Activists shine a light on secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership talks
Curious about emerging online issues, Graham Kirkpatrick pays close attention to the Internet advocacy group OpenMedia.ca. So when the Toronto-based comedian saw OpenMedia’s petition against a proposed international trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he was intrigued.
“I don’t want to sound apocalyptic about it,” Kirkpatrick told the Georgia Straight over the phone. “But it will definitely entrench the multinational corporations having a much more significant power over the Canadian government and future Canadian governments.”
Kirkpatrick is also worried about how the TPP could affect Canadian copyright law. He’s toying with ideas for Internet parody videos, but he’s worried that the TPP could restrict the use of copyrighted material as inspiration for satire. With that in mind, Kirkpatrick decided to sign the online petition.
“I would assume, or hope at least, that the country would be given a chance to see and debate in the House of Commons the TPP before it was passed,” Kirkpatrick said. “If they were just to sign it without as much oversight as the most recent omnibus bill that the government passed, that would be a travesty.”
Lindsey Pinto, communications manager for OpenMedia, told the Straight the group launched its first international petition—StopTheTrap.net—in June 2012 to raise awareness of what freedoms could be lost with the TPP. So far, the petition has been signed by more than 120,000 people.
“We are talking about allowing, basically, a parallel system that would undermine national sovereignty,” Pinto said by phone from her office in Vancouver. “It would allow conglomerates to sue citizens, threaten citizens, and remove [Internet] content that they disagree with or that they think is infringing on their intellectual property.”
Canada officially entered into TPP negotiations in October 2012. The TPP ostensibly aims to improve trade among Canada and 10 other countries—Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
While the trade talks are shrouded in secrecy, measures reportedly being crafted in relation to intellectual property concern Pinto. She speculates that TPP provisions could extend the reach of Canada’s Bill C-11—contentious copyright legislation that became law in June 2012—and expand the power of multinational companies to restrict Internet use.
“Aside from conglomerates, aside from about 600 lobbyist advisers that are negotiating this behind closed doors, I really haven’t heard from any citizens that think the TPP is a good idea,” Pinto said.
The TPP’s 15th round of negotiations wrapped up in December. The next round is set to take place March 4 to 13 in Singapore.
OpenMedia stepped up its campaign during the last three rounds. Last July in San Diego, the group delivered its then-90,000-strong petition to U.S. trade delegates. In September during talks in Leesburg, Virginia, the group projected the names of those opposed to the TPP on hallway walls where negotiations were taking place. Most recently, in December, OpenMedia delivered a presentation to trade delegates in Auckland, New Zealand.
“It’s something that is going to put a lot of power into a few hands—hands that don’t have the public interest in the forefront of their minds,” Pinto said. “Hopefully, citizens will have more input into it and we won’t see it come and destroy the Internet as we know it.”
Abbotsford MP Ed Fast, Canada’s minister of international trade and minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, declined the Straight’s request for an interview.
NDP digital-issues critic Charmaine Borg told the Straight she’s concerned that not only is the Conservative government negotiating a trade agreement, it’s also negotiating away privacy rights.
“This is being negotiated behind closed doors. Even us as Opposition members can only find out what’s being negotiated through leaked documents,” the MP said by phone from Terrebonne, Quebec. “It’s always easier to sell this as ‘this is great for economic growth.’ It’s always easy to sell that argument to Canadians, but it is misleading in a certain sense.
“These are measures that can really harm the technology sector in Canada,” Borg added. She said she’s read reports that indicate the TPP could create new rules for the enforcement of intellectual property rights that could lock users out of their own content as well as negate existing privacy regulations dealing with companies’ collection of information about users.
“There are reasons why trade negotiations need to be kept a secret to a certain extent,” Borg said. “But there is a method that can be developed to be able to consult people who will be concerned.”
As OpenMedia prepares to ramp up its campaign further, Pinto hopes more people will take the time to learn about how these trade talks could affect their Internet use.
“The Internet has been a bastion of free expression worldwide. The UN declared it to be a human right after the Arab Spring,” Pinto said. “The Internet allows for communication on a scale that we have never seen before…and citizens take advantage of this, not just to post silly cat videos, but to engage in cultural, democratic, and political discourse across nations.”