I call this meeting to order.
I'm going to go through a few things before we start. As you know, we were waiting for the right now. Due to technical difficulties, we cannot reach him.
I'll update you after I read through these notes about the newer form of how we deal with this version of virtual Parliament.
Welcome to meeting number 12 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a motion adopted by the committee on November 16, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study on the relations between Facebook and the federal government.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021, and therefore members are attending in person in the room and remotely using Zoom. Proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
The first meeting, today’s meeting, is also taking place in the new webinar format. Webinars are for public committee meetings and are available only to members, their staff and witnesses. Members may have remarked that the entry to the meeting was much quicker and that they immediately entered as an active participant.
All functionalities for active participants remain the same. Staff will be non-active participants only, and can therefore only view the meeting in gallery view.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all participants to this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of your screen are not permitted.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of the recommendations, we are also maintaining practices within this physical room.
For those participating virtually, I would like to outline a few rules as follows.
Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of “floor”, “English” or “French”. With the latest Zoom version, you may now speak in the language of your choice without the need to select the corresponding language channel, of which I'm sure all of you are aware.
Of course, as I mentioned before, and as you all know, please address all your comments through the chair. Because we are in a virtual format such as this, let's be careful. I ask that if you are asking questions, please mention the person to whom you are asking the question. It makes things a lot easier, given the virtual format.
I've just been told that the minister is online, so let's go to our first guest.
Minister Guilbeault, I'm glad to see you. You have five minutes.
Thank you very much. My apologies for the lateness of my arrival. It seems that events are conspiring against my participation in this committee meeting. We had a fire alarm where I am right now, so we had to exit the building.
That being said, we actually explored the possibility of my joining by phone outside. That was technologically complicated, it seems.
I am joining you from Montreal, on the traditional territory of the Mohawk and Haudenosaunee peoples.
I want to start by acknowledging that, four years ago today, a gunman took the lives of six people at the Quebec City mosque and seriously injured 19 others. They were Muslim fathers, husbands, loved ones and friends. Their sudden and tragic deaths were heartbreaking not just for their families, but also for Muslim communities around the world and all Canadians.
Mr. Chair, I am very happy to be appearing before you again today.
With me is the deputy minister of Canadian Heritage, Hélène Laurendeau; as well as Jean-Stéphen Piché, senior assistant deputy minister.
The pandemic continues to weigh heavily on Canada's heritage, arts, culture and sport communities. We are all committed to helping them get through the crisis and supporting them in their recovery.
I want to thank the committee for pursuing it's important work despite the difficult circumstances. Your study on the challenges faced by the arts, culture, heritage and sport sectors caused by COVID-19 will be a valuable asset in these efforts. Canadian Heritage was pleased to participate.
I would also like to acknowledge the excellent work you have done on Bill , which seeks to establish the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday.
When we met for the main and supplementary budget estimates review, I had just tabled Bill , an act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts. It will be referred to your committee shortly, and we will welcome your input on this legislation as well.
As I indicated before the holidays, I look forward to better understanding your perspectives and how the bill could be improved.
Like many Canadians, our government is concerned about the current imbalance that favours the web giants at the expense of Canadian businesses. The economic and social stakes resulting from this situation are too important for us to stand idly by.
That is why the Speech from the Throne mentioned that things must change to ensure more equitable sharing of revenues with our Canadian creators and media.
Mr. Chair, our government is committed to regulating digital platforms and putting them to work for Canadians. One of the objectives of is to require those platforms to invest in our creators, our music and our stories, which could lead to more than $800 million of additional money being invested here in Canada every year.
This bill has been positively received by the community and stakeholders. I must share the credit for this success with the employees of Canadian Heritage, as it would not have been possible without their supporting work. I would like to salute their expertise and professionalism. As you know, it is up to elected officials to lead the development of public policy, and our government has been very clear on how we want to tackle social media platforms and web giants. The Canadian Heritage team is providing excellent evidence-based support in this regard.
Our government will also complement these efforts by levelling the playing field on the tax front, as we proposed in the 2020 fall economic statement. Digital businesses will now be required to collect and remit the GST. We will also ensure that digital corporations pay their fair share of taxes in respect of their activities in Canada.
I must also note that we are currently studying a made-in-Canada formula to ensure fair remuneration of news publishers by online platforms, similar to what you might have seen move ahead in certain other countries.
