Chair to study how laws adapt to IT

MONTREAL – The Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Law has inaugurated what is believed to be the first Chair in Canada in information technology and e-commerce law to study how modern law adapts to e-commerce and

information technology.

The L. R. Wilson Chair was established with a $750,000 donation by Lynton R. Wilson, a former president and CEO of BCE and current chairman of the board of Nortel Networks. Other donations include $250,000 each from law firm McCarthy Tetrault and the Quebec Liquor Commission, $150,000 from law firm Osler, Harcourt & Hoskins and $100,000 each from Bell Canada and Montreal businessmen Louis Lagassé and André Chagnon for a total of $1.5 million.

The Chair will be part of the university’s Public Law Research Centre which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. For the past 20 years, the centre has dedicated a lot of research into information technology law, according to Jacques Frémont, dean of the Faculty of Law.

“”We’ve been a pioneer in this field, beginning with communications law then artificial intelligence law and now Internet law,”” said Frémont. “”In fact, we helped create the Web site for the Supreme Court of Canada.””

Wilson said he decided to help fund the chair because, at both BCE and Nortel, he became aware of the problems of having a legal framework to work within the nefarious world of cyberspace.

“”I’m not a lawyer, but a businessman and the Université de Montréal’s law faculty is first class and a leader in Internet law.””

The timing of the Chair couldn’t be better, according to Robert Lacroix, rector of the university.

“”Information technology is changing society daily. Its exponential growth poses many challenges, one of the biggest unquestionably being the need to define a new form of law capable of regulating interactions in cyberspace.””

In addition to looking at how today’s laws can adapt to e-commerce, the Chair will also improve the expertise in such areas as contracts, intellectual property rights, human rights and conflict prevention and resolution in cyberspace. It will also attempt to develop strategies to ensure the orderly flow of e-commerce activities and other interactions such as online mediation or arbitration services.

For example, one of the largest areas of concern is the privacy issue as it relates to Canadian health services, according to law professor Pierre Trudel at the university’s Public Law Research Centre and the Chair’s first director.

“”There’s a lot of information that people send to hospitals and other health centres via the Internet that often ends up in the wrong hands. This is a serious concern. Other problems are how to protect intellectual properties and how to protect children surfing on the Net.””

Although the Chair isn’t designed to weigh in on legal challenges, the department’s work will attempt to provide tools of reference for lawyers and judges to consult in rendering legal decisions related to the Net.

“”In a lot of cases, we’re dealing with both legal and government aspects at the same time and there’s often no black and white solution,”” said Trudel.

A case in point is Quebec cabinet minister Louise Beaudoin’s recent attempt to shut down an English-only Web site because it contravened Quebec’s language laws that stipulate sites must be bilingual with French being predominant.

The Web site owner saw no need to have French on the site because 95 per cent of his products were sold in the U.S. He also claimed the province has no jurisdiction in cyberspace. The dispute hasn’t been resolved.

Trudel doesn’t think there will ever by an international tribunal to regulate cyberspace problems such as the World Court in The Hague. Instead, he sees other bodies such as UNESCO becoming more involved. He also points to other organizations such as the Electronic Consumer Dispute Resolution in Dublin, Ireland, that his department help set up.

“”We believe each dispute has to be dealt with on a case by case basis.””

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