(OTTAWA) Bill C-18 to force “web giants” to compensate news media for sharing their articles and stories passed the Senate on Thursday and will likely become reality in the coming days , at the same time that Meta is blocking the access of several Canadians to this same content on Facebook and Instagram.
A majority of senators gave the last green light needed for the legislative proposal to be sent back to the House of Commons.
That seal of approval resulted in a third reading vote of 51 in favor and 23 against. Very few of the amendments made are likely to displease the government.
This situation could facilitate the future if the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois continue to be on the same wavelength as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the Commons, as has been the case in the past. .
Both Houses must agree on the same version of the legislative proposal for the formality of Royal Assent to take place and for C-18 to become law.
In fact, the vast majority of amendments submitted by senators have the support of the government or, at the very least, the government does not oppose them, according to indications given by the sponsor of the legislative proposal in the Upper House, Senator Peter Harder, during clause-by-clause consideration in the Senate committee.
The government wants, with this bill, to force Google and Meta to enter into “fair compensation” agreements with Canadian media based on several criteria. The two digital companies strongly oppose it.
“We are very concerned about the path we are embarking on and urgently seek to work with the government to find a compromise that would avoid a negative outcome for Canadians and pave the way for us to maintain and grow our investments in the ‘news ecosystem in Canada,’ spokesperson for Google’s Canadian division, Shay Purdy, said in writing Thursday.
Meta referred La Presse Canadienne to a web page on which the company reiterates that “if Bill C-18 […] passes, content shared by news media, including news publishers and broadcasters , will no longer be available to Facebook and Instagram users in Canada.”
In the context of the end of C-18’s legislative journey, Meta has already set in motion, as announced earlier this month, its blocking following months of repeated threats, through what are presented as “tests “. Google had done the same in March and leaves open the possibility of returning to the charge.
Meta maintained that its “testing” should identify any issues before shutting off the faucet permanently. This week, screenshots of people who do not have access to the Facebook pages of daily newspapers such as “Le Journal de Québec” or “La Presse” have been widely circulated, triggering a wave of denunciation among press owners, media and politicians.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez was among those who condemned the “intimidation” attempt. “I would like to thank senators for their important work during the study of Bill C-18,” he said in a written statement Thursday.
He did not immediately want to comment on the Senate amendments. “At the end of the day, we want to continue to have a free and independent press, it’s fundamental to our democracy,” he added.
When the bill was introduced in April last year, the government presented the goal as giving digital companies six months to voluntarily agree with a range of players, including media local authorities, otherwise they would be forced into a three-stage negotiation framework.
The first is to set a deadline of about three months for an agreement to be reached between the parties. Then, a mediation process lasting up to about four months can be initiated and, as a last resort, an arbitration process lasting no more than 45 days.
An amendment proposed by the Senate aims to write down the six-month period in black and white. Another proposed change-the only one that the government will oppose, according to Senator Harder-would have the effect of clarifying that media and digital companies must discuss, at the first stage of the planned framework of negotiations, “the value that each party derives news content” and what should be transferred.
Without the Amendment, such “value”, which may be monetary or otherwise, will only be referred to as to be considered at the arbitration stage.
Thomas Owen Ripley, assistant deputy minister at the Department of Heritage, said during the study of C-18 in Senate committee that this choice was made in the hope that most negotiations would be concluded without the need for a process of arbitration and to leave, in the earlier stages, “a large margin of maneuver (and) discretion to the parties”.