Canada is the newest frontier in the fight for the “right to repair” after an Ontario politician introduced a bill on Thursday that would ensure individuals and independent professionals can repair brand-name computers and phones cheaply and easily.
Manufacturers make it incredibly difficult to repair our broken devices ourselves. Instead of taking a smashed phone to a local repair professional for an affordable fix, a complex matrix of trade secrets and government intervention often means consumers have to make a pricey trip to the Genius Bar or buy a new device entirely. This is bad for your wallet, but also bad for the planet.
Ontario Liberal Party MPP Michael Coteau ran into this issue head-first after his daughter dropped his Samsung smartphone. An official repair job from the manufacturer was more expensive than just getting a new phone from his carrier, he told me over the phone.
“It’s a shame,” Coteau said, “because the Samsung S8 was very good for me. Everything was perfect. I would’ve kept using it. But now I’ve replaced it.”
On Thursday, Coteau introduced a private member’s bill in provincial parliament that, if passed, would be the first “right to repair” law for electronic devices in North America. More than a dozen US states are currently considering similar bills, but nothing is on the books yet in the US or in Canada.
The legislation proposes that tech companies make diagnostic tools, repair manuals, and official parts available to consumers at their request. The legislation would also require that any new products ship with a repair manual. Documents provided to consumers must be free unless they request paper copies, and parts, tools, and software must be provided at a fair price.
“The intention of the legislation is to force a company like Apple to ensure the parts they create for their phones and tablets are available to be purchased,” Coteau said, adding that the legislative process would look for ways to ensure companies’ copyright and intellectual property is respected.
If the bill becomes law, US-based companies like Apple will be forced to change how they operate to sell their wares in Canada’s most populous province. This could lead to a ripple effect not just across Canada, but across the US and potentially the world.
“If Ontario decided, 'We're going to pass the right to repair legislation,' that could actually pass right to repair for the world, because manufacturers aren't going to provide products differently to people in one jurisdiction,” Kyle Wiens, who runs DIY repair site iFixit, told the CBC last year.
The Ontario Liberal Party was decimated in the last provincial election, losing so many seats that it no longer has party status. This likely will make pushing a bill through difficult, especially with a conservative government in power. But Coteau said he believes the fight for the right to repair extends beyond party lines, and the bill is “flexible” and open to amendments.
“This is about making sure technology stays in the hands of the people, and it’s about making sure people have access to a fair and equitable approach to their products when it comes to their repair,” he said.
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