The News Rundown
- Bill C-18, the Trudeau government's idea to force companies like Google and Meta, which owns Facebook, to negotiate deals to pay Canadian media companies for the content they link to and preview on their websites and platforms, is now causing side-effects that the federal government in all their wisdom, didn't intend or forsee.
- In response to the bill, which passed in Parliament and is now being studied in the Senate, Google is blocking about 4% of Canadian users from viewing news content in what the company says is a test run of a potential response to the Liberal government's online news bill. The change applies to its ubiquitous search engine as well as the Discover feature on Android devices, which carries news and sports stories. All types of news content are being affected by the test, which will run for about five weeks, the company said. That includes content created by Canadian broadcasters and newspapers.
- To find out if you're one of the 4%, simply open the Google search engine, type in a Canadian-themed word like "Trudeau" or "Ottawa" and then click on Google's "News" tab. If you see stories by Canadian media outlets like CTV News, your account is probably not affected. If you're mostly seeing news sources from the U.S. and elsewhere, you're likely among the four per cent.
- Google spokesman Shay Purdy said “We're briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users. We've been fully transparent about our concern that C-18 is overly broad and, if unchanged, could impact products Canadians use and rely on every day.”
- Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has argued the bill, which is similar to a law that Australia passed in 2021, will “enhance fairness” in the digital news marketplace by creating a framework and bargaining process for online behemoths to pay media outlets. Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Rodriguez, accused Google of imitating Facebook, which in October said it would not rule out blocking Canadians’ access to news if the online news legislation, known as Bill C-18, passes without changes.
- But Google expressed concerns in a House of Commons committee that the prospective law does not require publishers to adhere to basic journalistic standards, that it would favour large publishers over smaller outlets and that it could result in the proliferation of “cheap, low quality, clickbait content” over public interest journalism.
- Google has warned that the bill, as worded, could lead to a “link tax,” which would force it to pay news organizations for links to articles. It has also warned that Bill C-18 could force it to subsidize non-authoritative or biased news sources. The company voiced its opposition to the proposed legislation in an October appearance before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which was studying the bill. Instead of negotiating with Canadian media companies, Google has proposed contributing to a fund that would pay them indirectly.
- Any followers of Western Context will know that journalism in Canada has already devolved over the past decade or so. Predictably, Canadian news coverage on this story has been massively slanted in favour of Bill C-18. Gee, I wonder why? Perhaps a country that has re-elected a government that has normalized conflict of interest scandals, should not be surprised to find that organizations in Canada are engaged in the same actions, with no recourse.
- Trudeau went out of his way to volunteer that he’s surprised by Google’s actions, which he thinks is a “terrible mistake.” If Trudeau was surprised, then he has not been paying attention, as the possibility of removing links to news articles in search results or social media has been an obvious consequence of a bill that mandates payments for links. But his surprise isn’t what is important or requires comment. What does is that Trudeau’s comments mislead on several critical issues with Bill C-18.
- Regardless of your view, it cannot reasonably be said that Google is preventing Canadians from accessing news. Google does not have the power to prevent anyone from accessing third party websites since the removal of links from search results does not remove or block the site itself nor prevent anyone from accessing it directly. Words matter. It is not just misleading to claim that Google is preventing Canadians from accessing news, it is dangerous. There are many countries that engage in content blocking or other measures to actually prevent access and the Prime Minister should not be conflating removal of search results with website blocking.
- Trudeau’s claim that Bill C-18 about payments to journalists isn’t well reflected in the bill itself. As a result of amendments at the Canadian Heritage committee, the definition of eligible news businesses was expanded to include hundreds of community, campus or indigenous broadcasters licensed by the CRTC. As a result, Bill C-18 actually would require payments to hundreds of broadcasters without any actual journalism or original news content. That isn’t funding journalism or journalists. It is creating a subsidy program that only requires a CRTC-issued licence.
- Bill C-18 is also not about payment for the reproduction of journalists’ work. It is about payment for links, indexing and any other mechanism that is seen to “facilitate access” to news. There are many concerns with BIll C-18, but none are more important than the harm to freedom of expression and the free flow of information online that arise from mandated payments for links.
- That the government believes that Google and Facebook should pay hundreds of millions of dollars for links – as much as 35% of all news expenditures of virtually every television broadcaster, radio station, and news outlet in Canada according to the bill’s sponsor in the Senate – would not only render Canadian media entirely dependent on two foreign companies for their survival, but would create a framework that threatens the foundational frameworks for how information flows online, including the freedom to link to information and the benefits of indexing that information so that it can be more easily found.
- Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, Trudeau, and other Liberal MPs and senators keep insisting that Canada won’t be intimidated by Google, but if there are any threats happening, they are coming from Bill C-18 and from a Prime Minister who is seeking to garner support for an already unpopular and unnecessary bill that simply does not do what he says it does.
