government listened to the concerns of Canadian consumers and provided them with legitimate protection for their actions. Canada now has a modern copyright regime that will play a critical role in protecting and creating jobs in Canada's digital economy.
It is the resolve of our government to continue to bring forward legislation that empowers Canadian consumers and instills confidence in the marketplace.
It is in this spirit that I will speak to Bill C-8, which addresses the real need for protection against allowing counterfeit goods to enter Canada. By reducing the trade in counterfeit goods, the bill would help protect our economy, support innovation, and benefit both businesses and consumers. For years, Canadian stakeholders in the business community have been seeking improvements to our intellectual property laws in order to better tackle the problem of counterfeiting and piracy. They have told us repeatedly that Canadian brands and works are being copied and taken advantage of, causing hardship not only to legitimate businesses but also to Canadian consumers.
Let me reiterate: counterfeit trademark goods are not only harmful to the economy, but they are often made without regard to Canadian health and safety standards which could harm consumers and their families. How so? Consumers could inadvertently buy counterfeit products that look like the real thing but could cause significant harm. For example, witness testimony at the industry committee mentioned several dangerous products. The CSA group talked about counterfeit circuit breakers found in a hospital in Quebec that were supplying power to life support equipment. Committee members were shown a video of a counterfeit circuit actually exploding under conditions that simulated normal electrical use. The International Trademark Association mentioned counterfeit food, medicines, and automotive parts. Canada Goose explained that the stuffing in counterfeit versions of their jackets are, at best, of very low quality, and at worst, not sanitary.
It is easy to see how these types of goods could present serious health and safety issues for anyone who would encounter them. Canadians who spend their hard-earned dollars to buy what they believe are high-quality products backed by a brand name are furious when they learn that they have been deceived.
Bill C-8 is our government's response to this problem. It amends the Trade-marks Act and the Copyright Act to provide new tools for rights holders, border officers, and law enforcement to better fight this issue. Most importantly, it puts in place strong measures to protect Canadian consumers and their families from the threat of counterfeiting.
Allow me to explain how the bill would provide for a stronger border regime, new civil causes of action, and new criminal offences. First, the bill gives copyright and trademark owners additional tools to protect their intellectual property rights at the border. Importantly, Bill C-8 provides border agents with the authority to temporarily detain suspected shipments and the ability to verify their suspicion with rights holders. Under the new system, rights holders would be able to file a request for assistance with the Canada Border Services Agency, asking for border officers' help in detaining suspected counterfeit or pirated goods. Allowing trademark and copyright owners to exercise their rights at the border means fewer shipments of counterfeit and pirated goods into the Canadian market, to the benefit of businesses, consumers, and their families.
Second, with regard to civil infringements, Bill C-8 adds a series of activities to the existing civil causes of action in the Trade-marks Act. Currently, trademark owners can only pursue a civil action against a counterfeiter when a good is being sold.
Bill C-8 fills important gaps by making it a civil infringement to manufacture, possess, import, export, or attempt to export counterfeit goods for commercial purposes. By targeting activities that occur earlier in the supply chain, the bill helps rights holders keep counterfeit goods out of the Canadian market and out of the hands of unsuspecting Canadian consumers.
Not only does this bill add new civil causes for activities prior to sale, it also targets the practice of shipping labels separately from goods in order to avoid detection. Bill C-8 adds specific provisions against manufacturing, possessing, importing, exporting, and attempting to export labels or packaging that are destined to be associated with counterfeit goods. This measure protects consumers from counterfeiters who may apply counterfeit labels to goods here in Canada in an attempt to avoid getting caught.
To summarize the civil measures, Bill C-8 equips rights holders with improved tools to assert their trademark and copyright in a civil context.
In recognition of the fact that counterfeiting is an unlawful act, the bill adds new offences to the Trade-marks Act for selling, manufacturing, causing to be manufactured, possessing, importing, exporting, or attempting to export counterfeit goods on a commercial scale. The new criminal offences also cover services, labelling, and packaging. This is important because law enforcement knows that criminal groups are involved in the production and distribution of counterfeit goods. These groups forego safety regulations, certifications, and quality controls in order to maximize profits. They simply do not care about the health and safety of consumers. For these groups, counterfeiting is just another profitable line of business. The new criminal offences will give law enforcement agencies additional important tools to fight against serious and organized crime. They will help us keep those goods off the market and help protect Canadian families.
