Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Draft Bill on the Hill?

Sam Trosow is a Professor at Western. He has quietly become quite well respected in his few years in Canada. He brings with him experience in American copyright law and library science. He’s on sabbatical and currently a scholar in residence at CAUT.

He’s just launched a new blog (not to mention an excellent book he wrote with Laura Murray, concerning which I’ll have much more to say later).

His blog calls for the tabling of a “draft” bill. This may be a very constructive suggestion.

Now that the government understands how important this issue is to so many Canadians, they have an excellent opportunity to open up the process to broader public consultation. But according to a CTV Report , Minister Prentice said, “To be speculating on what the bill says, when no one has seen it, is not really a constructive exercise.”

So I would ask the Minister, just how can the public engage the government on the issue in a "constructive" manner? Perhaps it is time for the government to release their latest draft version of the bill so we can all be on an even playing field in discussing it.

I don't know if the following is what Sam had in mind, but it could work this way. The Government would introduce its bill in as a “draft bill”, which means it can be referred to Committee for examination without the very rigorous rules of the usual legislative process, because it has not yet received “first reading.” The Committee could then hold hearings and then recommend changes, which the Government could take into consideration when it finalizes the actual Bill. For fans of arcane Parliamentary procedure (and you though copyright law was complicated?), see the “bible”, which is Marleau and Montpetit, p. 615.

This is worth thinking about. If Ministers Prentice and Verner and the PMO really want to hear what real Canadians need from a new copyright law, this could be a good way of getting that input. It could start with the Government's best shot as a "draft bill" when the House comes back after Christmas - and then get even better from there. An open, transparent and sincere set of hearings on a draft bill - without the constraints, pressures, secrecy and tension of the formal legislative process - might be just what is needed now.


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