We have seen during the pandemic that digital platforms are more than ever at the heart of communications between Canadians, and are keeping us connected. Unfortunately, some Internet users are also exploiting these platforms maliciously to spread hate, racism and child pornography. There is currently illegal content being uploaded and shared online, to the detriment of Canadians and our society. This is simply unacceptable.
My apologies, Mr. Chair, but I'm having some technical problems.
Before I get to my questions, I would like to thank the minister, as well as the senior officials with him today, for making time to meet with the committee for its study—a study on the possible ties between Facebook and their department, a study that must be completed quickly. We found out that an email was sent. It has raised questions, so your being here will help us get clarity on the situation, I have no doubt.
I want to take this opportunity, Minister, to discuss the last time you appeared before the committee. On November 5, I asked you a fairly simple question. I wanted to know how your department had arrived at the calculation that an additional $830 million would be invested in Canadian content, both televised and digital, by 2023. You were here with your senior officials then, as well, and you seemed to say that it was fairly simple information to provide us with. You even shared it publicly on Tout le monde en parle, in front of a large audience.
It would appear, then, that the information is known. At any rate, calculations were done to arrive at the figure, and yet, in my various meetings with major players in the digital and TV world, I realized that no one seemed to understand the math behind the figure.
On December 7, we still hadn't heard back from you or your department. The committee, including your fellow Liberals, adopted a unanimous resolution, calling on you again to make the information available to us. As you know, we are starting a prestudy on Monday. There was agreement across the board, despite the fact that the debate on Bill is still under way in the House. As I see it, the information is pretty important, if only to ensure transparency. We want to be sure we have all the information available pertaining to the bill—a bill that is giving rise to quite a few questions as we speak.
Next week will mark three months since you told us you would provide us with the information, information you shared publicly without providing details.
Here's my question. Is it possible for us to have the information now?
If I may say, Minister, the information is known, and according to you, it's appropriate for us to have it. That is exactly what you said on November 5, when you looked to your senior officials, who claimed that it wouldn't be too complicated to get the information to us.
That was three months ago. We then asked you again by way of a unanimous motion on December 7. That was nearly two months ago, and we still do not have the information. Can we expect to have this important information in hand by Monday, before we begin our prestudy? You, yourself, said it's one of the key elements of the bill you brought forward.
The representatives of the organizations we've consulted are all wondering where the figure came from; none of them are able to work it out, so they have concerns. It would be a good idea to take some of the pressure off before we even start the prestudy.
I would say two things.
First, we have nothing to hide when it comes to how we came up with the modelling behind the figure.
Second, I defer to Mr. Piché, but I think it might be helpful for the committee to receive an oral explanation to go along with the documentation. Forwarding the documents without providing further details could lead to confusion, so it might be helpful if we could provide the committee with not only the documentation it has requested, but also a clear explanation—similar to technical briefings we've done in the past. That would be with the committee's permission, of course. We would be glad to do that.
Mr. Piché, sorry to cut you off, but I don't have a lot of time.
You've told us that already. We spoke to the people at those organizations, and the numbers don't add up. The stakeholders don't come up with the same figures.
We asked you, three months ago, for an explanation in writing. You, along with the minister, said yes; you said it was doable. Then, we asked you again by way of a unanimous motion on December 7, and now you are telling us that you can provide the information, but it needs to be supplemented by an explanation. Give us the documentation and come before the committee with an explanation, then. I can assure you we will be very glad to hear what you have to say. It will help us do our work, especially since we are starting the prestudy on Monday.
As I see it, the least you can do is hand over the documentation three months after we asked for it.
Minister, thank you for being here today. As you said in your opening statement, six worshippers who gathered for evening prayers at the Quebec City mosque lost their lives four years ago today. I want to offer my sincerest condolences to the families of the victims.
The heinous crime was motivated by Islamophobia and xenophobia. Soon after we learned that the perpetrator had been radicalized on social media. As we all know, Canadians using digital platforms are often exposed to content that promotes hate, violence, extremism and even radicalization.
Since your mandate letter calls on you to create new regulations for social media platforms and since you said you would be introducing corresponding legislation in the House soon, I would appreciate a progress report on the very important work the government is doing to protect Canadians online.
Thank you for your question.
This morning, I read an excellent piece on Radio-Canada's site about how the shooter had become radicalized on social media before doing what he did on January 29. A few months ago now, we undertook a joint initiative with several departments and ministers. The Department of Canadian Heritage is working with the Department of Justice, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Department of Innovation. We are preparing to bring forward a bill that will set out a regulatory framework to control hate speech, child pornography, incitement to violence, incitement to terrorism and the non-consensual disclosure of images.
