Opposition still demands full wording of planned federal privacy, AI laws

Frustrated opposition MPs came within a whisker on Tuesday of, for a second time, delaying committee hearings on proposed privacy and AI legislation because the government still hasn’t tabled the full wording of proposed amendments.

Instead, the Industry committee demanded the amendments be delivered by Friday, and voted to go ahead with questioning senior staff from the Innovation department about the proposed C-27. But it took a vote by committee chair Joel Lightbound, a Liberal, to break a tie vote on a motion to have the committee adjourn testimony until the government tabled the amendments.

Seeing no support for another delay in the hearings, MPs then unanimously agreed to go ahead with Tuesday’s session — but they also demanded the final wording of proposed amendments by the end of the week. However, the go-head vote came after opposition members bitterly protested that they and witnesses may be discussing laws without the final wording.

Debate on adjournment chewed up 90 minutes of the planned two hours of questioning of Innovation department experts.

Opposition MPs are angry that Champagne said on Sept. 26 that the government would bring eight improvements to C-27. Committee members asked for more details. But when the full wording didn’t appear at the Sept. 28 hearing, the majority on the committee demanded Champagne give the full wording of the proposed amendments so witnesses could properly comment.

On Oct. 5, Champagne filed a letter with the committee with details.

But at Tuesday’s hearing, opposition MPs complained the exact wording of what would go in the laws was still missing.

While they voted to keep the hearings going, they unanimously voted that the government produce the full wording of proposed amendments to the privacy part of the legislation by Friday.

C-27 — which was introduced over a year ago — is vital legislation for the private sector because it updates the current private sector law, the Personal Information Protection and Privacy Act (PIPEDA), to create the new Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA). It would allow a new privacy tribunal to levy millions of dollars in fines for not complying with the CPPA.

C-27 also introduces a new Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) to regulate the use of high-impact AI systems. Canadians are demanding controls on AI, and the business community would welcome some oversight.

Champagne has agreed C-27 needs improvement. But opposition MPs don’t want to see close-to wording.

Champagne “had a week and a half to get three amendments [to the CPPA] done,” complained Conservative Rick Perkins, who proposed adjourning Tuesday’s hearing without hearing from the Industry department experts after they admitted Champagne’s Oct. 5 letter wasn’t the final wording. “How will a witness testify if we can’t see the legal wording?” Perkins asked.

“This is a train wreck for no reason,” added NDP MP Brian Masse.

Masse and Conservative Ryan Williams said they have had calls from scheduled witnesses wondering what they are going to testify on.

With committee members not willing to delay the hearings longer, they spent the last 30 minutes questioning the Innovation Department experts who helped shape the bill.

Meanwhile, federal Privacy Commissioner Phillipe Dufresne is scheduled to testify Thursday, after his Sept. 27 appearance was interrupted.

UPDATE: Catherine Fortin LeFaivre, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s vice-president of strategic policy and global partnerships, said Tuesday’s committee meeting shows the challenges of having CPPA and AIDA in one bill.

“While there’s arguably strong support from the business community to see the privacy component passed expediently, complexities related to regulating AI will most certainly continue to slow down the passing of C-27 (i.e. five of eight proposed amendments relate to AIDA). That’s why the Canadian Chamber has been advocating to split the bill, allowing parts one and two to move forward while providing an opportunity for more meaningful study and stakeholder consultations to take place on part three, the AI bill.

“Regarding the government’s amendments, many of the proposed changes seem to be aligned with what the Canadian Chamber has been recommending, such as differentiating the roles and responsibilities of deployers versus developers, and providing a clearer definition of ‘high impact’ systems. However, the lack of actual amendment language to review makes it challenging for businesses to properly assess impacts and to provide comment. It will also cause further delay in committee – as evidenced by exchanges between committee members during its Oct. 17 meeting.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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