In support of Copyright Act amendments

Senator Enverga, as the Opposition Critic, supports law to make printed materials more accessible to those with vision health problems.

Copyright Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Harder, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Bellemare, for the second reading of Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities).

Hon. Tobias C. Enverga, Jr.: Honourable senators, I am delighted to rise today to speak to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject- matter for persons with perceptual disabilities) and for the honour to be the opposition critic of this legislation. I want to thank Senator Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate, for his speech and for his efforts to usher the bill through the Senate.

Honourable senators, as you heard yesterday, this bill is Canada’s legislative response to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, which was signed on June 27, 2013. I want to congratulate the current government for continuing the good work of our previous government and for upholding Canada’s international obligations. Let us hope they will continue to emulate and further decisions and commitments made under the previous Prime Minister — which was Prime Minister Harper — in other areas of international and domestic concern.

Honourable senators, as I have said in the past, I am deeply committed to the plight of those suffering from vision loss and other vision health problems. It was the first charitable cause I championed after coming to Canada as an immigrant, and it is a cause I have had the privilege of supporting here in our upper house. I want to add my surprise, when I read the debate on this bill in the other place, of how many parliamentarians have or have had an involvement with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or CNIB, at various levels in the organization. This should bode well for legislative support to future calls for action on vision health.

Honourable senators, this bill was passed by the other place with unanimous consent. Not only did all parties there agree on the need for this legislation, but they managed to set aside partisan interests and politicking related to other business on their Order Paper to ensure quick passage of Bill C-11. It may have been a little too hasty, as on a motion by the Honourable Pierre Poilievre, a member of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, all stages, including committee stage, were deemed to have passed. I am always a little concerned when this happens, even on a bill that seems to have the full support of all members. I trust that we in this house will ensure that no concern is left without study, a point to which I will return later.

Honourable senators, some of the details of the bill and its history have been laid out by the sponsor. The need for 20 countries to ratify or accede to the treaty before it comes into force is the prime reason this is an urgent issue. Unfortunately, Bill C-65, the Harper government’s incarnation of this bill, did not reach our chamber for consideration in the previous session, and I think that senators should support a quick yet sturdy passage of the bill this time around. There are, as of today, 17 countries that have either ratified or acceded to the treaty, and Canada needs to be in the forefront and encourage other signatories to the Marrakesh treaty to follow suit. It is our duty to lead when it comes to those in need. It is what Canada has always stood for in the past and what we must stand for in the future.

Yesterday, Senator Moore raised the question of which countries are among the 17 that have already ratified or acceded to the Marrakesh treaty. With the advantage of hindsight, I am happy to provide the Senate with a list for the record in the order of ratification or accession. The countries are: India, El Salvador, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Mali, Paraguay, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Brazil, Peru, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Israel and Chile.

Honourable senators, according to the report The Global Economics of Disability, more than 1.1 billion people in this world have a disability. According to estimates from the United States of America, it costs the government about $300 billion in services per year and a loss of $135 billion in tax revenue due to employment dislocations. Yes, honourable senators, that is billion with a “b.”

The effects in the private sector are not easily quantified, but we see increasing numbers of private sector companies that have programs in place to tap into the talent that lies within the large segment of the labour market that people with disabilities represent. As the Honourable Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough, said in her speech at second reading in the other place, “over 800,000 Canadians live with partial sight” or blindness. It is of utmost importance to allow for this segment of the population to more easily and affordably access printed material, not only for their entertainment through works of fiction, but for them to have equal access to education, which in turn will allow for access to the job market. This is not merely a social service to those in need. It is good for our economy. It is good for our companies that will have a wider pool of talent to recruit from, and it will help our government to increase tax revenue and cut spending on unnecessary welfare payments.

Honourable senators, this legislation also gives Canada an opportunity to increase its role in our global village. The Marrakesh treaty allows for our copyright laws to ensure an international standard to permit charitable organizations here to make, distribute, import and export accessible books.

Considering Canada’s wider reach in developing countries and the good international development cooperation Canada is renowned for globally, we stand ready to lead efforts not only in assisting Canadians with impaired vision but also in assisting those who live with vision loss in the developing world.

Ninety percent of visually impaired persons live in developing countries where infrastructure and financial and human resources are not available to ensure the same level of inclusion that we have here in Canada. This bill, once adopted, will allow for Canadian charitable organizations to provide partner organizations or individuals in developing countries, upon request, with material that has been adapted for visually impaired and blind persons.

Honourable senators, if we add the unique bilingual nature of our great country, we can see how much good Canada can do for those who are less fortunate around the world. Canada can be in the forefront of a social export of print material to areas such as francophone West-Africa, anglophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other countries in the developing world. We are indeed able to become a leader in an enterprise that is socially responsible, that is charitable in nature, and that will allow for greater access to cultural products for persons who suffer greatly from being excluded from labour markets that are challenging enough for those who are fully abled.

Honourable senators, I did raise a concern earlier regarding the rushed passage of this bill in the other place and how we should give Bill C-11 our full attention and study. Although I wholeheartedly support this bill, I have been made aware of two concerns from members of the public who are better informed of copyright laws than I am. The first is the limitation of commercially available products in clause 1. It is permissible under the treaty, but it is not necessary and may result in a stricter, more prohibitive regime in Canada than elsewhere.

The second concern raised, honourable senators, is the imposition of royalties for those non-profit organizations that take advantage of the exceptions from the copyright laws that the bill intends to allow for. The royalty would be in accordance with regulations set by the Governor-in-Council pursuant to section 32.01(7) of the Copyright Act. This seems to impose a financial disincentive on organizations like the CNIB to fully take advantage of the new law. It also provides a disincentive to publishers and copyright holders in making materials for those who are visually impaired readily available for commercial purposes.

Honourable senators, this being Canada’s upper house, where we are expected to take a closer look at legislative proposals, I strongly encourage the committee to which the bill will be referred to allow for the stringent review that Canadians expect us to undertake and to fully investigate the effects of the bill by inviting the relevant witnesses to appear to share these concerns with the committee’s members.

Thank you very much.

The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?

Hon. Senators: Question.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time.)

Referred to Committee

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?

(On motion of Senator Harder, bill referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce).