(Ottawa) The Web giant will stop cutting access to news next week. This measure taken in response to Bill C-18 affects approximately one million users in Canada. His Canadian representatives tried repeatedly to dodge questions from elected officials on Friday, to such an extent that they decided to swear them in in the middle of their testimony.
This is a rarely used procedure. Members of Parliament from all parties have made no secret of their exasperation with the attempts of the vice-president and national director of Google Canada, Sabrina Geremia, to evade their questions. Liberal MP Chris Bittle reminded her that she could be charged with perjury.
Google Canada’s Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Jason J. Kee said Google will stop blocking links to news articles on March 16.
From the outset, the two Google representatives defended themselves from cutting access to news to 4% of their users in Canada. “I want to emphasize that these are only tests,” said Mr. Kee, at the beginning of his testimony. He added that they were made in anticipation of the application of the bill which would force the Web giant to enter into agreements for the sharing of its revenues with the media and that no final decision had been made.
Rather, it is “unfair pressure tactics,” argued Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux.
“You have exceeded the limits,” warned the Conservative MP, Kevin Waugh, who denounced this attack on democracy. “We have no idea what your tests consist of.”
The parliamentarians who sit on the standing committee on Canadian heritage had summoned the senior executives of Google, Sundar Pichai, Kent Walker and Richard Gingras, but they instead delegated their representatives in Canada, Sabrina Geremia, and Jason J. Kee.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather noted that two of Google’s big bosses had traveled to Canada to lobby elected officials against Bill C-18. “So they are ready to pressure us privately, but don’t want to come to the committee to speak publicly,” he said.
He recalled that the multinational, which has approximately 30 million users in Canada, holds 92% of the search engine market. He also pointed out that it earned $279 billion in revenue in the last fiscal year and that similar deals struck after similar legislation was passed in Australia cost it $150 million.
“Google is abusing its dominant position in the market to try to force the hand of the Canadian government,” denounced his Liberal colleague Lisa Hepfner.
Representatives of Google in Canada spent a bad quarter of an hour during their visit Friday to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage of the House of Commons. Its president urged them on several occasions to answer questions. “It was very clear that this committee was not called to discuss testing,” Hedy Fry reminded them.
They also came under fire from parliamentarians for providing material already available on Google’s site instead of their email and text exchanges about blocking news sites.
Google opposes Bill C-18, which would force Web giants to enter into revenue-sharing agreements with media whose content is used for free by these platforms.
C-18 puts a price on free links to web pages, setting a dangerous precedent that threatens the foundations of the open web and the free flow of information.
Sabrina Geremia, Vice President and National Director of Google Canada
Google’s revolt comes as Quebecor, Global News and Postmedia, which owns the Montreal Gazette, cut in their workforce. Web giants like Google and Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) capture the vast majority of online revenue. This loss of ad revenue is hurting newsrooms.
Google representatives in Canada were to answer questions from elected officials by videoconference on Monday, but the meeting was finally canceled after being delayed for more than an hour due to technical problems related to interpretation in the two official languages provided by the House of Commons. The emergency committee meeting was called at the request of the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Québécois.