Not many countries have tackled the problem, but a few have. Meetings and discussions have been held with representatives of those countries, at both the working level and the political level. The idea is to see how we could adapt existing models to Canada's reality and needs. Just last week, I was talking to Australia's eSafety Commissioner in an effort to really understand how the country went about implementing its system and what to watch out for.
Like anyone who endeavours to introduce these types of controls, we are concerned about protecting freedom of expression. In the real world, however, we established rules over the years to control freedom of expression, through both laws and court rulings. We are working to determine how we can replicate the framework that already exists in the real world and apply it to the virtual world.
The purpose of the bill is to establish a new regulatory framework in Canada, one social media platforms will have to abide by.
A regulator will be created to enforce the new regulations and monitor the efforts made by platforms to combat hate speech in relation to the five categories I mentioned earlier. The broadcasting legislation, Bill , will provide more clarity, including the various tools at the regulator's disposal to impose fines for non-compliance.
You're right. It is an issue of concern to a growing number of Canadians. As you probably know, the results of an Abacus-led survey commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation came out earlier this week. The findings show that the vast majority of Canadians have witnessed or directly experienced violence on social media. Women and racialized groups are much more likely to be targeted than other segments of the population. A very large percentage of Canadians want the government to do something.
There is no doubt. We are going to do something. We are introducing a bill soon, and we would be pleased to return to discuss the legislation in support of the committee's work.
Mr. Minister, Ms. Laurendeau, Mr. Piché, it's a pleasure to see you again. We're always happy to have you with us to answer our questions.
Mr. Minister, you said in your opening remarks that the collection of the GST is now being imposed on large Internet service providers. The media has been calling for the implementation of regulations for content publishers for a very long time.
The last time we spoke, you said you were looking at different models. That was a long time ago. In the meantime, News Media Canada, which includes the vast majority of news content publishers, has taken a strong stand on the model they would like to see in Canada, and it's the one that would be based on the Australian model. Given the unanimity in the industry, I wonder why we're still waiting to push this idea, to implement it, to adapt it to the reality of the Canadian market.
What's holding you back, Mr. Minister?
Thank you for your question.
Our approach to the web giants consists of three pieces, if I can put it that way. We've already introduced the first piece, Bill , which concerns the cultural component. Shortly, in the spring, we'll introduce a second bill, which will deal with online hate speech, and then a third bill, which will deal with the media issue.
You asked us what's holding us back. As you know, as legislators, we can't copy and paste a model that works in one country and import it to Canada. Every country has its own laws, regulations, institutions and practices, whether cultural or legal. Models really need to be adapted to reflect these differences. For example, we have a free-trade agreement with the United States, but not every country in the world does. It's important to realize that there are countries that, in the space of just one year, have decided to regulate the web giants with respect to culture, online hate and media. I know of only one that hasn't, and that's Canada.
Other countries are doing different things. For instance, just before the holidays, Britain passed its online hate speech law. Canada isn't the first, but it is certainly among the first in the world to address these issues, and to do so on these three fronts at the same time.
I don't agree with you, it isn't a void. We recognize that there's a problem, and have done so for a long time. That's why we've given hundreds of millions of dollars to the media. We started doing that before the pandemic, and we continue to do so. We've even increased that support to media in times of pandemic. It's true that for some media, it's difficult, but for others it's different. You may have seen, as I did, the results of La Presse
published recently. For some, it's going pretty well, despite everything. This won't prevent us from acting as quickly as possible.
As you know, in a parliamentary system in a democratic society, you can't pass laws that have been drafted hastily. It takes a few months. A few months ago, I announced that we were working on this and that we'd be introducing a bill this spring. It's going to be done in virtually record time.
Is there one model that we like more than another? France and Australia have taken two very different approaches to tackling the same problem. France has focused instead on copyright by creating the notion of neighbouring rights. Australia, on the other hand, relied instead on market forces and recognized that there was an imbalance in the market. It created a forum for economic arbitration, so to speak.
These are two very different models. We are working with our colleagues at Canadian Heritage to determine which model would be the most relevant and would yield the best possible results, given our laws, regulations and institutions.
It's nice to see everyone. This is our first meeting of this committee. We are looking at the relationship between the heritage department and Facebook. I want to thank the minister, the deputy minister and the senior assistant deputy minister for joining us today.
I'm going to stick to the questions that are related to the study, so I'll ask a few questions around that, if you wouldn't mind.
