The association that represents farm equipment dealers across Canada is speaking out against a “right-to-repair” private member’s bill that would amend the Copyright Act to allow Canadians to circumvent computer software to diagnose, maintain, or repair a product, whether that’s a phone, a household appliance, a car, or a tractor.
Bill C-244 — introduced by B.C. Liberal MP Wilson Miao in February of this year — has passed second reading in the House of Commons and is currently under review by the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.
In addition to allowing the circumvention of digital locks, the bill would also allow the manufacturing, importing, and sale of technologies or devices that can be used to diagnose, maintain, and repair products that have internal software protections.
The bill does not specifically refer to any type of product. As written, it’s seen as applying to anything with internal software that limits someone’s ability to repair it. In other words, it could apply to everything from microwaves to vehicles to farm machinery.
“We oppose Bill C-244,” John Schmeiser, president of the North American Equipment Dealers Association – Canada (NAEDA), told members of parliament on the industry and technology committee on Nov. 14.
“In its current form, it doesn’t take into consideration the industry commitment to support customer repair, and has unintended safety, environmental and cybersecurity consequences for the Canadian agricultural industry.”
If C-244 goes ahead, NAEDA, which represents over 850 farm equipment dealers across Canada, says the legislation shouldn’t apply to equipment used in the agriculture and construction industries (see NAEDA’s suggested amendment below).
“If Bill C-244 passes in its current form, this will open the door to widespread altering of emissions systems, as there will be open access to the software,” noted Schmeiser. “Additionally, with access to the software you will create many safety hazards. As an example, a tractor’s brakes are designed for maximum speed of 40 kilometres per hour. However, with access to the software that speed can be increased to as high as 70 kilometres per hour.”
NAEDA’s suggested change to right-to-repair bill:
Nothing in Bill C-244 shall apply to:
1. A manufacturer, distributor, importer, or dealer of any off-road (non-road) equipment, including but not limited to farm and utility tractors, forestry equipment, construction equipment, mining equipment, and any tools, technology, attachments, accessories, components and repair parts for any of the foregoing.
The proposed legislation could also create cybersecurity risks, he told the committee. “Most modern farm equipment has remote access and diagnostic capabilities. We already have hackers who are boasting about their attempts to remotely shut down tractors, so opening up access to the software will put Canada’s food supply chain at risk.”
Schmeiser emphasized that dealers and agricultural manufacturers are committed to allowing customer repairs, noting OEMs “offer customers access to error or fault codes, plus the same repair manuals, diagnostic equipment, special tools, training and parts that are available to dealers should a farmer or a third party repair shop wish to purchase them.”
98 per cent of repairs on agricultural equipment can still be performed by farmers or third party repair shops, he told MPs, with the remaining 2 per cent mainly related to safety and emissions-reducing parts of a machine.
He also acknowledged ongoing labour shortages as a contributing factor in the industry’s commitment to supporting customer repairs.
“We have a workforce development challenge within our industry. We can’t find enough mechanics, no matter what we’ve done…providing scholarships and training, we still need to fill that void. So it’s in our best interest for the customers to be able to repair their own equipment. And that’s why we support them with this industry commitment.”
In bringing the bill forward, MP Miao said Canadians should have the right to repair items that they have purchased. He has also emphasized the environmental or “sustainable consumerism” angle of allowing products to be repaired rather than throwing them away and purchasing new.