The head of Facebook Canada says it will try to avoid a repeat of the news blackout it imposed in Australia, so long as impending legislation doesn’t force it to dim the lights of democracy.
“It is never something we would ever want to do unless we really have no choice,” Kevin Chan told a parliamentary committee hearing Monday.
Facebook blocked all news on its platform in Australia for five days last month in response to proposed legislation that would require digital giants to pay legacy media outlets for linking to their work.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Australian counterpart agreed to continue “co-ordinating efforts” to ensure Big Tech revenues are shared more fairly with creators and media after Facebook struck a deal with the Australian government on a revised bill, which still demands tech titans fork over cash for linked content.
The standoff Down Under shone a spotlight on Facebook’s massive clout — despite the public relations disaster that ensued — as well as broader questions around shifting media business models and modes of information consumption.
Ottawa is working on a three-pronged response to the challenges that social media platforms and other online content providers pose to how media in Canada has been financed, regulated and policed in the past.
Part of that solution is a bill currently before the House of Commons to modernize the broadcasting regime in a way that could force internet steaming sites like Netflix and Spotify to make Canadian content more discoverable and to cough up financial contributions to bolster Canadian creators and producers.
Online hate is a focus of the second prong, as global observers continue to question Facebook’s role in tragedies ranging from the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand to deadly military violence directed at Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, along with racist posts in Canada.
The third prong seeks to address how major internet companies are taxed — with Australia providing a possible model — and in turn how traditional media companies are financially supported.
Facebook already props up struggling legacy news firms by directing traffic to their sites, Chan said, arguing that cumbersome regulation would hinder a free and open internet.
He pointed to Ontario-based Village Media, whose CEO estimates that Facebook and Google generated 24 million page views for the online community news company in January, amounting to $480,000 in ad revenue. Facebook Canada has also announced investments of $18 million in sustainable media models over six years.
Even if Facebook did choose to choke off news access, the platform doesn’t currently function as an essential source of information for most Canadians, Chan said. He cited a Ryerson Leadership Lab study showing that about one-quarter of the population gets its news from Facebook, below several other sources including television, which topped the list, but above newspapers and magazines.
“It’s not the case that Facebook is somehow synonymous to the internet or somehow synonymous with access to news,” he said.
Critics argue that paying publishers for links that they or their readers choose to post on social media — effectively a form of promotion — is backwards; if anything, news outlets should pay Facebook for the privilege of putting up de facto ads on its platform.
In a statement to The Canadian Press, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government is consulting with France and Australia over the “market imbalance between news media organizations and those who benefit from their work.”
“News is not free and has never been. Our position is clear: publishers must be adequately compensated for their work and we will support them as they deliver essential information for the benefit of our democracy and the health and well-being of our communities,” he said.
In Australia, Facebook secured concessions in an agreement with the government that allows more room for private deals between Facebook and media firms — such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp — and an extra round of negotiation with publishers before binding arbitration kicks in.
But settling that dust-up did little to pacify concerns over the might and motivations of Big Tech.
“People are increasingly concerned about the power of the web giants and the ravages of the spread of online hate speech, the impact of unfair competition of these giants on local media, and the total lack of justice when people work hard to pay their fair share and multinational web companies do everything to circumvent the rules,” said New Democrat MP Heather McPherson.
She accused the Liberal government of fostering a “cosy relationship” with digital giants that protects platforms’ profits at the expense of local media and Canadian taxpayers.
The government hopes to table legislation on fair remuneration this year, Guilbeault said.
It also aims to put forward within weeks a bill on online hate speech that would establish a regulator responsible for enforcing an updated definition of hate and ensuring illegal content comes down within 24 hours, subject to strict penalties — which Chan says Facebook would support.
“If we aren’t seen to be in good faith building the right systems to enforce against our standards, then absolutely we should be subject to some kind of penalty and held to account,” he said.
Lawmakers also raised concerns Monday about disinformation around COVID-19 vaccines as Canadians rely increasingly on digital communications to stay informed amid a pandemic, an issue that Chan says the company is trying to address while respecting freedom of expression.
“The challenge is, we do need to strike a balance between people’s ability to speak their minds and share their own feelings and ideas … and also prevent harmful misinformation about the vaccine from being spread,” Chan said.
Facebook has 35,000 moderators screening content around the world, including for misinformation and hate speech, he said.
Current Criminal Code provisions barring hate speech can seem increasingly feeble against the daily tide of content that washes up online.
“Bigoted speech is always out there,” said University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon in an interview. “But the rise of social media as the principal platforms for personal and public engagement has helped hateful views of different kinds move more into the mainstream.”
Moon pointed to algorithms on sites such as YouTube, owned by Google, that can wind up fanning inflammatory posts.
“In order to try to maintain the attention of the viewer, they make suggestions of videos that are more and more extreme because people are often more and more engaged and it holds their attention,” he said.
Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, says one reason hate has been so tough to rein in online is a lack of government “guidance.”
“The harm that it’s creating not only to victims who face it but to our sense of common decency as Canadians is eroding our faith in democracy,” he said in an interview.
“And all of it is happening because of how social media platforms have allowed fringe voices to take over.”
Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.
Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.
The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.
The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.
“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).
While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.
Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.
($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara
OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.
Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.
“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.
Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.
In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”
Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.
The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)
Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits
By Liz Hampton
DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.
The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.
As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.
Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.
“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.
In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.
Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.
By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.
Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.
(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)