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Temporary blocking of access to information | MPs weigh in on Google decision



(Ottawa) A House of Commons committee will subpoena senior Google executives as part of a study into the web giant’s decision to block journalistic content from its platform in Canada.

The MPs who sit on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage unanimously approved a motion on Tuesday triggering such a review.

Google President and CEO Sundar Pichai will be called, as will Kent Walker, president of global affairs and chief legal officer for the company. The vice-president and leader of Google in Canada, Sabrina Geremia, is also on the list of representatives to be subpoenaed.

The motion provides that the testimony of the leaders of the digital platform will take place next Monday for two hours.

A subpoena to appear before a parliamentary committee means that anyone who is the subject of the subpoena and is in Canada must comply with it. This is therefore different from an invitation to testify in committee to which the individual concerned would voluntarily respond in the affirmative.

“In practice, there are recognized limitations to the power to order the appearance of individuals. Since its powers have no effect outside Canadian territory, a committee cannot summon an individual who is abroad to appear,” reads the rules of procedure of the House of Commons.

Many of Google’s representatives are not based in Canada, as the company’s headquarters are in the United States.

Called to respond to the committee’s request, the company declined to tell The Canadian Press whether its executives would agree to testify. “We will respond directly to the committee,” a Google spokesperson replied by email.

Request for obtaining documents

The Heritage Committee will review Google’s decision to block news from its interface, but will go further in its review.

The motion passed Tuesday requires the web giant to provide federal elected officials with copies of all “internal or external communications including, but not limited to, emails and text messages […] in connection with planned actions or options considered in relation to Canadian Bill C-18”.

Last week, Google confirmed to The Canadian Press that it would limit access to news on its search engine to less than 4% of its Canadian users. The technology giant explained that it was a short-term test in response to Bill C-18 on online news proposed by the Liberal government, which it opposes.

The bill, currently before the Senate, would force digital giants such as Google and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to negotiate deals to compensate Canadian media companies for displaying or providing links to their news content.

Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc committee members – who called for Tuesday’s meeting on an urgent basis – say Google is trying to intimidate the parliamentary process in Canada by threatening to censor news on its platform.

“It’s an irresponsible act and it’s time Google executives were brought to account for their actions,” NDP House Leader Peter Julian said shortly before elected officials voted on the motion.

Liberal Chris Bittle, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Heritage, went on to say that it is “troubling” that Google is deciding to limit access to news content, considering that Meta has backtracked on this chapter by Australia.

Indeed, this company had this reflex when Australia went ahead with a law similar to the one that Ottawa wants to adopt, but ended up backpedaling.

Bloc Québécois Martin Champoux said he found Google’s actions “extremely worrying”. “Me, I want to know quickly what the real reasons for this operation are because it seems to me much more intimidation than business strategy. »

Last Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not mince his words to denounce Google’s approach.

“I think it’s extremely surprising that Google would rather deny Canadians access to news than want to pay journalists for the work they do as professionals. It’s really sad,” he said.

Major traditional media companies have praised Bill C-18, saying it will create a level playing field with Google and Facebook, which compete with them for the advertising market.

Tech companies and conservatives have criticized the bill, arguing it offers the wrong approach to improving journalism. Despite their opposition to the piece of legislation, the Conservatives gave their approval to the parliamentary study on blocking Google.

In the past, Google has said it would rather pay Canadian media through a fund than be regulated by the government.

“We remain committed to supporting a sustainable future for news in Canada and delivering solutions that fix Bill C-18,” Google spokesperson Shay Purdy said in a written statement released last week. .

With information from Mickey Djuric

Several media have already concluded agreements with Google and Meta. These have remained confidential. The Canadian Press has also had a partnership with Meta since 2020 for a program aimed at providing around ten scholarships per year to young journalists at the start of their career.

– With information from Mickey Djuric

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