Question Period: Copyright Act

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Red tulips, Ottawa

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, this question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. Senator Gold, you are well aware of the complexities of Canada’s copyright laws and their implementation. Some copyright issues came up during the Foreign Affairs Committee’s cultural diplomacy study, which underlined the unlevel playing fields internationally in this area of law for Canadian artists. Others came through other pathways.

However, Canada’s artists, particularly Indigenous artists, are dealing with a very serious infringement: Other countries are appropriating their symbolic iconography and family motifs — their cultural property — illegitimately mass-produced, often with the wrong materials, for the international market and to the financial benefit of the infringing country. China has been doing this, as evidenced by the so-called argillite works for sale in airports. So have other nations with dream catchers and mahogany totem poles. This weekend, I was notified that images are being appropriated and reproduced in large scale in Ukraine. Those specific Facebook postings were sent to me by a northwest coast artist whose works are being stolen in that manner.

Can you tell me if international violations of artists’ copyrights as articulated in the June 8, 1988, act are being followed, stopped and prosecuted by Canada, and will these infringements on Indigenous cultural properties be specifically noted in the new Copyright Act?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator. The government wishes to thank the Senate committee for its ongoing work and the important cultural diplomacy report that it issued in the last Parliament. The government knows how important traditional cultural expressions, such as artwork, handicrafts, fabric and other expressions are, not only to the artist who produced them but to the cultural fabric — if you’ll allow that phrase — and identity of this great country. That’s why the government has introduced many initiatives, including the Intellectual Property Strategy announced in 2018 and the Indigenous Intellectual Property Program launched in 2019, to support the participation of our Indigenous peoples in domestic and international discussions about the protection of Indigenous knowledge and cultural expressions.

To your question regarding the enforcement of copyright against those who profit from the unauthorized and illegal use of Indigenous art, I have been advised that the government has been engaged and is engaging with our partners, both domestically and internationally, to seek effective solutions for promoting and protecting Indigenous art and cultural expressions.

Senator Bovey: The Order of Canada Kwakwaka’wakw artist who drew the latest situation to my attention has frequently said, properly within the scope of the current act:

When I make something, I am claiming the rights to it for myself and at the same time for our children and all Kwakwaka’wakw people. They are the ones who really own it.

I very much appreciate your answer, senator, but I would like to know, in keeping with the goals of reconciliation, what reparations for lost income he, and others whose hereditary images are being summarily stolen, can expect?

Senator Gold: Thank you for your question. I will have to make some inquiries and report back to the chamber.

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