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Heritage minister 'surprised' by Google news ban; ambassador says U.S. won't intervene


Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says he was surprised by Google's announcement that it will cease hosting links to Canadian news outlets.

"Well, Meta, I always said it was complicated; Google we still have conversations as recent as this morning," Rodriguez told CTV's Power Play Thursday afternoon. "I'm a bit surprised by Google's reaction."

Earlier in the day, Google declared that it will be removing Canadian news from its platforms and ending existing deals with local publishers due to the Liberal government's Online News Act.

Formally known as Bill C-18, the Online News Act forces digital giants like Google and Facebook parent Meta to pay media outlets for content that is shared, previewed or otherwise repurposed on their platforms. Meta has also confirmed that it is pulling Canadian news from Facebook and Instagram and ending deals with local publishers, such as one that supported hiring emerging journalists.

"We cannot have tech giants as powerful as they are with big lawyers and everything coming here and telling members of parliament and the government elected by the people, 'This is what you're going to do,’" the minister said. "We can't accept that. We're a sovereign nation."

Rodriguez said Google's announcement took him by surprise because the law is not yet in effect. He said conversations with the company remain ongoing, and some common ground has been reached.

"Around 500 newsrooms closed their doors across the country… and they will continue closing their doors," Rodriguez said. "The status quo is not working because the money is going to the tech giants."

Although the Biden administration hasn't weighed in on the legislation, some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concerns that it unfairly targets American companies.

"It wasn't accidental that the United States didn't take a position on C-18," United States Ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen told CTV Power Play on Thursday. "It's not that the letter got lost in the mail. I mean, there was plenty of discussion and there was just a decision that this was not something that we chose to intervene in."

The law, which passed on June 22, will come into effect by the end of the year.

As diminishing ad revenues contribute to Canadian newsroom cuts, the Online News Act was intended to help keep the industry afloat. Google's search engine enjoys an approximately 90 per cent market share in the country while social media platforms like Facebook are important drivers of digital traffic.

Michael Geist is a University of Ottawa law professor and the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law. He calls the new legislation “bad for everyone.”

"I think it's bad for the company, because its search features in Canada and Google News won't be as good,” Geist told CTV National News on Thursday. “It's clearly bad for Canadian news outlets who rely heavily on Google and Meta for referral traffic… And it's bad for the Canadian public because their access to search results won't be as good."

Geist says the legislation is also fundamentally "disastrous" for the government.

"The government made a big bet, seemingly just based on the notion that somehow this was all just a big bluff; I don't think it read the room," he said. "I don't think it fully appreciated the current circumstances and it put a fundamental principle of the internet – the notion of free flow of information through linking – at risk."

With files from The Canadian Press




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