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Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez reacts to Facebook ‘threat’ over online news bill

Bill would force digital giants to compensate news outlets for reusing their work
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez speaks with the media before attending caucus, Wednesday, April 27, 2022 in Ottawa. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has hit back at Facebook’s hint that it has not ruled out banning Canadians viewing and sharing news on its site, in response to a federal online news law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is hitting back at Meta, which owns Facebook, after the company did not rule out banning Canadians from viewing and sharing news on the social network.

The Liberal government introduced a bill earlier this month that would force digital giants to compensate news outlets for reusing their work.

Canada’s bill to support the news industry is modelled on a law in Australia, where Facebook introduced a temporary ban on viewing and sharing news on its site last year in protest of the draft legislation.

An executive from Meta Canada did not rule out a similar response here when pressed on the issue Tuesday at a parliamentary committee.

Rodriguez said, though Facebook could do it, he did not expect that would be popular with Canadians.

“They made the same threat in Australia and at the end of the day they stayed,” Rodriguez told reporters Wednesday ahead of the Liberal caucus meeting.

“It wasn’t well received by the Australian people and I don’t think it would be well received by the Canadian people.”

Rodriguez added in French that the “threat is not making me work faster.”

News Media Canada, which represents the country’s news industry, said: “Those tactics didn’t work in Australia and they won’t work in Canada.

Meta Canada’s Rachel Curran was asked by a Conservative MP at the Commons public safety committee on Tuesday whether a ban like the one Facebook introduced in Australia is off the table in Canada.

“We are still looking at all of the options based on our evaluation of the legislation,” Curran replied.

Curran also told the committee the company was “not consulted” on the contents of the bill.

Rodriguez said this was not the case.

“They lied,” he told reporters.

“Facebook yesterday in committee said they had not been consulted, which is not true,” he said.

He said he had met Meta personally on Feb. 10 and that his staff spoke with the company regularly.

He said Meta had not seen the bill before it was tabled in the House of Commons, which is in line with parliamentary procedures, but they were consulted along with other platforms.

“For us, it is a simple principle. The door is open. We are ready to discuss,” he said.

On Tuesday, Curran told the committee the tech giant was unaware of the “scope” of the legislation until it was tabled and that it had “some pretty serious concerns.”

Curran said on Wednesday Meta had “accepted a phone call” from Rodriguez’s office shortly before the bill was tabled, but was not consulted on the scope or substance of the bill.

“Meta stands for evidence-based policy developed in response to how the internet actually works,” Curran said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging with the government, Parliament and Canadians once we have completed a detailed review of the proposed legislation to more fully understand what the bill entails.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the NDP would support the Liberal government’s online news bill to “make sure web giants pay their fair share” for reusing news.

“Facebook will raise concerns because they don’t want to pay their fair share,” he said.

— Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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