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The Letters of the Law: The Year in Canadian Technology Law and Policy

There was rarely a dull moment over the past twelve months in law and technology with no shortage of legislative proposals, controversial court cases, and very public battles over the future of the Internet in Canada. A look back at 2008 from A to Z:

A is for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the still-secret treaty being negotiated by a handful of countries (including Canada) that has generated fears of iPod-searching border guards.  A new round of negotiations were recently concluded in Europe with further discussions planned for 2009.

B is for Bell, which emerged as the big winner in a dispute at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission over the legality of "traffic shaping" by Internet service providers.  A follow-up hearing on net neutrality is set for July 2009.

C is for Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which manages the dot-ca domain.  CIRA launched a revised WHOIS framework in 2008 that establishes some restrictions on the public accessibility of domain name registrant information.

D is for the good news/bad news experience with the Do-Not-Call list.  The good news was that the list, which took effect in September, garnered millions of registrations within weeks.  The bad news was that the registrations were soon followed by thousands of complaints from frustrated Canadians who experienced little reduction in unwanted telemarketing calls.

E is for eBay, which lost a Federal Court of Appeal decision on whether the online auction site could be compelled to reveal the identity of Canadian "powersellers" to the Canada Revenue Agency.

F is for FACIL, a Quebec group that supports open source software.  It filed a lawsuit against the Quebec government over its restrictive tendering processes.

G is for Adam Guerbuez, a Montreal-based spammer who was ordered to pay Facebook $873 million in damages, the largest-ever award under U.S. anti-spam legislation.
H is for Canadian Heritage, which was under fire all year over planned culture cuts and proposed legislation to grant the Minister of Canadian Heritage veto power over funding for "objectionable" films.

I is for the iPhone, which made its Canadian debut and was the impetus for a heated debate over the competitiveness of Canadian wireless pricing.

J is for Jim Prentice, who as Industry Minister presided over the tabling of controversial copyright reform legislation and the auction of new spectrum for wireless services that unexpectedly generated more than $4 billion in revenue.

K is for Konrad von Finckenstein, the CRTC chair who, in an exceptionally busy year, introduced the do-not-call list and began to deal with net neutrality, the future of broadcasting, and new media regulation.

L is for the enhanced licences that will be introduced in the Province of Ontario following the passage this year of enabling legislation.  The new licences raised both privacy and security concerns.

M is for Professor Richard Moon, the University of Windsor law professor who released a report on the Canadian Human Rights Act at the request of the Human Rights Commission.  Moon recommended that a provision extending the law to the Internet be dropped.

N is for Net neutrality, which emerged as a mainstream issue in 2008 with a private members bill, a public rally on Parliament Hill that attracted hundreds of participants, and a commitment to hearings at the CRTC.  

O is for the Online pharmaceutical industry, which faced the prospect of shutting down in Manitoba following the introduction of new rules restricting the practice.

P is for Pickup Pal, the ride sharing service that was forced to change its Ontario operations after Trentway-Wagar, an Ontario bus company, filed a complaint with the Ontario Transportation Board over the legality of the service.

Q is for Quebec Torrent, the BitTorrent search site that folded in the face of a lawsuit by several groups.  The suit was one of several involving Canadian-based torrent sites.

R is for Ryerson University, which attracted considerable attention over a threat to expel a student for establishing a Facebook study group in contravention of a professor’s policy.

S is for SOCAN, which lost a request at the Copyright Board of Canada for the application of a new levy for music available on websites such as Facebook and Google.

T is for text messages, which emerged as a surprisingly hot topic when several wireless carriers imposed a fifteen cent fee on receipt of the messages for some subscribers.

U is for unsolicited commercial email, which languished as a legislative priority, though Senator Yoine Goldstein grew tired of the delays and introduced his own anti-spam bill.

V is for the vote swapping websites that popped up during the federal election. Elections Canada ruled that the sites were legal.
W is for the Wikimedia Foundation (the operator of the popular Wikipedia site), which won an important legal battle over cyber-libel when a B.C. court ruled that merely linking to content did not amount to re-publication.

X is for anonymizing technologies, such as Pshiphon, which was developed at the University of Toronto.  These technologies attracted global attention as several countries escalated their Internet censorship activities.

Y is for Yahoo, one of many corporate giants who formed the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright to argue for a fair approach to copyright reform in Canada.

Z is for, one of several Canadian domain name dispute resolution cases involving high-profile brands.  Others included domains referencing the blackberry, Burberry, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Staples.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at