I went. I saw. I cried for what counts as ‘public consultation’.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been opened up to a public consultation process in Canada. But what does that really look like?
Yesterday marked the opening round of cross-country consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will make a portion of the pre-study being undertaken by the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT). The CIIT is a cross-party parliamentary committee, which takes on issues of, you guessed it, Canada and international trade. And before you make the joke, yes, I also think it’s silly that they’re calling these hearings a pre-study when the text of the TPP is complete, we’ve signed it, and we’re slowly moving toward ratification.
I was one of the lucky 12 individuals and organizations that were called to speak before the CIIT at its inaugural hearing in Vancouver. The committee will be moving east, with the next hearing in Calgary today (April 19) Saskatoon on April 20, and Winnipeg on April 21. The Committee will be travelling across the country throughout the next two months, and according to the Committee Chair Mark Eyking, it will be visiting every provinces and holding video-conference sessions for the territories.
While this may sound like a substantial amount of consultation, let me draw your attention to three issues I see with this approach:
1. The agreement is now finished. In fact, Committee Vice-Chair Randy Hoback today commented on this fact in the hearings. The TPP is complete, he said. With that in mind, and recognizing that multiple sources – from the U.S. Trade Representative to Japanese officials, to our own Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland– have made it clear that what you (finally) see is what you get. There will be no re-negotiating the TPP.
It seems like an odd time to start consulting with Canadians on a broad scale, after the completion of the agreement, and it puts both the government and the public in an awkward position. The government is hamstrung because the move betrays the potentially insincere nature of the consultations – what’s the point in consulting if it’s already a done deal? And the public is presented with an impossible choice, because the only remedy we’re left to demand is a wholesale rejection of the TPP. With no other options to amend or eliminate items that are unpalatable, all we can ask is that they go no further.
2. Twelve witnesses per hearing. Okay, so bonus points to the Liberal party that they’re having consultations at all – that’s far more than we saw from our previous government. But the way the hearings are structured is supremely problematic. Our friends and partners at Leadnow asked their members to sign up to be witnesses themselves (anyone could request to appear) and out of the more that 220 people who solicited an appearance, not a single one was approved. I was fortunate to be chosen to appear, but as a representative of an organization with over 500,000 Canadian members, even I represented a large and fairly powerful organization.
Some of the other witnesses who presented in this round included the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the BC LNG Alliance, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the British Columbia Cattlemen's Association – likely organizations that were consulted during the TPP negotiations, unlike everyday Canadians. As witness Brenda Sayers of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs noted, a single pipeline project or dam is subject to a much more thorough environmental impact assessment than the TPP, with many more witnesses called. And that is for one project. Here we have the largest trade agreement in the history of the world, covering literally every facet of Canadians’ daily lives, and we get 12 people.
3. Five minutes. That’s how long I had to bring your concerns to the CIIT. Five minutes to speak to more than 7000 pages of the agreement – for those wondering, the count is actually over 7300 pages, and that’s excluding annexes and side letters. Even if I restricted my testimony to just the Intellectual Property (IP) chapter, which has grave implications for our Internet freedom, at 75 pages I’d have roughly four seconds of discussion per page. I’ll be the first to admit I can talk pretty quickly, but that’s superhuman.
One of the biggest problems with the TPP is just how little time we’ve all had to take a look at the text and see what is actually in the agreement. The details were kept secret for the entirety of the negotiations. The full text was finally published on November 5th of 2015 and was signed on February 5th 2016. That gave experts and Canadians less than 6 months to review thousands of clauses. And as a country, we still have no independent cost-benefit analysis. Does this sound like good policymaking to you?
There were encouraging moments of the Vancouver hearings, and the public presence was one of them. Despite virtually no public announcement of the consultations (you can find it on the CIIT website, if you know where to look) over 100 people showed up to stage a demonstration and sit in on the hearings. They even went through repeated friskings to get in and out of the room.
Our outside actions included many partners – from Leadnow, to SumOfUs, Council of Canadians, Unifor, CUPE, and many others – and despite our 16 foot JUMBOTRON being kicked out of what seemed like every available space nearby, and the RCMP showing up to shut down the Red Carpet rollout, it was clear that Canadians aren’t ready to take this one lying down.
My ultimate takeaway from the day? We need to get louder. It’s clear from the response to our actions yesterday that the government can hear us and see us, and it’s making them nervous. I believe that with enough people power we can prove to our legislators that they do not have the social license to implement this agreement that was negotiated without our consent and without our input.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to those of you who came out at 8:00am on a Monday morning to say “NO” loud and clear; to all of you who donated to the cause, or sent us comments for the JUMBOTRON; to those of you who have taken action again and again to protect Canada’s Internet from censorship through the TPP; and to those of you who continue to engage with campaigns like this. You’re helping us to create a more democratic Canada, and a better world.
If you’d like to see the full text of my statement to the Standing Committee on International Trade, you can read it below.
Submission to Standing Committee on International Trade on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement
Meghan Sali, Digital Rights Specialist
April 18th, 2016
Thank you for having me here today to speak as a witness to the Standing Committee on International Trade. My name is Meghan Sali and I am a Digital Rights Specialist with OpenMedia. Founded in 2008, OpenMedia is a community-based civic engagement organization working to safeguard the open Internet, bringing citizens’ and innovators’ voices into Internet policy-making processes.
