Emails Suggest Bell Pressured Brock University VP to Write Support for Website Blocking

University of Ottawa Law Professor, Michael Geist, has shared internal emails obtained via Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) from Brock University, which alludes to Bell urging a Brock University executive to support the FairPlay Canada initiative, which aims to block piracy websites.

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Brian Hutchings, Brock University’s Vice-President, Administration, was introduced to Mark Milliere, Bell-owned TSN’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, over email, thanks to former Brock professor Cheri Bradish, currently employed at Ryerson University.

With the connection made, Milliere asks Hutchings for a letter of support for FairPlay Canada, citing how “TSN has a long history of hiring Brock University Grads and providing internships for Brock Sport Management Students.” Milliere also provides Hutchings with the incorrect submission deadline date.

Hutchings eventually submits his letter of support for Bell and FairPlay Canada—on his own accord without consulting Brock University.

This sparked backlash from the Brock University Faculty Association and the university’s Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic, distancing themselves from Hutchings, noting his views are not supported by the university.

Here’s how Geist sums up Bell’s “backroom pressure” on post secondary institutions:

Given its other astroturfing efforts with its own employees, the Bell backroom pressure on universities is not particularly surprising. However, the documents confirm that the source of the largely discredited submission was Bell outreach (notably, Bell’s contacts at Brock were so limited that introductions from another university were needed). Further, had Bell not given a false deadline date to spur action (the original Bell letter included the correct submission deadline), it is entirely possible that the submission would have come on the final day, thereby eliminating the opportunity for other Brock executives and faculty to correct the public record.

The pressure at Brock was presumably mirrored at other organizations, confirming yet again the the FairPlay “coalition” was a Bell-led initiative and raising the question of which supportive interventions were the direct result of Bell outreach to business partners, grant recipients, or others beholden to Canada’s largest communications company.

Back in February, Bell asked its employees to file CRTC submissions to support their website blocking proposal, but according to documents seen by Geist at the time, there was no indication employees were encouraged to note their affiliate with the company in submissions.