Over the past several months, the Liberals’ Bill C-27 – also known as the Digital Charter Implementation Act – has been slowly making its way through the House of Commons. It is the Liberals’ second attempt at modernizing Canadian privacy law, after its predecessor, Bill C-11, failed to pass before the 2021 election.
The latest iteration of the Bill was tabled by Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne in June 2022 and was touted by the government as new and improved. Bill C-27 largely borrowed from Bill C-11 with a few small amendments sprinkled here and there to address industry concerns. However, there is one key difference. In addition to the Digital Charter, Bill C-27 also seeks to create the country’s first-ever framework governing the use of artificial intelligence similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
What’s the Holdup?
C-27’s Artificial Intelligence and Data Act, or AIDA, is the government’s first step toward regulating AI technology that is already proving to have a significant impact on numerous sectors and industries. But AIDA has already run into significant roadblocks. What’s the holdup?
First, the act has been tacked onto a broader piece of legislation that is focused on a related, but separate set of issues. This has led many industry leaders and experts to believe artificial intelligence is merely an afterthought for the current government, as showcased by the chorus of op-eds that regularly appear across Canada’s major news outlets.
The second roadblock is the slow pace at which Bill C-27 is moving through the House, largely as a result of the opposition and industry concerns around AIDA.
For example, in the ten months since Champagne introduced Bill C-27 in June 2022, the global AI landscape has already evolved dramatically. In November, OpenAI dropped ChatGPT – a chatbot so revolutionary that it continues to make almost daily headlines. That spurred a race by the world’s other technology companies to come up with the next big thing in artificial intelligence.
All this is to say that even if AIDA received royal assent today, it may already be outdated. As it is, the bill is ill-equipped to keep pace with the complex, rapidly evolving world of AI and the ways in which Canadians’ data is used – or misused – within it.
All of this means that nearly a year after its introduction, Bill C-27 has yet to even reach the committee stage – itself a potentially months-long process. Back in November, Speaker Anthony Rota gave in to Conservatives and NDP demands that the proposed legislation be subject to two separate votes – one on AIDA and another on the rest of the bill.
Yet, there’s still no sign of any major progress six months later. This past week, MPs had a heated debate on the flaws and merits – mostly the flaws – of the bill before agreeing to vote on its fate, which will take place later today.
Even if the Liberals are able to successfully shepherd Bill C-27 through Parliament, their efforts to regulate artificial intelligence will already be outdated, and therefore largely in vain. And if AIDA fails to pass, it’s back to square one.
Either way, Minister Champagne and his colleagues will have to get back to the drawing board very soon if they still view AI regulation as a worthy pursuit.