Canadian Right-to-Repair Bill Passes House of Commons, Now Before the Senate

I would like to think I try to keep up with Canadian news, but the progress of Bill C–244 slipped my attention — and it seems like I am not the only one. Introduced last February, the bill passed unanimously in October, a legislative milestone celebrated by the likes of Collision Repair magazine, a Canadian automaker trade group, and the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

The progress of bill C–244 has been so poorly reported that one of the few stories I found reads like it was written by a racist tractor. I found virtually no mainstream coverage of this important bill, so here is my attempt to rectify my own oversight.

In October 2022, Michael Geist explained why the bill was so important in Canada, in particular:

One of the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S. is that the U.S. conducts a review every three years to determine whether new exceptions to a general prohibition on circumventing a digital locks are needed. This has led to the adoption of several exceptions to [Technological Protection Measures] for innovative activities such as automotive security research, repairs and maintenance, archiving and preserving video games, and for remixing from DVDs and Blu-Ray sources. Canada has no such system as the government instead provided assurances that it could address new exceptions through a regulation-making power. In the decade since the law has been in effect, successive Canadian governments have never done so. This is particularly problematic where the rules restrict basic property rights by limiting the ability to repair products or ensure full interoperability between systems.

As Geist explains, Canadians are legally prohibited from repairing anything they own if such an operation would necessitate bypassing any digital “lock”. This bill would “allow the circumvention of a technological protection measure if the circumvention is solely for the purpose of the diagnosis, maintenance or repair”, and its passage would fulfill a 2021 Liberal Party of Canada campaign pledge.

Earlier this year, a peculiar privilege was added to the bill, as spotted by the Institute for Research on Public Policy:

But a recent amendment to the bill risks leaving it without much reason for optimism. In a meeting of the standing committee on industry and technology on late March, members agreed to amend Bill C-244 to create a “carve-out” for devices with embedded sound recordings. In other words, it’s an exemption to Bill C-244’s exception. There is very little information on the reasons for this amendment and almost no discussion took place before it was adopted.

That text was retained in the version which was passed in October. In the “What On Earth” newsletter, Rachel Sanders of CBC News covered the bill earlier this month:

This change is part of what’s known as “right to repair” legislation, a broad spectrum of laws aimed at making goods more durable and fixable. In March, the federal government announced as part of Budget 2023 that it would work to implement a right to repair framework in 2024.

In an email to CBC, the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development said the government is doing pre-consultation work and that the right to repair in Canada could consist of different measures, including at the provincial and territorial levels.

To wit, Sanders notes Bill 29 was passed in Quebec last month, pushing the province even further ahead in consumer protections compared to the rest of Canada.