How to Trace Bill C-32 and its Legislative History

by Moya K. Mason


In Canada, new laws, also called acts or statues, are created by passing through a series of stages, both in the House of Commons and the Senate. Before becoming a law, a bill will be introduced in the House of Commons, to repeal or amend existing law, or to advance a completely new law (Canada Legislative Index). Bills may also be introduced in the Senate. Private bills pertain to charities, corporations, or to persons, while public bills are directly related to matters of public policy (Canada Legislative Index). The first step is to get a new bill into the House of Commons or the Senate, where a minister will introduce it and give it first reading. During the second reading of a bill, members of the House of Commons (or the Senate, if that is where it was introduced), will discuss it, bring on some debate, and refer it to a committee for further discussion, and possibly, public hearings. At this stage, the bill and its amendments are carefully reviewed before proceeding to a third reading. Then there is debate on the bill and a vote is taken. If there is a majority, then it is sent off to the Senate for review.

The bill will go through another series of readings in the Senate, and be given to a special standing committee, after the second reading. The committee will conduct debates, hear from concerned parties from the public, and possibly submit further changes to the bill. A vote will be taken, and if passed, the bill will go through its last stage before becoming law, called Royal Assent.

A Brief History of Canadian Copyright

In Canadian law, copyright has two requirements: originality and fixation, which fix ideas in some communications medium (Gow 1995). The underlying premise is that copyright law will help to protect intellectual exploitation from unauthorized use. In addition, the laws also provide for fair dealing, allowing restricted use of another's creation without asking permission (Gow 1995). The current copyright legislation is based on the UK Copyright Act of 1911 and became law on January 1, 1924. When fair dealing was first introduced in the 1920s, it meant copying small passages and quotes by hand. Those were the days of no scanners, photocopiers, or computers. The concept of fair dealing is also problematic because of the subjectivity of fairness. What is fair to one person may not be to another. Changes in technology, changed the ground rules, making copyright law outdated. The arrival of the digital computer presented new kinds of problems that have not been properly addressed until now (Gow 1995).

The government decided to reform our copyright laws in three phases. In 1988, Phase I, or Bill C-60 was passed, making substantial changes to the 1924 Act. Some modifications dealt with were the protection of computer software (it was formally recognized as a form of literary work for the first time), and the role of the Copyright Board, which oversees the administration of rights and fines for copyright infringement. In 1989, they again amended it to comply with the Canada- United States Free Trade Agreement, making provisions for satellite transmissions, television, and radio. Phase II was expected in 1991 to deal with many outstanding issues, however, it took until April 25, 1996 before Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Industry Canada Minister John Manley, to table the Act to Amend the Copyright Act in the House of Commons. As John Manley pointed out, since the arts and culture sector of Canada has 670,000 people working in the field, and "contributes $16 billion to the national economy," protecting it is important (Canadian Heritage News Release).

The bill is quite complicated and includes many measures that try to strike a fair balance between creators and users. Its underlying purpose is to modernize Canada's copyright legislation, which will help to put Canada in a better position internationally (Canadian Heritage News Release). Several outstanding issues to be dealt with involve the domain of technology; more specifically, digitization and new forms of interconnectivity. In this age of digitization and cyberspace, "fixation becomes problematic because new technologies do away with the physical tangibility that copyright was originally founded upon" (Gow 1995).

The bill includes a provision for royalties for performers and producers of sound recordings; a remuneration for creators, who have their musical works copied; a levy placed on blank cassettes and tapes; and a provision to give Canadian book distributors more protection in the marketplace, so they will continue to offer highly desirable Canadian content in the publishing world (Bill C-32). In addition, many exceptions from copyright laws are included for archives, museums, libraries, and non-profit educational institutions. For example, non-profit libraries are allowed to make photocopies of articles for their users, if it is requested for private study or research purposes. The bill is also trying to help cultural industries to develop. As Sheila Copps so eloquently pointed out,

Bill C-32 is not only about culture, it is about creating jobs and growth for Canadians. It is about strengthening Canada's cultural industries and strengthening the very things that allow us to tell our very unique story (Hansard March 1997).

The Tracing of Bill C-32: An Act To Amend the Copyright Act

A good place to start tracing a bill is in the Canada Legislative Index, a weekly indexing service for federal legislation. This tool provides a summary of a bill's activities, including the dates of all the readings and any amendments. The same can be said of the Ottawa Letter - Federal Legislative Record, except that this particular source contained incorrect dates, which led to some initial difficulties. There is also something called Canada Statute Citator 1985, a loose-leaf publication updated quarterly that contains full-text amendments. Also, The Canada Gazette Part 3, Statutes of Canada will provide the first official printing of new legislation.

Using the Canada Legislative Index to find the reading dates of Bill C-32, the next step was to check the House of Commons Debates or Hansard on April 25, 1996, when it was first introduced in the House and passed first reading. On June 11, 1996, Acting Minister Henri-Westmount of Canadian Heritage began the second reading of Bill C-32. It was discussed and debated, and finally sent onto the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. They held public hearings, considered 170 written submissions, and heard from eighty witnesses. Based on these deliberations, they made a total of fifteen amendments to the bill. For example, an exception for archives was included, which permits them to make one copy of an unpublished work, and extra exceptions for the perceptually disabled. Deliberations from the committee were completed on December 12, 1996.

There certainly was an outcry from some of those in the arts community, who felt that there should be no exceptions. Writers like Margaret Atwood strongly believed the sanctity of their work had to be completely protected, even if that meant problems of access to the materials was the result. By this time, the reforms were in a precarious position, and many working in the Intellectual Property office in Hull, Quebec, thought the bill would not make it into law. On March 17, the bill completed Report Stage Debate, while more debates were the hallmark of the third reading before the bill was voted on. No record of the tallying was found, but the motion was passed, and on the same day (March 20, 1997), it went off to the Senate for first reading.

On April 10, 1997, the Honourable Senator Philippe Deane Gigantes, seconded by Honourable Senator Eymard G. Corbin, moved to have the bill read for the second time, saying that it was the "duty of the Canadian government to work toward ensuring the viability and continuing development of this sector" (Hansard April 10, 1997). The bill was then referred to the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications, with the Honourable Senator Lise Bacon, Chair. Although there were many meetings and much evidence given during committee meetings, the final report was tabled on April 21, 1997, with no amendments put forth. It passed on to third reading on April 24, 1997, receiving Royal Assent the next day, becoming law.


The print sources for this search were fairly comprehensive, until one reached the committee stage. That is when use of the government websites was imperative, as there was nothing in print after April 1997. The sites were quite impressive, containing the complete transcripts of the committee meetings and minutes of the proceedings. Some important information seemed to be missing from both the print and electronic sources, such as the names of those who voted for and against the motions.

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B.C. Courthouse Library Society. Canada Legislative Index. Vancouver, B. C., 1997.

Gow, Gordon A. Copyright Reform in Canada: Domestic Objectives and the Challenge of Technological Convergence. Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 15, No. 2, May, 1995, pp. 227-241.

Canadian Heritage News Releases, October 19, 1997.

Canada. House of Commons Debates: Official Report (Hansard). 35th Parliament, 1997.

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.

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