Canada, Saudi Arabia name new ambassadors in move to restore full diplomatic ties
Canada will restore full diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ottawa announced Wednesday, ending a five-year spat that soured relations between the countries.
The move comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok last November.
A push to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia follows a blow-up of relations in 2018.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE FEUD
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and severely restricted trade between the nations after Canada’s embassy in Riyadh issued a tweet in Arabic urging the release of women’s rights activists held in the country. That tweet followed similar posts from then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada.
In her Aug. 2, 2018 tweet, Freeland called for the release of dissident blogger Raif Badawi and his sister, Samar. Raif was freed in March 2022, a year after Samar was released.
As Global News reported at the time from hundreds of pages of emails and memos released through access to information laws, the ensuing diplomatic feud left Canadian officials reeling and scrambling to make sense of the Saudi response.
In addition to the expelling of Canada’s ambassador and recalling of its own, Saudi Arabia ordered its students out of Canada, cut off air routes from its national airline and sought a freeze of all existing and future deals between its ministries and Canadian companies, documents showed.
Among the contracts at risk during the dispute was London, Ont.-based General Dynamics’ controversial deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The $15-billion agreement was allowed to proceed as of April 2020 after Ottawa lifted its ban on arms sales to the kingdom.
That tweet spat also preceded the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was widely condemned by Canada and other Western countries.
Jean-Philippe Linteau, formerly Canada’s consul general in Dubai, will serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.
Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador who was expelled during the 2018 spat, said in an interview with The Canadian Press that Ottawa needs to seize on the momentum to build closer ties with Saudi Arabia, since it’s a key ally with an “increasingly prominent role” in countries from Syria to Yemen.
“Re-establishing ambassadorial relations is a good first step, but it needs to be accompanied by a sustained engagement at senior levels,” Horak told The Canadian Press.
He said his ouster partly stemmed from Canada not having connections with senior Saudi leadership through ministerial visits. This led Canada to be seen as expendable, he said.
“If you want to get your point of view heard, whether it’s in relation to commercial issues or human rights, you need to engage person-to-person,” said Horak.
“That’s the way to cement the relationship and make our views known in a way that it reaches the people that need to hear it — as opposed to relying solely on social media.”
— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly, The Canadian Press, Reuters
Hundreds killed after passenger trains derail in India, officials say
At least 233 people were killed and 900 were injured when two passenger trains collided in India’s Odisha state, a government official said on Saturday, making the rail accident the country’s deadliest in more than a decade.
The death toll from Friday’s crash is expected to increase, state Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena said in a tweet.
He said over 200 ambulances had been called to the scene of the accident in Odisha’s Balasore district and 100 additional doctors, on top of 80 already there, had been mobilized.
Early on Saturday morning, Reuters video footage showed police officials moving bodies covered in white cloths off the railway tracks.
Footage from Friday showed rescuers climbing up the mangled wreck of one of the trains to find survivors, while passengers called for help and sobbed next to the wreckage.
2 express trains collided
The collision occurred at about 7 p.m. local time on Friday when the Howrah Superfast Express, running from Bangalore to Howrah, West Bengal, collided with the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai.
Authorities have provided conflicting accounts on which train derailed first to become entangled with the other. The Ministry of Railways said it has initiated an investigation into the crash.
Although Chief Secretary Jena and some media reports have suggested a freight train was also involved in the crash, railway authorities have yet to comment on that possibility.
An extensive search-and-rescue operation has been mounted, involving hundreds of fire department personnel and police officers as well as sniffer dogs. National Disaster Response Force teams were also at the site.
On Friday, hundreds of young people lined up outside a government hospital in Odisha’s Soro to donate blood.
According to Indian Railways, its network facilitates the transportation of more than 13 million people every day. But the state-run monopoly has had a patchy safety record because of aging infrastructure.
Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared a day of state mourning on June 3 as a mark of respect to the victims.
Meta to start blocking news content for up to 5% of Canadian Facebook, Instagram users
Meta will soon block some Canadian users of Facebook and Instagram from accessing or posting news content on either platform.
The move, which the social media giant announced in a blog post on Thursday, comes in reaction to the looming passage into law of Bill C-18, the Online News Act.
Facebook has said it will be forced to block news content from its platforms in Canada if the bill becomes law, something that could happen as soon as this month as the bill is currently being considered in the Senate.
Among other stipulations, the bill would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
“As we prepare to comply with the legislation, we are announcing today that we will begin tests on both platforms that will limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada,” Meta said.
- Are you a Facebook or Instagram user? Do you use those platforms to share the news? We want to speak to you as part of a story. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Between one and five per cent of the 24 million Canadians who use Facebook or Instagram will be included in the test, which is set to start soon.
Different content may be blocked for different users on different platforms, said Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada.
“It won’t be a uniform experience, necessarily,” she said. “Some news links won’t be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram. It will be a different experience on different surfaces.”
“Throughout the testing period, which will run for several weeks, a small percentage of people in Canada who are enrolled in testing will be notified if they attempt to share news content.”
The test means that a user would not see links to articles or videos from news publishers anywhere in their feed. A user would also be blocked from sharing such content to other people.
News publishers will be able to post news links and content, but some of it will not be viewable in Canada.
Users who will be included in the test will be selected randomly, and will only be made aware that they’re included if they attempt to share news, at which point they will see a notification that they are unable to.
The number of news publishers who will have their content included in the test will not be public and is also randomized, but could include international publishers that operate in Canada. The publishers will be notified if they have been included in the test, Meta says.
News industry decries move
Paul Deegan, the head of News Media Canada, called Meta’s move a “kick in the shins” to Canadians at a time when the value and need for credible information has never been greater.
“Meta’s decision to ‘unfriend’ Canada by denying access to trusted sources of news for some of their users, as wildfires burn and when public safety is at stake is irresponsible and tone deaf,” Deegan told CBC News in an email.
“This hard-nose lobbying tactic is more evidence of the power imbalance that exists between dominant platforms and publishers, which is why parliamentarians need to pass the Online News Act before their summer recess.”
Meta’s move comes on the heels of a similar move by Google earlier this year, when it blocked news results for more than a million Canadians, also in opposition to the bill.
Meta says Bill C-18 is “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers.”
Curran told senators pondering the bill in a committee last month that the company objects to being asked to compensate news publishers for their content, when by their calculation they have given news publishers more than 1.9 million clicks in Canada in the past year, “and free marketing worth more than $230 million in estimated value.”
“We will be forced to compensate news publishers for material that they post to drive traffic and drive clicks back to their page and websites where they can then monetize those views and eyeballs either through a paywall or they can place ads against the views that show up on their web page,” she said. “We are being asked to compensate them for an activity that actually benefits them from a monetary perspective.”
Government calls move ‘disappointing’
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called Meta’s move “disappointing” and said Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.
Legacy media and broadcasters have praised the bill, which promises to “enhance fairness” in the digital news marketplace and help bring in more money for shrinking newsrooms. Tech giants including Meta and Google have been blamed in the past for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, eclipsing smaller, traditional players.
Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., has taken similar steps in the past. In 2021, it briefly blocked news from its platform in Australia after the country passed legislation that would compel tech companies to pay publishers for using their news stories. It later struck deals with Australian publishers.
Meta also reached a deal with U.K. publishers that year, after similar discussions.
Accountable Tech, a U.S.-based advocacy group pushing for more regulation of technology companies in that country, says the news blackouts in various countries show the lengths that big tech companies will go to in order to sway governments and maintain their profits.
“What we witnessed unfold in Australia, and now in Canada, is Big Tech’s willingness to cripple democracy by withholding news content to a population — chosen at random — as a bargaining chip to stop legislation,” the group’s executive director Nicole Gill said.
“It’s clear that Meta has no interest in acting in good faith or improving the lives of its users and the communities they operate in. There is simply no reason for the U.S. to delay any action on reining them in.”