First of all, could you tell us whether, since 2015, your department has agreed to circulate job offers from other web giants such as Google, Amazon or Netflix? If so, do you know how many times your department has done this?
Thank you, Minister, and department heads.
I just wanted to pick up on the conversation here of Mr. Kevin Chan and his email to Owen Ripley, a high-up official in the minister's office.
Minister, with all due respect, your introduction today talked about what you're going to do with Bill, hate speech and media. Directly, when you look at it, Facebook is involved in this. There are major potential implementations to Facebook in the work of your department.
That's why I think we brought it up today—we just flagged it for you and I have the conflict of interest framework in front of me—and that's all we're asking. The values and ethics code applies to all staff, regardless of level, and most of the provisions, as you know, are based on the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
We're not questioning anybody civil service-wise. We're trying to, in this case...“report in writing to their deputy head any conflict of interest resulting from firm offers of employment and other activities related to their duties”. It's in here.
That's what we were just talking about. You're dealing with Facebook more than anybody in the government and we're concerned when we see a personal email from Kevin Chan to one of your employees in the department. This is too cozy.
As opposition members we're concerned with this. I would like you to comment on that. I know you've only been a minister for a year or so, but this does not look good. If you don't mind me saying, it smells when Facebook, which you will have a major implementation with in the coming months, is sending personal emails to your staff.
Of course, we in the department talk with Facebook on these issues, but we also speak with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, la Fédération des femmes du Québec, the World Sikh Organization, the Chinese national council for social justice, Amnesty International and the Anti-Hate Network. When drawing up legislation, we try to gather as diverse as possible points of view and opinions on an issue so that we can better inform the legislation that we will do.
I am a strong believer in the benefits of technologies, but we also have to recognize that many technologies have a perverse impact. We've seen that throughout the years. I think our role as legislators is to maximize the benefits to society of these technologies while trying to minimize those perverse impacts. I am on record saying that when Facebook threatened Australia with cutting ties with the Australian public on Facebook because of what Australia was trying to do in terms of legislation, it was no less than bullying. In fact, we have an upcoming meeting with France, Australia and Germany to see how we can work together on issues relating to GAFA.
Yes, we meet with these companies, but we meet with a whole range of different intervenors on these issues. What we're working on with the department is what will be in the best interest of Canadians, regardless of what the social media platforms, Facebook or others, think about it.
Minister, we have crossed a year, at this point, since the pandemic hit Canada. Over the pandemic we have seen our public service rise to the challenge when we have talked about emergency funding and making sure that we deliver to and support Canadians through this pandemic. In addition to dealing with the emergency, we have also seen work being done and continuing on such legislation as Bill and the truth and reconciliation day. A lot of work has been happening alongside it. It has been really quite impressive, considering we've been working under these conditions.
I would note, on the motion that we're here about today, that with this motion the member from the New Democratic Party has chosen to actually challenge the credibility and the professionalism of our public service. Given everything we've seen in the States and in other countries, how do you feel about that chipping away at the credibility of our institutions, at the fundamental trust in Canada's public service, and at the institutions that support the very important work that is being done in our country?
I agree. I said it earlier: I think Canada has a world-renowned public service, and it's integral that we not attack them to try to score political points. We saw on January 6 where that can lead, just south of the border.
It's interesting that many of us would condemn the fact that social platforms were instrumental over the past few years in the escalation that led to what we saw on January 6. We would condemn those media platforms for sowing doubt in the population in regard to public institutions among our neighbours to the south.
I hope no one is under the false impression that we're somehow shielded from that result in Canada and that what we saw there couldn't happen here.
I think everybody in this country has a responsibility, a duty, and especially elected officials, to ensure that we protect our institutions. The last thing we should try to do is to somehow diminish them in the hope that we could score points. There are other ways we can score political points. Of course we're political adversaries—I understand that—but certainly not at the expense of our institutions.
Obviously we are as legislators, under the advice of our civil service.
Bill C-10 is a very good example. I will be the first to admit that the bill can be improved. The team and I are looking forward, to the proposed changes we will hear about starting next week on Bill C-10.
When I look, however, at the way the bill was received by the vast majority of people in the sector, I see that it was widely well received. Some talked about a historic day; others talked about a significant step forward. It was from coast to coast to coast, or as some of my indigenous friends say, from sea to sea to sea.
I would like to tell you that it was all due to the amazing work of my political team and me, but it wasn't. I would hope to think that we worked well at the political level, but we would not have been able to do any of this if not for the amazing work and input from our civil service.
