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Google says it will volunteer its top execs to testify at parliamentary committee

The Google News homepage is displayed on an iPhone in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. Google says it will volunteer some of its top executives to testify at a parliamentary committee. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Google said it will volunteer some of its top executives to testify at a parliamentary committee that is studying the actions of the Silicon Valley giant after it ran a five-week test that blocked news links to some of its Canadian users.

The test was meant to assess the effects of a potential response to Bill C-18, the Liberal government's Online News Act.

The test ended Thursday.

Google said they have notified the heritage committee that it will voluntarily make their president of global affairs and chief legal officer, Kent Walker, and vice-president of news, Richard Gingras, available to meet with the committee. A date has yet to be scheduled.

"We always aim to work constructively with Canadian parliamentarians and the Government of Canada on regulatory issues," a spokesperson for Google said in a statement.

Walker and Gingras didn't respond to a summons by the committee earlier this month.

The head of Google Canada, Sabrina Geremia, appeared in their place, but Google said it recognizes that MPs on the committee continue to have questions that they wish to have answered.

Liberal MPs have recently expressed their displeasure with Google and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

On Feb. 9, Google started its five-week test that limited news access to less than four per cent of its Canadian users. Affected users were prevented from seeing news links on Google's search engine and Discover panel on Android phones.

The company has said the test applied to news of all kinds, including content created by Canadian broadcasters and newspapers.

Meta also announced last week it would block news on Facebook and Instagram if the government's proposed Online News Act passes in its current form.

Tech giants such as Meta and Google have long fought against elements of the proposed law, which would require them to negotiate deals that would compensate Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online. Google has said it would rather pay into a media fund.

Large Canadian media companies and the federal Liberal government have supported the bill, saying it would level the playing field for news outlets that compete with tech firms for advertising dollars.

On Monday, three days before U.S. President Joe Biden is set to visit Ottawa, Liberal MPs on the heritage committee plan to request internal documents from the two American companies, while asking their executives to appear.

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, said the request for internal documents is "a pretty significant overreach" by Parliament.

"The precedent that's being set, if it goes through, is pretty troubling," Greenwood said Saturday from Washington D.C.

The Liberal MPs on the committee also want to undergo a new study "on tech giants' current and ongoing use of intimidation and subversion tactics to evade regulation in Canada and across the world."

Chris Bittle, parliamentary secretary to the Canadian Heritage minister, shared the Liberals proposed motion on Twitter.

"The actions of tech giants have real consequences on our society and our democracy. Their recent intimidation tactics are a step too far," Bittle said.

"Tech giants aren’t above the law."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2023.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect spelling of Scotty Greenwood's last name.

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