Meta to test blocking news on Facebook, Instagram in Canada over Bill C-18 – Global News
Meta is preparing to block news for some Canadians on Facebook and Instagram in a temporary test that is expected to last the majority of the month.
The Silicon Valley tech giant is following in the steps of Google, which blocked news links for about five weeks earlier this year for some of its Canadian users in response to a controversial Liberal government bill.
Bill C-18, which is currently being studied in the Senate, will require tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
Meta said it’s prepared to block news permanently on Facebook and Instagram if the bill passes, which the government said could happen this month.
Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta Canada, said this first temporary move will affect one to five per cent of its 24 million Canadian users, with the number of those impacted fluctuating throughout the test.
Meta set to block news on Facebook, Instagram from Canadian users
Randomly selected Canadian users will not be able to see or share news content in Canada either on Instagram or Facebook.
She said that could include news links to articles, reels — which are short-form videos — or stories, which are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours.
However, the experience won’t be the same for every user who is subject to the test.
“It won’t be a uniform experience, necessarily. Some news links won’t be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram. It will be a different experience on different surfaces,” Curran said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Trudeau calls Meta’s decision to block news in Canada ‘irresponsible and out of touch’
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday evening that the fact that Facebook is still refusing to work with Canadians shows how deeply irresponsible the company is.
“When a big tech company, whatever the size is, the amount of money and the powerful lawyers they have, they come here and they tell us, ‘If you don’t do this or that, then I’m pulling the plug,’ — that’s a threat and that is unacceptable,” he said in the statement.
“I never did anything because I was afraid of a threat, and I will never do it.”
Rodriguez added in a tweet that “Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.”
Meta said it is picking random news publishers that will be notified that some people in Canada will not be able to see or share their news content throughout the test. They will still be able to access their accounts, pages, businesses suites and advertising.
International news companies such as the New York Times or BBC could also have their content blocked in Canada during the test, if they are randomly selected. However, people outside of Canada will not be affected.
“It’s only going to impact your experience … if you’re in Canada,” Curran said.
Trudeau slams Google for blocking news content from Canadians
Meta is defining news as it’s described in the Liberal government’s online news act.
“The legislation states that news outlets are in scope if they primarily report on, investigate or explain current issues or events of public interests,” said Curran.
Content that doesn’t fall under that definition will not be blocked from Canadians. When Facebook blocked news in Australia in 2021 because of a similar bill, there was widespread concern that trusted sources would be unavailable, while pages that published misinformation flourished.
Curran said affected Canadians will still be able to use their platforms to access information from a variety of sources including government pages, organizations and universities.
“We think all of that is good information. They’re also seeing and sharing things that interest them and entertain them. We would not classify that as misinformation. That’s great information and that will continue to be shared and to be viewable,” Curran said, adding that the company will continue to address misinformation on its site through a global fact-checking program.
Meta’s test is designed to ensure that non-news agencies don’t get caught in the dragnet should they block news permanently.
Google blocks some Canadian news sites from results in protest of Bill C-18
The company said it doesn’t want to accidentally block emergency services, community organizations, politicians or government pages, which happened in Australia.
Legacy media and broadcasters have praised the federal Liberals’ online news bill because it would bring in more money for shrinking newsrooms. Companies such as Meta and Google have been blamed for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, eclipsing smaller, traditional players.
Curran said removing journalism from Meta’s platforms is a business decision, and the company makes “negligible amounts” of revenue from news content.
The company said less than three per cent of what people see in their Facebook feeds are posts with links to news articles, and many of its users believe that is already “too much” news.
“We’re facing a lot of competitive pressures and competition for user time and attention. We’re also facing some pretty serious economic headwinds, and a macro economic climate that’s a bit uncertain,” Curran said.
“Of course news have value from a social perspective. It’s valuable to our democracy. It just doesn’t have much commercial or economic value to our company.”
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© 2023 The Canadian Press
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