All of the measures I have just outlined pertain to sale for commercial purposes. That is the focus of Bill C-8 and of law enforcement authorities. In this way, Bill C-8 will protect consumers and their families from the threat of counterfeit goods by reducing the presence of these goods in the Canadian market.
In addition, Bill C-8 provides a specific exception at the border for individuals importing or exporting counterfeit or pirated goods intended for personal use when these goods are in their possession or personal luggage. Simply put, Canadians may cross the border with counterfeit goods or pirated copies for personal use. However, let me be clear. Every person who supports counterfeiting at any level hurts the Canadian economy and risks his or her health and safety.
As I mentioned earlier, there is also a possibility that counterfeit goods and pirated copies are connected with organized crime, which often profits from the sale of counterfeit goods.
The measures in this bill are designed to help federal agencies and rights holders target their efforts to confronting criminals who gain commercially from the sale of these goods. This is the balance that the government has achieved with this bill. If we want to target those who profit from counterfeiting and piracy, we have to put our efforts into stopping commercial activities relating to counterfeiting and piracy, not in stopping individual Canadians who may inadvertently carry a counterfeit good in their luggage.
Another area where this bill achieves the right balance is with regard to the respective roles of the state and rights holders in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. Trademarks and copyrights are private rights. We believe that the trademark and copyright owners have an important role to play in defending these private rights. That said, the government also plays a key role in keeping unsafe products out of the Canadian market and in stopping serious and organized crime.
With Bill C-8, the government puts in place a framework that allows trademark and copyright owners to protect their rights more efficiently at the border and within the country. For example, rights holders will have the ability to file a request for assistance with the Canada Border Services Agency. This will allow rights holders to receive information from border officers about shipments suspected of containing counterfeit or pirated goods, allowing them to pursue remedies under the Trade-marks Act or the Copyright Act.
Rights holders who choose to file a request for assistance will be asked to assume the costs of storage and destruction of counterfeit and pirated goods. For its part, the government will continue to play a leading role in stopping goods that present health and safety issues or that are linked to criminal activities. Border officers will continue to refer these goods to the RCMP and Health Canada as appropriate.
In my introduction I mentioned the work of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, as we reviewed Bill C-8 for several weeks. In particular, I would like to highlight a number of substantive amendments that were adopted by the committee that will clarify and improve the application of Bill C-8, while keeping with the balance I alluded to earlier to help better achieve outcomes for Canadians.
First, the bill was amended to clarify that rights holders can use information obtained from border officers about suspected shipments to seek out-of-court settlements. Such settlements are part of the process of pursuing remedies under the act. They would enable rights holders to assert their rights in a cost-effective manner.
Second, the knowledge requirements of the new criminal offences introduced in the Trade-marks Act were found to be unnecessarily high, which in turn meant a low probability of successful prosecution.
If we want the bill to provide an effective deterrent for counterfeiters, we have to make sure that criminal offences can be prosecuted. The amendments introduced at the committee achieve this goal by requiring the crown to prove that the accused knew that he was copying a trademark and that he did not have the consent of the trademark owner to do so. The criminal offences will continue to apply only to activities on a commercial scale and only to registered trademarks.
The third amendment introduced at the committee stage concerns the definition of “distinctive” in the Trade-marks Act. Some witnesses expressed concerns about changes in the wording of the definition. These changes were meant only to modernize the language, and there was no intention of changing the meaning of “distinctive”.
The committee moved to replace the expression “inherently capable of distinguishing” with the expression “adapted so to distinguish”, which is currently found in the Trade-marks Act. This amendment alleviates the concerns of stakeholders and removes any risk of costly and unnecessary litigation associated with the reinterpretation of the new definition.
The final amendment I would like to mention concerns the new civil causes of action in the Trade-marks Act. Originally, the bill's new civil causes of action for manufacturing, possessing, importing, exporting, and attempting to export only applied to the goods and services for which the trademark was registered. In contrast, the existing causes of action for selling or distributing apply to all goods and services that could be confused with a registered trademark, whether or not the goods and services are on the trademark register. The committee's amendment ensures that both the existing and the new civil causes of action have the same scope of application.
Bill C-8, as amended by the industry committee, is further proof that our government is focused on protecting consumers and their families. By keeping unsafe products out of the hands of unsuspecting consumers, it would enhance consumer confidence in the marketplace and would help legitimate businesses in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy.
I would urge all members of the House to support the bill and refer it to the Senate as soon as possible to ensure that Canadian rights holders, customs officers, and law enforcement have the tools they need to fight counterfeiting and piracy domestically and at our borders.