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Expert Criticizes Canada’s AI Legislation Efforts in Parliamentary Hearing

Expert’s Analogy Highlights Legislative Shortcomings

In his recent testimony before the Commons industry committee, University of Toronto’s Professor Emeritus Andrew Clement offered a pointed critique of Canada’s proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), likening the legislation to a “race car without an engine.” Urging for a complete overhaul of the approach, Clement highlighted the need for broader public consultation in the legislative process, emphasizing that effective AI governance requires more than just speed.

Government’s Ambitious AI Governance Goals Questioned

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s ambition to position Canada as a leader in AI governance was met with skepticism by Clement. He argued that the current legislative proposal lacks the necessary foundation and practical measures to ensure robust AI oversight, suggesting a more methodical and inclusive approach to policy-making.

Concerns Over Ministerial Power and Oversight

Conflict of Interest and Oversight Issues Raised

Clement expressed concerns about the proposed bill granting extensive powers to the Innovation Minister, a role inherently aimed at promoting the AI industry, which could lead to potential conflicts of interest. He also recommended that the AI data commissioner’s role, as outlined in the bill, should be filled by an independent officer of Parliament rather than being under the minister’s influence.

Lack of Inclusive Consultation

Highlighting the government’s consultation process, Clement pointed out a significant emphasis on industry discussions over meaningful engagement with civil society. Out of more than 300 meetings held, a vast majority were with business interests, including significant interactions with major U.S. tech companies, while only a minimal number involved civil society groups.

Calls for a More Inclusive Legislative Process

Experts and Industry Leaders Seek Broader Consultation

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Echoing the sentiments of other experts and stakeholders, Clement called for a more inclusive and comprehensive consultation process. Such a process, he argued, would ensure a legislative framework that not only addresses the complexities of AI but is also reflective of a wide range of Canadian perspectives.

AIDA’s Intended Purpose and Global Context

Legislation Aims to Mitigate AI Risks

AIDA seeks to ensure the responsible use of “high impact” AI technologies, focusing on reducing harm and bias. The act proposes penalties for misusing data in AI development and for the reckless deployment of AI technologies that could cause significant harm or economic loss.

Global Developments in AI Legislation

As the Canadian Parliament deliberates on AIDA, global developments, particularly the European Parliament’s advancements in AI legislation, underline the necessity of a well-considered approach to AI regulation. Clement’s testimony underscores the importance of aligning Canada’s AI governance efforts with international standards and practices.

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