Sunday, May 19, 2024

MPs to move on AI bill without testimony from Canadian companies: business group

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The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says it is seriously concerned Canadian businesses weren’t able to testify on proposed federal artificial intelligence legislation.

While the House of Commons industry committee heard from Big Tech companies, the group says Canadian businesses weren’t given the opportunity to appear in front of MPs on the newer AI piece of Bill C-27.

In November, the innovation minister outlined numerous amendments the government plans to make to the AI portion of the bill, the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act.

“Without a plethora of witnesses testifying on the Minister’s substantial revisions to the bill, we believe that AIDA stands to pass without proper consultation, informed discussion, or fair expectations for feedback,” the group said in a brief published on the committee site Wednesday.

The chamber said that underscores “why we recommend the Committee to allow for a robust public consultation it desperately needs and which businesses across Canada deserve.”

Following Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s proposed amendments, the committee studying the bill only held five meetings, in which Canadian companies didn’t have a chance to appear, it said.

With the proposed changes, the bill has effectively become “a fundamentally new piece of legislation,” the chamber argued.

It said it is “seriously concerned about the lack of Canadian companies having had the opportunity to testify, particularly (small and medium enterprises), the backbone of the Canadian economy.”

The committee has now finished its study and will begin the process of amending the bill in April, without appearances from any more witnesses.

Bill C-27 would update Canada’s privacy laws and introduce Canada’s first federal legislation specifically aimed at artificial intelligence, which would introduce new obligations for “high-impact” systems.

Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, senior director of digital economy, technology and innovation at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said AI is now embedded in business processes.

“I would think the majority of companies are using AI in some kind of shape or form,” she said in an interview.

Bahr-Gedalia said smaller businesses will have to comply with the law, and it would be “very troublesome” for them to have to do that without having a chance to voice potential challenges they foresee with the legislation.

Audrey Champoux, a spokesperson for Champagne, said that in recent months the government consulted with “academics, experts, civil society and the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce.”

She said in an emailed statement the committee has been studying the bill since the fall of 2023, “hearing from over 100 witnesses and receiving over 70 written submissions. We look forward to continuing our work to get this legislation across the finish line.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024.

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