Big tech and the Canadian government are at an impasse. As a Canadian citizen, I am alarmed by the Trudeau government’s approach to tech regulation through Bills C-18 and C-11. These measures risk undermining the very foundations of Canadian democracy and a free and open internet.
Google responded to these threats on June 29 by announcing that, once Bill C-18 comes into effect, it will strip Canadian links from its Search, News, and Discover products. Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, forces big tech companies to pay for displaying links to Canadian news. Google points out the uncertainty and “uncapped financial liability” to which this exposes the company simply for “facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers.”
Meta will effectively do the same thing, terminating news content on Facebook and Instagram for Canadian users. It seems that the Trudeau government’s ill-conceived approach is backfiring.
In response, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez tweeted that tech giants should pay their “fair share” for news. This perspective fundamentally fails to recognize the substantial traffic and visibility that these platforms provide to Canadian news outlets. It also demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of how the digital ecosystem works.
Critics say this battle will inevitably result in overall lower traffic on Canadian news sites, creating the opposite effect from what policymakers had anticipated. To scapegoat U.S. tech companies for Canadian media’s lack of success, and then to hide Canadian publications from big tech platforms’ users, is a strange way of promoting Canadian journalism.
The Online Streaming Act, Bill C-11, provides yet another example of the Trudeau government’s ham-fisted attempt to control digital content. This act, which received royal assent on April 27, 2023, imposes requirements on streaming services such as Disney+, Netflix, and Spotify to “clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming, in both official languages as well as in Indigenous languages.”
This places the burden on American companies to compensate for the lack of popularity of Canadian media, forcing them to allocate additional resources to fulfill diversity, equity, and inclusion standards that the even Trudeau government itself does not uphold. As Canadian commentator Rex Murphy pointed out, it is disconcerting that the government believes that “saying you have virtues is the same thing as being it.”
But these regulations are not really about saving Canadian news; rather, they are about exerting control over it. Bill C-11 empowers the government to regulate not only what is seen on television and radio, but also on websites and streaming platforms. Disturbingly, between January 2020 and February 2023, federal staff members requested the removal of content on 214 occasions. This is evidence of a recurring pattern, showcasing the government’s desire to control online content.
And most readers do not directly visit news websites. Instead, they rely on links shared by friends, searches on Google, and intriguing headlines discovered while scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. These platforms drive traffic towards lesser-known local news outlets, providing them with invaluable exposure.
Between April 2021 and April 2022, Facebook feeds alone reportedly sent Canadian publishers more than 1.9 billion clicks, “worth an estimated $230M in free marketing.” Although Facebook benefits from this arrangement, that does not justify targeting it for additional compensation.
Trudeau and his ministers incessantly lament the disappearance of “independent, nonpartisan newsrooms,” attributing the phenomenon to big tech dominance. But ironically, Canadian politicians maintain active social media accounts. Mere weeks after the passage of Bill C-11 in the Senate on February 2, Trudeau debuted his first video on his own YouTube channel, revealing a striking double standard in his government’s approach.
The government’s actions, rather than fostering cooperation or seeking middle ground, have transformed Canada into an increasingly hostile environment for media and tech companies. His heavy-handed approach could discourage foreign businesses from operating in Canada, as a robust social media presence is vital for success across various industries.
Alarmingly, Trudeau’s government shows no signs of relenting. It has even gone as far as ceasing to buy ads on Facebook, instead of pursuing cooperation or seeking middle ground or compromise. Trudeau must urgently reconsider his approach. Instead of banishing big tech, he must aim for a balanced regulatory framework that respects the principles of a free and open internet while fostering an environment conducive to economic growth, innovation, and the preservation of Canadian democracy.
April Liu is a Research Associate at National Journal in Washington, D.C., and a writer for Young Voices. She specializes in data privacy, tech, and AI regulation.
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