Experts and activists are warning that a new anti-counterfeit bill introduced by the federal government last week is a move to position Canadian law in line with a controversial copyright treaty that sparked mass protests across Europe last year.
Touted by Ottawa as a move to protect consumers and businesses from counterfeit products, Bill C-56, or the Combating Counterfeit Products Act, grants increased powers to Canadian border guards to detain shipments and seize or destroy counterfeit goods without judicial oversight.
It also introduces new criminal offences for commercial trademark counterfeiting.
“This bill will provide the [Canadian Border Services Agency] and RCMP with new enforcement tools to better protect against commercial counterfeiting activities, both at the border and domestically,” said Public Safety minister Vic Toews in a statement.
The bill disturbingly suggests that Canada is gearing up to ratify ACTA.
— Technology law expert Michael Geist
But critics say the proposed legislation is aimed at ensuring Canada complies with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a widely-discredited multi-national treaty created to establish international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement.
The treaty triggered mass protests across Europe last year and was roundly rejected by the European Parliament and Mexico. ACTA’s critics said the treaty’s provisions would lead to censorship on the Internet, a deterioration of civil liberties, and the criminalization of small-scale use of copyrighted material.
“The bill disturbingly suggests that Canada is gearing up to ratify ACTA since this bill addresses many of the remaining non-ACTA compliant aspects of Canadian law,” said technology law expert Michael Geist on his blog.
Geist says Bill C-56 positions Canada to ratify ACTA by addressing controversial border measures provisions, and is “the latest example of caving to U.S. pressure on intellectual property.”
The bill requires border and customs officials to enforce private intellectual property rights on behalf of big entertainment and other companies as outlined in ACTA.
“The bill could have serious harmful effects with border guards forced to serve as copyright experts without court oversight, and the increased criminalization of copyright and trademark law,” he writes.
The bill comes amidst new U.S.-led efforts to revive ACTA. On Mar. 1—the date the Canadian legislation was introduced—the U.S. Trade Representative’s office released its 2013 Trade Policy Agenda, which includes a section on changing Canada’s copyright and intellectual property legislation.
The policy states that the U.S. is working with Japan and other negotiating parties “to ensure that ACTA can come into force as soon as possible,” and encourages Canada “to meet its [ACTA] obligations.”
Despite the European Parliament’s rejection of the treaty last July, it can still come into effect if it receives a total of six ratifications. The current ACTA signatories are Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and the U.S. Only Japan has formally ratified, leaving the U.S. seeking four more countries to follow suit.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights group, says Bill C-56 shows Canada “did not miss a beat” in folding to U.S. demands.
The strengthened border measures will play a vital role in protecting jobs for Canadian manufacturers.
— Kevin Spreekmeester, Canada Goose
“Overall, this new bill is a glaring indication of how willing Canada is to cave to U.S. pressure on intellectual property enforcement,” said a Mar. 1 statement by EFF’s Maira Sutton.
Some industry groups, however, are lauding the bill as a much-needed measure in protecting businesses from counterfeit victimization.
“The strengthened border measures will play a vital role in protecting jobs for Canadian manufacturers, as well as unsuspecting consumers looking for bargains from those that would do them harm,” said Kevin Spreekmeester, co-chair of the Canadian Intellectual Property Council and VP of global marketing for outerwear brand Canada Goose.
“Until now, it’s been easy to get these products into Canada from around the world because of the lack of power for border patrol to search and seize counterfeit goods, and the minimal repercussions for counterfeiters who are caught,” he added.
Spreekmeester said Canada Goose has battled counterfeits for over five years, but the issue has become increasingly problematic as the popularity of the brand rises, leading to investments of “hundreds of thousands of dollars every year” in various anti-counterfeit initiatives.
The Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network (CACN) also welcomes the proposed legislation, saying it will help combat the growing problem of counterfeiting.
“Counterfeiting has grown into a criminal activity that supports everything from organized crime to terrorism. That was mainly because in the current landscape, the risk of getting caught is low while the profit margin is extremely high. With this new legislation, the risk assessment will begin to change,” said CACN chair Wayne Edwards.
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