My hope is that through these public hearings, this committee will finally begin to understand the depth the Canadian public’s concern about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the scope of the citizens’ disillusionment. We have a right to participate in decisions that affect our daily lives, and yet have been entirely excluded from these negotiations.
Over the past four years, OpenMedia has engaged over 130,000 Canadians who have shared their concerns with us on the Intellectual Property (IP) chapter and its serious implications for digital commerce, free expression online, and access to knowledge. I’d like to note that our work to educate Canadians about the TPP was no easy task, as the details of the agreement were kept secret until the full text was published less than 6 months ago.
Our only means of information was reading the tea leaves of leaked documents and mining information from inside sources. From when the TPP was published on November 5th, 2015, until it was signed on February 5th, 2016, Canadian experts and the public had less than 90 days to assess the impacts of over 7300 pages of this agreement.
I had intended to bring the text with me today for reference, it would have cost over $1100 in printing alone. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been unable to read the the agreement in its entirety, and I suspect none of the members of this committee have done so either.
Today I’d like to speak to just two issues in relation to the Intellectual Property Chapter – which I do have here.
The first, is what the TPP means for Canada’s Internet.
If ratified, the TPP will brings 20-year copyright term extensions to Canada, which have been widely shown by experts in numerous international studies to cost consumers money, and will actually make it more difficult for the next generation of artists and creators to create new works. The Canadian government speaks sweepingly about promoting and protecting Canadian art and cultural heritage, yet the TPP will ensure less Canadian culture is shared here at home and with the world. Term extensions put libraries, archives and museums behind the profits of huge, largely foreign, media conglomerates, and threaten our access to information and culture.
Additionally, the TPP will cement restrictive rules around Digital Locks, rules implemented in advance of Canada’s entry into TPP negotiations, and later shown to be a price to entry, demanded by the U.S. government. These draconian Digital Locks rules will eliminate individuals’ autonomy over their legally-purchased digital devices, making it illegal, with potential criminal penalties, to modify, repair, recycle, or otherwise tinker with a digital device or its contents.
These rules will further disadvantage communities whose interests we already fail to consider: the deaf, the blind and persons with disabilities who are often locked out of the necessary means to access knowledge and culture, when even the trade in necessary circumvention technologies is criminalized.
Additionally, the flawed notice-and-takedown system used in the U.S. will be extended to all other TPP nations. While Canada has secured an exception for our superior notice-and-notice system, this came at the price that no other TPP country, current or future, will be able to follow Canada’s lead and work to strike a copyright balance that respects users’ right to share and collaborate, while ensuring that artists are fairly compensated for their works. In fact, this regime will see Canada’s Internet censored along with all of our TPP partners. As more and more art and culture are held captive in copyright regimes that treat the rights of corporations as paramount, more legitimate, legal speech will be taken down from the Web and we will see our collective cultural exchanges weaken and shrink.
As many of you may be aware, in 2017, Canada will undergo a mandatory copyright review, and none of the problems I’ve mentioned will be easily fixed as we live with the regulatory chill that comes along with the looming threat of multi-million or even billion dollar lawsuits under the TPP’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.
Now I will speak briefly to the negative impacts for our economy and for Canada’s Digital Future.
We sit here today, a stone’s throw away from Vancouver, home to one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy: technology and innovation. The tech sector in Vancouver alone generates more than $23 billion in revenue, and $15 billion in GDP, according to the Vancouver economic commission.
Canadian innovators, from BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie, to the CEO of Canadian tech success Shopify, Tobi Lutke, have raised concerns about an Intellectual Property regime that serves to entrench American dominance in the innovation sector, and an agreement negotiated by a government that made no effort to consult or engage with leaders in this industry. In particular, the anti-competitive DRM provisions block experimentation and innovation, and coupled with restrictive “trade secrets” provisions, threaten entrepreneurship and lack the necessary safeguards to protect against the abuse of these rules.
These are only two of myriad issues Canadians have been raising with the Committee over the past month through a cooperative campaign to educate and engage Canadians through consultation on the TPP.
Our tool can be found at LetsTalkTPP.ca, and already over 15,000 messages have been sent to Members of Parliament, the Standing Committee on International Trade, and the International Trade Ministry. OpenMedia is just one of dozens of organizations in Canada sounding the alarm about an agreement that violates our sovereignty under the cloak of secrecy, and tells us that we can have our say only now, after the deal is already done.
I am here today to speak to you about Intellectual Property and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but there are larger issues at play. Right now, the government is involved in a process that lacks basic democratic legitimacy. I am honored to be one of a only handful of chosen witnesses from the 35 million Canadians who make up this country, but five minutes to speak to the egregious flaws in a 7000-page agreement that took nearly 10 years to negotiate is not enough. It is not enough that Canadians are now being asked for forgiveness, after being excluded from the process, when we should have instead been asked for permission, and our input, in a manner befitting our democratic traditions.
OpenMedia, and the Canadians we have consulted with, are eager to share more of Canada with the world through open trade policies that are developed through debate and participation by those impacted by the policy. But we are against agreements made in secret, closed off from the public – especially those that will negatively impact free expression and compromise our digital future.