You spoke earlier about the pandemic. I hope there's no illusion around this virtual meeting that we could have done CERB, helping more than nine million people, without the help of our civil servants in Canada.
Earlier, I told your colleague that I made a quick inquiry with the deputy minister to find out whether this action violated a code of conduct or a code of ethics and whether it had ever happened before. This was not the case for either the first or the second question.
Are we losing employees from the Department of Canadian Heritage who were recruited by these platforms? This isn't the case either. Perhaps Ms. Laurendeau can tell you more about this.
Facebook is calling on governments to regulate the issue of online hate. If this is the case for all platforms, between you and me, not to mention everyone listening to us, it's perhaps to share a little bit of the pressure that these companies are under because of everything that's going on. The more governments intervene, the more this pressure will be shared between them and us.
This appeal to the government to intervene is not completely disinterested.
I have a few questions. First of all, I take deep offence to the idea that I am in fact trying to score points. I'd like to point out that as a member of the opposition, my goal in my role and my job is actually to hold the government to account and to ensure that there are no unfortunate or inappropriate relationships. That's my job. I'm not scoring political points. Considering the work that this committee will be doing and considering the close relationship with Facebook, it is vital that I actually do take that on.
I want to just be very clear. This is a question for the minister. I would prefer if he answered.
Has your political staff ever circulated a job offer from Facebook, Amazon, Netflix or Google since you took office as the Minister of Heritage?
The other issue that I take a bit of offence to as well is that when my colleague from the Conservatives asked about your relationship with Facebook—or the department's relationship with Facebook—and the consultation being done with Facebook, you compared the consultation with Facebook to meeting with the NCCM. I find that very problematic.
When we see the vast amount of hatred towards the Muslim community on Facebook, to compare those two is massively problematic, I think. One of my questions is about, for example, the Proud Boys, which was recently labelled by this Parliament as a terrorist entity. We know that Facebook has allowed the Proud Boys to organize and share their content on its platform, as well as to promote their posts to their users.
Knowing this, why do you think that it is acceptable for you or your officials to have meetings with Facebook about legislation such as Bill and presumably the legislation that will be seen on hate speech?
I'm not sure I understand the question.
If we're doing legislation, we should gather as wide an array of opinions and points of view as possible to ensure that we have all the information we need as legislators when we do move ahead with legislation.
As an environmentalist I would talk to people in the oil and gas sector all the time to understand what they were thinking. Should we only be talking with these people—that would be hugely problematic. That's not at all what we're doing. We've consulted about 50 to 60 organizations—and we'd be happy to share the list with you—specifically on the issue of online hate. That's not broadcasting or what we're doing on media, but specifically on online hate.
Yes, we spoke to Google and Facebook, but we spoke to a bunch of other organizations as well.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, I thank you for inviting us to this meeting.
My name is Kevin Chan, and I'm head of policy at Facebook Canada.
I understand the committee would like to discuss a job opportunity we had open last year. The facts are the following. The job was publicly listed and openly advertised on the Facebook careers site, shared widely on social media and with a broad set of public policy professionals in the private, non-profit and public sectors. Interested and qualified candidates were required to apply online and then went through a rigorous interview process. I am pleased to share with you that Rachel Curran is the successful candidate from that process, and she is with us today. She is the only one who received an offer of employment, and she accepted it.
I also understand that some committee members are interested in the flow of people from one sector to another. Public policy professionals regularly cross over between the private, non-profit and public sectors This kind of cross-sector experience helps build a better understanding of complex and nuanced economic and social issues.
The public service of Canada facilitates this practice. Interchange Canada, a cross-sectoral career mobility mechanism, has, since 1971, offered public servants opportunities to “build a better understanding and improve networks between the core public administration and other business sectors”.
The specific allegation that Facebook tried to recruit directly from Canadian Heritage is false, as was noted in our letter to the editor of the National Post, as was a headline about the matter that appeared in the print edition of that publication.
We will of course be happy to answer any questions you may have on this subject, but first we would like to tell you what we've been doing to support Canadian arts and culture since the beginning of the pandemic.
A recent New York Times headline referred to a “Great Cultural Depression” in the wake of COVID-19, and that is not an exaggeration. Many performance halls, venues and festivals across our country have been closed since March 2020, and the impact on the performing arts has been devastating. In the early weeks of the pandemic, I reached out to officials at the National Arts Centre to see how we could work together quickly to help. On March 19, 2020, Facebook and the NAC launched #CanadaPerforms, a $100,000 relief fund to support Canadian artists for their live online performances.