- The government presents Google and Facebook with a choice in Bill C-18: pay for links to Canadian news articles or stop linking to them. Stopping linking would obviously come at great cost to everyone: Google would face a loss of trust and heightened competition from other search engines that do not face Bill C-18 obligations, Canadian news sites would lose valuable referral traffic, and Canadians would experience a degraded version of services they rely upon. That Google is considering not linking despite those costs is consistent with the framework established in Bill C-18 and rightly takes a stand against the bill’s threat to the free flow of information online.
- At the end of the day, we have to decide if the Trudeau government's priorities, which include distraction legislation like Bill C-18, the gun ban, and the so-called 'Just Transition' plan, are worth focussing on more than priorities that Canadians really need help with, like housing, healthcare and inflation. And it's hard to take reporting on Bill C-18 at face value, given the controversial nature of the relationship between the government and the media. We at Western Context will always give you the story, regardless of any bias and sensationalism you see in the mainstream media.
- As we head towards the Alberta election this year we need to have a look at how our economy is doing and what the general impact of inflation is here in the province.
- This week it was announced that the inflation rate ticked down to 5.9% from 6.3% in December nationwide but the story in Alberta is different.
- Everyone in Canada is still paying the cost of food. Food prices are up 11.4% over the last year with the biggest being in lettuce.
- Everything is up double digits year over year with the lowest being potatoes at 15.9% and lettuce being the highest with a 35.3% increase.
- Poultry is also up due to the avian flu killing chickens but other food price increases can be attributed to supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine, and most importantly the cost of fuel and climate change.
- The stark part about this is of course that when you compare the rates, our food inflation rate is higher than that of the US and Russia.
- These are the result of policies put in place by the federal government when it comes to fuel and climate but there are also of course matters outside of our control on an international level.
- There is a silver lining though, the inflation rate in Alberta for the past six months on average has been 0.
- Food has gone up as I just told you but electricity and energy prices in Alberta have tumbled.
- So much so that their drops on average account for enough to zero out Alberta’s inflation rate.
- Economist Trevor Tombe says that the rebate the province has issued shows as a price reduction in the Stats Can data.
- Lower gas prices are also registering due to the gas tax suspension despite some saying the policy didn’t affect prices.
- This is important because there will be calls to expand affordability programs as we head towards the election and while that can be discussed and the programs should be audited, rebates work.
- Albertans by default are on a rolling energy plan but there exists the option to sign up for fixed rate plans at increments of 1,3, and 5 years.
- Albertans can go to energyrates.ca and enter their postal code to see options available to them.
- Many people who are having issues with utility bills are not on a fixed rate plan.
- There also exists the issue of delivery costs associated with the carbon tax and other environmental levies that the energy companies choose to put on the bill.
- This is why it is so important that the federal government act to not make things more expensive in the pursuit of their green goals.
- The inflation rate is an average of course but it shows where the pain is coming from and who it is being inflicted by.
- Getting back to the original story of food, everyone must admit that it’s hard to see things as getting cheaper when food is very clearly going up.
- We’re showcasing this story here in Alberta this week because it’s important and the top level details don’t immediately make clear what’s happening in the province and how the UCP energy policies have had an impact on prices in the province.
- If the 2019 election was any indication it will be full of stories based on sensationalist pictures and videos and energy is an area we’re looking at and will continue looking at.
- Last April, way back on episode 267, we discussed a report by a BC legislature committee, called the 'Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act', which was made up of MLAs of all 3 of BC's major political parties. This committee was tasked with coming up with solutions for policing in BC, in the midst of issues with the RCMP's handling of systemic racism, accountability, as well as questionable responses to the mental health and addictions crises. At the time, the committee had unanimously agreed, amongst all party lines, that the province should stop using the RCMP and create its own provincial police force that would create a more consistent standard for police response, training and oversight across BC.
- Almost a year later, a news article from local Vancouver reporter Justin McElroy highlights that almost no action on the committee's findings have been taken, despite wide support for the move, including from BC's First Nations, as well as bipartisan agreement on the findings. So why has the provincial NDP been moving at a glacial pace on this issue?
- Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who also said the province had begun work on smaller recommendations issued by the committee, said of the issue that "It's not something that's on the front burner. We have a lot on our plate right now, so it's certainly not going to be in this parliament."
- Farnworth's comments come as municipalities across the province are putting together their budgets for this year — an exercise that has become more expensive, and more controversial. In Surrey, BC's most populous municipality, former mayor Doug McCallum vowed to transition the city away from the RCMP, and had already made large steps away from the troubled organization. In October, this move was put into question as newly elected mayor Brenda Locke, largely elected based on a promise to return Surrey to the RCMP, immediately stopped the transition and threw even more chaos into the situation.
