Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s attempt to get parliamentary committee hearings on privacy and AI legislation off to a good start has backfired, with the opposition passing a committee motion Thursday demanding he produce proposed amendments next week.
The House of Commons industry and technology committee was poised Thursday to hear testimony from federal Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne on C-27, legislation that combines the proposed Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA) and the Artificial Intelligence Data Act (AIDA).
But immediately after Dufrense finished reading his opening remarks, the opposition stopped the hearing and demanded Champagne table proposed amendments he talked in general about at Tuesday’s hearing.
“I think it’s an insult to this committee,” said Conservative Brad Vis, that witnesses will testify about proposed legislation that’s about to be changed. Around 30 witnesses, including Dufresne, are scheduled to be heard over 13 upcoming sessions of the committee.
On Tuesday, Champagne batted away opposition requests for the amendments — or even a copy of the brief description of what the Liberal government is willing to do — until witnesses have finished testifying and clause-by-clause analysis of the proposed legislation starts.
“That’s unacceptable,” Vis said Thursday, and then proposed a motion Champagne table amendments within five business days. That would be next Thursday, a day when the committee is scheduled to meet.
Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull, Champagne’s parliamentary secretary, argued the minister didn’t say he had amendments, only that he is willing to make amendments. “They’re not cooked up in the backroom already waiting,” Turnbull said of amendments. “It’s not like we’re trying to hide anything.”
Opposition members of the committee were having none of it.
Champagne said “he had amendments” on Tuesday, insisted NDP MP Brian Masse, and “government [committee] members referred to them as amendments.”
The opposition wasn’t hot enough to agree to a motion to suspend the committee hearings until they got the amendments. But they did pass Vis’ motion giving Champagne five business days to come up with proposed amendments to both CPPA and AIDA.
Champagne’s office didn’t reply by publication time to a request for comment.
Several opposition member spoke of the importance of the legislation — particularly AIDA — and their unwillingness to delay hearings. The proposed legislation was first introduced in Parliament last June. It’s the second attempt by the Liberal government to get the CPPA passed. The first was in trouble when the privacy commissioner at the time, Daniel Therrien, said it was worse than the existing Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The current version of the CPPA has some changes made by the government when it was re-introduced. Dufresne approves of those, but in an April written submission to the committee he still called for additional modifications. Some of those requests for modifications may be met by Champagne.
Meanwhile Dufresne, who sat patiently Thursday with two staff members for over an hour while committee members debated, will be asked to return to finish his testimony.
Earlier, he did have time in his opening remarks to say he is “very pleased” to hear the government will amend the proposed CPPA to give Canadian residents the “fundamental right to privacy.” However, he added, “it will be important to see the details” of all of Champagne’s proposed amendments.
As for the artificial intelligence legislation, Dufresne said it’s important his office have a formal role with the government in drafting regulations that will accompany AIDA, for they will contain vital definitions.