#CanadaPerforms has now grown beyond our wildest imagination, bringing in additional financial support from other partners, growing the relief fund to $700,000. In those very difficult first months of the pandemic, we were able to support 700 Canadian artists and published authors, and their performances reached 4.75 million people who tuned in from coast to coast to coast.
I'll now turn it over the Marc Dinsdale, our head of news partnerships.
We are all aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the revenue pressures faced by news publishers. In response, we moved quickly to try to help. We announced a grant program for 85 Canadian local news publishers for emergency expenses associated with COVID-19 reporting, totalling more than $1 million. We also invested $1 million in a partnership with the Canadian Press to launch the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship, creating eight new journalism positions across Canada that are directly adding capacity for reporting from local communities. We just announced two additional indigenous news fellowships.
My role and the role of my team is to partner directly with news publishers to maximize the value that free Facebook tools provide for their businesses. This includes free distribution that sends people directly to their websites, a value we estimate to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year for the Canadian news industry.
In addition, over the past four years, Facebook has invested more than $10 million in Canada's information ecosystem, and we look forward to continuing these partnerships. We're committed to doing this not because information is an important revenue generator for us—it's not—but because it's good for Canadian society and democracy.
I'll turn it back to Kevin now for some closing remarks.
I'd like to end with some thoughts on Internet regulation.
Facebook welcomes more regulation.
We support strong privacy laws that provide citizens with clear protections and hold companies like ours accountable when they make mistakes. We agree that multilateral tax agreements should be updated through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, process in which Canada participates.
We agree that regulations could set baseline standards for what kind of content is prohibited online and require social media companies to build systems to enforce these standards. The status quo of having private companies decide what is and isn't acceptable speech online is not sustainable longer term and lacks transparency and accountability.
Finally, we agree that more needs to be done to support the future of journalism. That said, we do think it's important to clarify that people and publishers choose to share news links on our platform, not Facebook. Requiring Facebook to pay for this, as proposed in Australia, doesn't recognize this fact.
We look forward to working collaboratively across sectors to develop fact-based frameworks to ensure a thriving Canadian news ecosystem.
With that, Mr. Chair—and apologies for the technical troubles—we are happy to answer any questions from the committee.
Thank you Mr. Chan, Mr. Dinsdale and Ms. Curran.
Ms. Curran, I wasn't here when you were in the PMO. I got here late in 2015. You were in the PMO for a long time.
Is it typical when you get an outside organization, like Facebook in this case, to send a note to an employee of Canadian Heritage asking if you could circulate this job application around? I believe personally that there is a conflict of interest in this because Facebook does so much with the Government of Canada, and Canadian Heritage in particular.
Either you or Mr. Chan can answer that, then we'll move on to a couple of other things.
I just finished The Tangled Garden. That was an interesting book. You've had some input on that, along with Richard Stursberg.
I noticed yesterday that the independent Oversight Board overturned four of five of Facebook's decisions to remove posts with controversial content, including two cases of hate speech.
Can you comment on that? The minister before you started talking about hate speech and what's coming forward. Yesterday was the first time, I recall, that the independent board overturned four of the five cases they had in front of them.
Mr. Chan, in your introduction you talked about the millions of dollars Facebook contributes to Canadian media.
We've heard from coast to coast, as you know, and the newspaper industry does not share your excitement. Talk about the newspaper industry.
Everybody watched France. It has an agreement with Google and, I think, Facebook. Australia does not. The minister was before you a couple of moments ago. We don't have an agreement yet. We don't have a made-in-Canada agreement, which we desperately need.
The concern through the newspaper association—rightfully or wrongfully in your mind—is that you're stealing their content and paying nothing for it. That has been an issue for a number of years. Would you please address that today?
We do pay for some news where there is a voluntary arrangement with that.
As I indicated, I think the challenge for us is very much an Internet mechanical problem. This is to say that if a publisher shares content onto Facebook and we are not able to control how much and how often they share, and if we are then required to pay for what they share, then I think you can appreciate how quickly that breaks down and we're unable to accommodate.
Having said that, as my colleague Marc Dinsdale said in the opening statement, on the flip side of this value proposition is the free distribution that we provide to publishers. As Marc said, we are looking at something in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars in value to the newspaper industry though free distribution on Facebook in Canada. We do think it's important that this be acknowledged and recognized.
