Evasive. Duplicitous. Condescending.
If you were to (ironically) do a Google search to find a record of the meeting 69 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, those would be the words you’d use. Because those words describe — perfectly, accurately — the “testimony” of two Google executives before Members of Parliament last week.
The pair were there to offer up objections to Bill C-18, which would provide Canadian news providers with some degree of compensation for the content that Google — and Facebook, and others — routinely swipe from them, and profit from. C-18 is a fair and reasonable approach to a problem that every modern democracy on Earth faces: Namely, how to keep Google et al. from putting real news media out of business.
The company that owns this newspaper supports C-18, yes, as does every other struggling news organization in Canada. But that is not why this writer supports it: I’m a freelancer, and I easily make my living elsewhere. I support C-18 not simply because it is the right thing to do. I support it because it is the bare minimum of what we must do.
Make no mistake: If C-18 is not passed by Parliament, the consequences will be very dire. The costs will be immense. A diminished democracy, an ill-informed populace, and some of the most obscenely rich companies in the world getting even richer. And even less accountable.
Appearing before the Standing Committee to bleat about C-18 was Sabrina Geremia, a vice-president and “country manager” for Google. With her was Google functionary Jason Kee, who liked to say that he runs lots of “tests.”
One of those “tests,” it turns out, is for Google to punish several million Canadians, and bar their access to news reports. That is, censor Canadian news organizations — cancel them, erase them — because Google doesn’t like what C-18 would do.
What would C-18 do? Require Google and others to share in some of the profit it reaps — US$225 billion a year, last year — from pilfering, and posting, the work of journalists. That’s it. Giving Canadians some credit, and some return, on the work that they do.
In her opening remarks, Google Canada’s “country manager” Geremia wheedled that her company has “worked constructively” with Canada and “offered reasonable and balanced solutions” to resolve their issues with C-18. Some of those solutions, it turns out, are to simply deny Canadians access to information.
Also, in her remarks — which revealed a flair for Orwellian Newspeak that was frankly without equal — Geremia huffed that “C-18 puts a price on free links to web pages, setting a dangerous precedent that threatens the foundations of the open and free flow of information.”
Wow? Did you get that? “Dangerous precedents” are being set, ones that literally “threaten the foundation” of all free speech and knowledge. And here we just thought we were asking Google and their cabal to account for what they purloin.
Anyway. In the question-and-answer section of the meeting, the lead Conservative MP, Marilyn Gladu, revealed herself to be an enthusiastic supplicant for Google, declaring that her party “agreed with some of the concerns” Google had. Said she: “I certainly share your concerns with the bill.”
Well, take note, Canada. The Conservative Party now stands for the proposition that wealthy global multinationals should be able to unfairly profit on the hard work of others. But that’s them.
The Liberals, to my surprise, did much better. Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather was absolutely brilliant in the way he took apart the Google apparatchiks. He pointed out that senior Google executives had come to Canada to lobby behind closed doors — but when the Standing Committee summoned them, they arrogantly refused to come.
He pointed out that Google was supposed to provide its emails and notes about C-18 to the committee in advance and didn’t. Asked repeatedly about that, Geremia blinked a lot and actually said she didn’t understand “the premise” of the question. Gotcha.
Anyway. Google the words evasive, duplicitous and condescending. It’ll take you right to the testimony of the two Google executives.
Do it soon, however.
You never know when Google is going to bar your access to news, Canada.