Liberals won’t provide text of amendments to privacy, AI legislation to MPs studying bill after all

Opposition MPs had objected to plans to provide the text only after a House of Commons committee had finished its study

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OTTAWA — The Liberal government will make changes to its proposed privacy and artificial intelligence (AI) bill — but now says it will not provide MPs studying the legislation with the text of those amendments until after the MPs have completed their study.

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne gave a summary of the proposed amendments, which include enshrining privacy as a fundamental right, during an appearance at a House of Commons committee Tuesday. But he said the government wouldn’t provide the text of the amendments until the legislation reaches the clause-by-clause review stage at committee. That will be after the House of Commons industry and technology committee, which has embarked on a long-awaited study of the legislation, has already finished hearing testimonies from witnesses.

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Opposition MPs objected to that plan at the meeting Tuesday. While a spokesperson for Champagne initially said Friday the government plans to publish the amendments “as soon as possible — aiming for next week,” the ministry later said that the government won’t actually provide the full text of the amendments until the study is completed. A letter outlining the planned amendments is what will be made available next week.

“Clause-by-clause needs to happen first — and we need to hear from witnesses first — before amendments are drafted,” spokesperson Audrey Champoux said.

The government’s interpretation of an amendment can be very different from that of experts or another party. In one very high-profile case, the Liberal government previously insisted an amendment to its Online Streaming Act would not put user-generated content under the CRTC’s regulatory authority. After experts disagreed, that amendment became hugely controversial and delayed the passage of the legislation for two years.

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The government has also been recently criticized for its “odd” and “secretive” approach to consulting on its code of conduct for generative artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT. Champagne unveiled the final version of those guidelines this week.

But critics said the government’s consultation on the code was too rushed and not public or transparent enough. The public first learned about the invite-only consultation when the government accidentally posted an online notice early.

The government has said it would release its own summary of what it heard during that process. Asked whether the government will be releasing the actual comments and feedback it received from stakeholders, Champoux, said that “because these consultations were hosted and conducted with experts, in the context of roundtables, they are no public submission forms.”

The idea behind the voluntary code of conduct was to have something in place before Bill C-27 becomes law. The bill updates Canada’s privacy legislation covering the private sector, and has a piece called the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), which is aimed at “high-impact” AI systems.

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Champagne said during his committee appearance the amendments would strengthen privacy protections for children, give the privacy commissioner more flexibility to reach agreements with companies who aren’t complying with the law, define “high-impact” systems, and introduce specific obligations for general purpose AI systems such as ChatGPT, among other changes.

Champagne initially told MPs on the committee the text would be tabled at clause-by-clause review, which takes place after the committee has already heard from witnesses. It will hold 13 meetings, hearing from four or five experts and other witness groups at each meeting.

NDP MP Brian Masse told Champagne at the meeting “we have to deal with the reality that the people who are going to be sitting where you’re sitting, they’re not just going to trust speculation on potential amendments, and even if they are done with the most genuine interest, they could run into technical legal problems we may not foresee.”

He said not having the text of the amendments means legal teams and analysts can’t go through them.

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“We have a huge firestorm that’s going to be created here, because I know my phone is going to be ringing off the hook,” Masse said.

Conservative MP Bernard Généreux noted the government first introduced the legislation in June 2022 and said the government is now proposing “substantial” amendments. He told Champagne the committee should have amendments already and asked how MPs are supposed to ask questions about amendments they don’t have. “It doesn’t work,” he said.

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