I would agree with you there, “acknowledged and recognized”.
Yet, I do see the bottom lines of Postmedia, Torstar and such, and they would not share in the excitement. They see their product exclusively on Facebook and they're not getting their due share of revenue from it.
Going forward—and it doesn't have anything to do with Bill , the Broadcasting Act—there is a media component here that the minister said we'll bring forward in the coming months. Newspapers are dropping like flies in this country. This is one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue, right now in that industry. They're getting nothing from you.
Mr. Chan, Mr. Dinsdale and Ms. Curran, it's great to see you here. Thank you for coming.
I have three quick things. First, I think the email between Mr. Chan and Mr. Ripley has been adequately dealt with.
Second, I greatly appreciate Facebook's recent decision to ban Holocaust denial on its platform. I also appreciate your quarterly transparency reports. I wish that other platforms would do the same.
Third, many of my constituents and I share a real frustration about the growing amount of anti-Semitism on the platform and the lack of response with respect to complaints that are made. I'd request to have a call with you guys on that, separately, if that's okay.
I have a lot of questions. If you can answer in one word yes or no, or briefly, that would be great. If not, I'll ask you to follow up in writing.
There are about two and a half billion people who are regular users of Facebook and about 23 million in Canada. A number of those people do post messages that violate Facebook policies. Would you agree that Facebook has an obligation to deal with that content, Mr. Chan?
That's a great question, MP Housefather.
What we have done, and we announced this on Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, is this. If you search for those kinds of terms, terms related to the Holocaust—“swastika”, “white supremacy”—you are going to get a notification that directs you to an off-site website developed with the World Jewish Congress, that gives you credible information on the Holocaust.
Users will, then, get a notification on Facebook that says to go to this site, and they will get good and accurate information on the Holocaust that explains what actually happened and the horrific events around the Holocaust. They will immediately have access to that information when they search for those kinds of terms.
That's really appreciated.
I note, and I'm sure you guys read, that there was a Wall Street Journal article in 2016, which a number of my colleagues in the U.S. Congress referred to, that talked about an internal Facebook study. It said that 64% of members of violent groups became members because of the platform's recommendations.
Mr. Zuckerberg stated that Facebook had changed its policies and that Facebook was now proactively referring such threats to local law enforcement.
Would you be able to tell us how many threats, over the last 12 months, Facebook has proactively referred to local law enforcement in Canada?
I don't know that it's exactly how it is. I think we have different ways of doing this. To get to your point, we use automated systems with some of the machine-learning technology that has actually been pioneered out of Canada. We have an AI lab in Montreal.
A lot of the groundbreaking work they're doing there is to automate these things, so there are some things we can remove very quickly: for example, terrorist content, child nudity and child exploitation. I can tell you that proactively these systems find and remove over 99% of that kind of content that people try to put on Facebook.
The second door, which is a door that we're talking about here, is where context and nuance are important. Where context is important, we have humans look at it. We don't want to have just an automated system remove something and deny someone's speech, just because, without understanding the context. There, we do rely on humans; and there, I agree with you that it does take some time, but I think we generally are pretty fast at it. We can always improve and certainly we are working on it, but again, the statistics are upwards of 99% proactive removal before any human sees it.
I'd like to come back to the main reason for your appearance before us today.
Earlier, we talked to the minister and senior officials at the Department of Canadian Heritage. You don't seem to see a problem in the email exchange with that department regarding the job offer. You don't seem to see any reason for the discomfort we feel with such a close relationship.
If I understand correctly, you don't have a problem with that, do you? Would you do it again the same way?
Let's talk a little about the news. Earlier, during the exchange of information, I heard your response to my colleague Mr. Waugh concerning the possibility of news publishers using your platform. There's always a nuance that's misunderstood in the problem that this represents. The problem isn't the platform and the fact that you allow them to get visitors to their online platform through yours. The problem is really the ad revenue grab. We know very well that the more traffic you generate, the more advertising revenue you're going to generate, at the expense of those you say you're helping.
Could you explain how you can benefit the media financially? Right now, the opposite is happening, despite what you seem to be claiming.
When we look at this question of value, it is a very complicated one. As Kevin said, there's the distribution value of Facebook putting content in front of people who are interested in that content. There's the referral value of sending them to the people at the publishers' websites. Once they're on the publisher's website, it is the publisher who monetizes all the advertisement that they sell on that website; it is they who monetize any relationships they build to sell subscriptions, to solicit donations, to sell membership models, and so on.
