Bill C-18: Heritage Committee-Google meeting delayed due to technical issues

The House of Commons Heritage Committee meeting with Google executives regarding Bill C-18 has been deferred, “due to problems with interpretation services”, Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons confirmed to ITWC.

This is, however, not the first roadblock that this meeting hit.

Last week, the committee summoned Kent Walker, president of global affairs and chief legal officer of Alphabet, Richard Gingras, global vice president of news, and Sabrina Geremia, vice president and country manager of Google Canada. But Google only agreed to send Geremia and its public policy manager, Jason J. Kee.

In addition, the committee also ordered Alphabet and all of its subsidiaries, including Google, to provide all external or internal communication, including emails and texts, related to Bill C-18, by 5 p.m. on Mar. 2. But the tech giant failed to comply.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a Heritage committee member, said on Friday that he intends to propose that the committee formally report Google’s failure to comply with the Parliament. “I am disappointed to have not had a positive response from Google’s executives from the United States and to have not received any of the documents we requested as yet.”

At the heart of the battle is the Liberal government’s Online News Act, passed late last year, requiring tech giants such as Google and Meta to negotiate deals that would compensate Canadian media companies for republishing their content on their platforms.

In response, Google said it will temporarily limit access to news content for under four per cent of its Canadian users, as part of a national test, as it evaluates possible responses. The national test will run for five weeks, and will impact all types of news content created by Canadian broadcasters and newspapers.

The government said it intended to regulate digital news intermediaries (search engine or social media), enhance fairness and sustainability in the digital news marketplace, and support independent local news businesses. 

Canadian Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez said in a tweet, “It’s disappointing to hear that Google is trying to block access to news sites. Canadians won’t be intimidated. At the end of the day, all we’re asking the tech giants to do is compensate journalists when they use their work.”

Meanwhile, it is Canadians who will be deprived of the free flow of information, while independent media will have their competitiveness harmed, Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law said in a blog post.

“As the Google test demonstrates, everyone loses with the current bill. Trust in Google is undermined when it secretly degrades its own service, news organizations won’t see new revenues if the companies stop linking and they will also lose the benefits of the links, and Canadians will find that the bill is an own-goal by the government that undermines the foundation of the Internet,” stated Geist.

The meeting should provide more answers to Canadians, if MPs do not engage in “political grandstanding”, Geist told The Globe and Mail.

New Democrat MP Peter Julian had planned to introduce a motion to notify the House of Commons that Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as its president of global affairs Kent Walker and vice-president of news Richard Gingras, refused the committee’s summons. Julian said he will bring forward the motion at the next hearing.

Geremia did turn up at the cancelled meeting however, hence technically fulfilling her summons.

It is not known yet when the postponed meeting will take place, but the committee is hoping to reschedule her appearance for later this week, according to a report by the Canadian Press.

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Ashee Pamma
Ashee Pamma
Ashee is a writer for ITWC. She completed her degree in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. She hopes to become a columnist after further studies in Journalism. You can email her at [email protected]

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