The Canadian Heritage committee moved ahead yesterday with a Bill C-18 motion that should strike fear in any group that participates in the political process. In a chaotic few minutes toward the end of the meeting, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather introduced a new motion that removed some of the worst of the authoritarian-style provisions previously proposed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage that demanded the private communications of potentially thousands of Canadians. However, it still retained mandated document disclosures that should send a chill into companies, NGOs, and anyone else that engages in, or strategizes about, government legislation. Calling executives into committee is not only appropriate, it is often essential. So too is following up with document demands based on the discussion. But in this case, the Heritage committee is engaged in a fishing expedition based largely on opposition to government legislation.
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Canadian Chamber of Commerce Warns on Government-Backed Bill C-18 Motion: “A Serious Threat to the Privacy of Canadians”
Later today, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage will vote on a government-backed motion that would compel Google and Facebook to disclose private third-party communications dating back years that could sweep in the private communications of thousands of Canadians. The motion, which is obvious retribution for opposing Bill C-18, is a stunning attack on the privacy of Canadians and could have a chilling effect on public participation. However, you don’t have to take my word for it. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has issued a dire warning about the motion in a public letter, suggesting it is undemocratic and urging MPs to reject it.
Government-Backed Motion Demands Disclosure of Years of Third-Party Communications With Google and Facebook in Retribution for Opposing Bill C-18
The government plans to introduce a motion next week requiring Google and Facebook to turn over years of private third-party communication involving any Canadian regulation. The move represents more than just a remarkable escalation of its battle against the two tech companies for opposing Bill C-18 and considering blocking news sharing or linking in light of demands for hundreds of millions in payments. The motion – to be introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (yes, that guy) – calls for a series of hearings on what it describes as “current and ongoing use of intimidation and subversion tactics to avoid regulation in Canada”. In the context of Bill C-18, those tactics amount to little more than making the business choice that Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez made clear was a function of his bill: if you link to content, you fall within the scope of the law and must pay. If you don’t link, you are out of scope.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 158: In Their Own Words – Ministers, MPs, Senators and Government Officials on Bill C-18
Bill C-18, the Online News Act, has been at the centre of growing firestorm in Canada following reports that Google has begun testing the removal of links to Canadian news services for a small percentage of its users. The issue is headed to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage later today with MPs likely to take turns berating Google executives. If you’re just catching up or don’t understand what the fuss is about, this Law Bytes podcast is for you. While the government tries to spin the bill as a big win for media of all sizes without concerns for the Internet, the reality is far different. But you don’t have to take my word for it. This podcast episode features clips of what Ministers, MPs, Senators, and government officials have already said at committee or in the Senate about the bill.
Bill C-18, Google and Mandated Payments for Links: My Appearance on CBC’s Power and Politics
As the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage summoned Google to appear next week before committee (and implausibly provide all internal documentation related to Bill C-18 by tomorrow), media coverage of the bill and Google’s response has intensified. I was pleased to appear on CBC’s Power and Politics to discuss the the bill, Google’s response, and the implications of mandated payments for links that the government expects could fund 35% of news expenditures in all news outlets in Canada.