- Overall, municipalities in Metro Vancouver are budgeting more than $1.2 billion for policing expenses in 2023. The most contentious is Surrey's $338 million proposal — a giant increase driven by having both an RCMP and independent force at the moment, with uncertainty on which one will survive.
- Excluding Surrey, Metro Vancouver's five local police departments will cost $555 for every resident, while residents in the region's 15 RCMP-controlled detachments will spend $312 each. One of those local departments is New Westminster, where Mayor Patrick Johnstone says direct comparisons don't factor in the fact many local police departments are in communities with higher case loads. But there are benefits as well, he argued.
- Johnstone said: "They feel they're more accountable to the local community and less accountable to Ottawa. I think there's that feeling that if we do pay a bit of a premium to have a local police force, we receive benefits in having a more responsive police force."
- B.C.'s Police Act requires the province to pay for policing in communities with a population under 5,000, but larger communities must either establish their own municipal police force or sign a contract with the province for RCMP services.
- Former BC Liberal cabinet minister Kash Heed, who floated the idea of a provincial police force when he was B.C.'s Public Safety Minister in 2009, said that the balkanized police system that we have in Metro Vancouver and in other areas is costing the taxpayers a significant amount more money than it would if there was a provincial force, like in Ontario.
- Now that he's a city councillor in Richmond, his opinion on the pitfalls of the current system, which sees some municipalities operate their own police services and some under contract with the RCMP, has only gotten stronger.
- Heed says: "We would stay away from this unbelievable waste of time and dispute that's going on with the Surrey Police Service and the RCMP and the local government … if we have a police service in place that actually serves the needs of the communities that make up Metro Vancouver."
- Putting the power of the police in the hands of the provincial government rather than at the whims of a rogue municipal government or at the uninterested purview of the federal government in regards to the RCMP would only be a good thing for stability in BC.
- Also, a new report into police-involved deaths across Canada said 704 people have been killed or died during police use-of-force encounters since 2000, with 141 of them in B.C. The report, Police-involved deaths on the Rise across Canada, said there had been a 66.5-per-cent rise in deaths associated with police use of force, comparing stats from 2011 to 2022 with the previous 10-year period.
- In B.C., more people died while in policy custody in 2022 than ever before, with 19 fatalities, according to the report. The second-highest year was 2015, with 10 deaths.
- Lead author Alexander McClelland, an assistant professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the report is the first of its kind with the goal of bringing more transparency.
- McClelland said: “Due to ongoing systemic issues with a lack of access, transparency, and consistency in reporting data on police-involved deaths and killings across Canada, tracking this issue is an imperfect and challenging process. While our data is limited, our findings indicate a steep rise in deaths. Police killed 69 people in 2022, setting a grim record with the highest number of known police use of force deaths in one year.”
- He was surprised that there is no publicly available government statistics on police interactions in Canada: “Surprisingly, there is no government body that tracks the number of police-involved deaths using force across Canada. Other countries have systems that do this, like the U.K. and Australia.”
- While Farnworth has decided the issue of the RCMP is on the backburner, in his words, his department has has ordered an external investigation after an independent report found the RCMP failed to properly investigate what one officer described as potentially "egregious" allegations that Mounties had abused and harassed Indigenous girls in Prince George, B.C., decades ago.
- A statement on Thursday confirmed the province will be launching a "full, independent, out-of-jurisdiction investigation into the troubling complaints" detailed in the report from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which responds to complaints about the RCMP the public believes weren't handled correctly.
- In his statement, Farnworth made it sound as if he had only just learned of the allegations, but the commission said a copy of the report was sent to him two years ago, on April 13, 2021.
- The new investigation is the latest step in a case described as "scandal, layered on scandal, layered on scandal," snowballing from accusations of police wrongdoing in the early 2000s to allegations of a coverup by high-ranking police officers in the country's largest police force — a mess only made public when a veteran officer refused to let the matter drop after his original complaint went largely unaddressed.
- RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed with the 2018 findings but sat on them for nearly three years. Not only did Lucki sign off on the CRCC report in 2021, but also she sent a letter of apology to retired Staff Sgt. Garry Kerr who sparked the commission’s investigation with a 2015 complaint.
- In an open letter, First Nations groups said they are angry, appalled and deeply disturbed. The First Nations Leadership Council and B.C. First Nations Justice Council demanded a public inquiry, in the letter addressed to Farnworth, Premier David Eby, federal Justice Minister David Lametti, federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, and the RCMP. It stated the Crown’s indifference to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people continues to cost lives and traumatize countless others.