I think those are the numbers that we don't see reported in all this, and we don't have the visibility into that side of the publisher's business as to what this means, but it isn't insignificant.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being with us today.
You have become a key player in the public debate. Indeed, you have a considerable influence on millions of people. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. From our point of view, you can, but more importantly, you must do better in many ways.
I'm going to ask you some very specific questions and ask you to keep your answers fairly short. Facebook spokesperson Meg Sinclair told the Toronto Star that it is Facebook's standard practice to seek our political analysts with government experience.
Mr. Chan, since you've been working for Facebook, have you or anyone in your organization asked other officials or other federal government departments to circulate a job posting for Facebook? If so, could you tell me which department and which position?
No. I don't wholly agree with your use of the word “louche”.
Once again, we are calling for regulation. Our posture is not the one that you are, I think, with all due respect, implying. We welcome regulation. We're calling for more of it. We are prepared to work with government on it.
The world, as I think you know, is complicated. We need to work together to solve hard problems. Facebook is here to do that. I am here to do that with you and with other members of Parliament. We are not adversaries. The idea that we would share a public job position to various people across sectors, the fact that many people applied, that we interviewed only a very few set of people, including people from your party—I think that speaks to the fact that we have to work together.
I appreciate everyone being here.
I actually really do accept the explanations that I've heard about these emails that have gone back and forth, and I appreciate the representatives from Facebook being here.
I'm actually a little frustrated, though, in that we've had some discussion here already about emails going back and forth between the and Facebook, and then there was some suggestion by some of the members from the governing party on this committee that, in fact, questioning these emails was tantamount to questioning the integrity of the public service and that's the kind of thing that we should never do.
My question is for Ms. Curran.
You seemed quite content, along with your colleagues, to come here and answer questions. Would you agree that healthy questions about the public service and their political masters are good for a democracy?
I think you've hit the nail on the head. This is perhaps the hardest one for us. That is because speech is nuanced, so we do want to make sure we take a nuanced approach, that we don't overcensor people. Obviously the way we look at it is if there is speech that is directed at a particular group, that is an attack on a particular group, whether by race or by sexual orientation, for example, then those things would be prohibited by our community standards.
I would also say, though, what we've discovered as we work through these issues is that in fact, depending which community you're talking about and what the local contexts are, sometimes people might actually use code words, or even emoticons, to represent something. It would be a slur if we knew it were a slur, but it actually is known in the local community, not more broadly to the public. That's the real challenge. The work we're undertaking now is to work with local partners to better understand what are the kinds of specific words in specific communities that are equally damaging, hurtful and hateful and try to remove those.
One example, I can tell you, is the word spelled S-Q-U-A-W, which is a word that's used in a derogatory manner to attack indigenous women. That is one of the words that we have through our consultations picked up and used to refine our list of slurs so that we can more properly enforce our community standards in Canada.
Mr. Chan, I am going to go back to the issue of hate speech and Facebook's good conduct, as you state it, while you are still asking the government to establish some regulation. The Criminal Code governs behaviour a lot and serves as our guide for the ways in which we behave. It should also apply to our behaviour in social media.
If we want to enforce the Criminal Code, or any other regulations, we must also be able to catch the guilty. On Facebook and on a number of social media, many people use false profiles, false names and false identities. They are almost impossible to find.
If we wanted to enforce the Criminal Code, for example, would Facebook have ways to identify users with fake profiles, or those hiding behind a identity abroad, or even a bot? Do you have ways of identifying people?
There are a couple of things on this.
“Fake accounts” is the term we use at Facebook. Fake accounts are prohibited on Facebook. They are a violation of our community standards, and we do remove them. We've removed, in the last quarter, well over one billion fake accounts.
We believe we are finding more than 99% of fake accounts before anybody interacts with them. This is absolutely something we want to work very hard at and get even better at.
I think your question is with respect to law enforcement. Where there are law enforcement entities that have the lawful authority to request information about particular users and they are exercising that lawful authority, it is absolutely the case that we will comply with and work with them.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chan.
Thank you, Mr. Boulerice.
That brings this to a conclusion.
I want to thank everybody involved.
I want to thank all those at Facebook. Ms. Curran, Mr. Chan and Mr. Dinsdale, we appreciate your time here today.
Colleagues, we are going to have to suspend to go in camera.
I'd like to remind everybody to check your emails because there is a different link and a different password to come back into this in camera meeting.
[Proceedings continue in camera]