- The RCMP tried very hard to bury this incident, and some evidence pertaining to the case has disappeared. To see the whole story, feel free to look into our supplementals, it's far too detailed to go into here. At the end of the day, it's hard to see how such a massive unaccountable organization can continue to have such a powerful presence in BC, given all of the history of the RCMP in BC. Perhaps the BC government should move the issue from the back burner, and get all British Columbians, First Nations or otherwise, the justice that we deserve.
- Last week covered the news story showing how China planned to infiltrate the campaigns of several candidates in the 2019 election, this week we have damning information showing that they were successful.
- The information was also known at the time by both CSIS (the Canadian spy service) and Justin Trudeau. CSIS briefed Trudeau before the 2019 election.
- This story carries much more weight this week because now Global News has seemingly corroborated the reporting in the Globe and Mail.
- Global undertook an 8 month investigation into the matter.
- CSIS started tracking now Don Valley North MP Han Dong. Don Valley North is as Toronto as a riding can get without being downtown.
- Global News was able to confirm that Chinese Canadian seniors and students were bussed into the riding and told to vote for Dong in the Liberal nomination race.
- CSIS also believes that Dong is a witting affiliate, meaning that they believe he knew exactly what was going on.
- We need to be clear that this is just one of 11 ridings in the Toronto area where it happened and probably the easiest to prove since Don Valley North is one of the safest Liberal seats in the country.
- CSIS also believes that Michael Chan who is Trade Minister promoted Dong to take the nomination and as it happens, Chan is also a target of ongoing CSIS investigations.
- The story becomes all the more damning when it’s revealed that CSIS asked Justin Trudeau to deny the nomination to Dong but the party allowed the nomination to proceed.
- Global News has also confirmed that as reported last week and numerous times before here on Western Context that it was the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department responsible for the election interference here in Canada.
- It’s at this point we should note that political parties such as the Liberals and Conservatives are allowed to set their own rules of who can vote in nomination races and the Liberals allow foreigners to vote in their nomination races.
- Listeners might feel that this is all hearsay and not confirmed and just reporting from CSIS but it is believed that Michael Chen (who encouraged Dong to take the nomination) and Dong himself were able to influence Liberal MP Geng Tan to forgo a trip to Taiwan while the ambassador to China was fully kept in the loop of their progress on their efforts.
- Before the announcement and full detailing of Friday’s reporting the Prime Minister has said that there will be no RCMP inquiry because parliament is investigating.
- He also reiterated that, “Canadians can be and should be confident that our institutions, particularly our electoral and democratic processes, have not been compromised, were not compromised in the 2019 and 2021 elections.”
- He was also hazy on another issue when pointing out “inaccuracies in those leaks” that were initially first published in the Global News story in December.
- The Prime Minister has so far as of recording been quiet on the new recordings but earlier in the week he was insinuating that further discussion was not good. He said, “Playing ‘political games’ to get a partisan advantage will undermine people’s trust in their institutions, and will only assist the efforts of countries like Russia and China that attempt to make democracies unstable.”
- Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connnel also accused the Conservatives of “Trump-style tactics to question election results moving forward.”
- Once again, this was before Friday’s huge revelations. We’ll have to see if the Prime Minister and MP O’Connell feel this way into the next week.
- What is clear at this point is that a wider plot than initially imagined is becoming known and that the Prime Minister knew and went against the advice of CSIS.
- We need to hear from the Prime Minister on this and what actions will be taken going forward to prevent further infiltration of party nomination processes and elections as a whole.
- We also need to talk about the media. The media is going to play an important role in discussing this story or we hope they will.
- Canadians will remember that when Congress and the Special Counsel were investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election it was daily coverage under the assumption what was happening was true.
- We should be clear that we are not asking for the media to assume this is true because if the investigative process is followed, the truth will emerge.
- The media in Canada must pursue this story diligently and not fall down the trap of sensationalism and fear mongering as they did in the US 2016 race.
- The Globe and Mail and Global News have done true reporting on the matter and they should be commended for their thoroughness. At this point it’s over to the political leaders for them to make the next move.
Quote of the Week
“Playing ‘political games’ to get a partisan advantage will undermine people’s trust in their institutions, and will only assist the efforts of countries like Russia and China that attempt to make democracies unstable.” - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in the week on commenting on election interference by China.
Word of the Week
Backburner - to temporarily not deal with an issue , especially because it is not considered urgent or important
How to Find Us
Episode Title: On The Backburner
Teaser: Google responds to Bill C-18 by blocking some Canadians from accessing news, Alberta’s inflation slows as prices rise, and BC’s potential provincial police force is on the backburner. Also, we now know of at least 1 MP allegedly compromised by China.
Recorded Date: February 25, 2023
Release Date: February 26, 2023
Edit Notes: Patreon pause, sneeze
Podcast Summary Notes