Michael Geist: Trudeau Likens Bill C-18 Battle To World War Two Fight for Democracy as Government Suspends Meta Advertising (But Not Liberal Party Ads) | Unpublished

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Unpublished Opinions

Michael Geist's picture
Ottawa, Ontario
About the author

Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School.  Dr. Geist is a syndicated columnist on technology law issues with his regular column appearing in the Toronto Star, the Hill Times, and the Tyee.  Dr. Geist is the editor of several copyright books including The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law (2013, University of Ottawa Press), From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (2010, Irwin Law) and In the Public Interest:  The Future of Canadian Copyright Law (2005, Irwin Law), the editor of several monthly technology law publications, and the author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.

Dr. Geist serves on many boards, including the CANARIE Board of Directors, the Canadian Legal Information Institute Board of Directors, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation Advisory Board. He has received numerous awards for his work including the Kroeger Award for Policy Leadership and the Public Knowledge IP3 Award in 2010, the Les Fowlie Award for Intellectual Freedom from the Ontario Library Association in 2009, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 2008, Canarie’s IWAY Public Leadership Award for his contribution to the development of the Internet in Canada and he was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2003.  In 2010, Managing Intellectual Property named him on the 50 most influential people on intellectual property in the world and Canadian Lawyer named him one of the 25 most influential lawyers in Canada in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Click here to view Dr. Geist’s full CV.


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Michael Geist: Trudeau Likens Bill C-18 Battle To World War Two Fight for Democracy as Government Suspends Meta Advertising (But Not Liberal Party Ads)

July 6, 2023
Cartoon of Justin Trudeau tossing a book on Ethics into a bottomless pit

Listen below to the Law Bites podcast Episode 172: Marc Edge on Bill C-18 and the Postmedia Effect

The government escalated the battle over Bill C-18 yesterday, announcing that it was suspending advertising on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms due the company’s decision to comply with the bill by blocking news sharing and its reluctance to engage in further negotiations on the issue. While the ad ban applies to federal government advertising, Liberal party officials confirmed they plan to continue political advertising on the social networks, suggesting that principled opposition ends when there might be a political cost involved. At issue is roughly $11 million in annual advertising by the federal government, a sum that pales in comparison to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s estimate of at least $100 million in payments in Canada for news links from Meta alone. 

In addition to raising the economic cost to Meta for stopping news sharing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau increased the rhetoric, describing Canada as having been “attacked” by Meta and likening the government’s fight over the bill to defending democracy in Ukraine or during the Second World War [at 13:30]:

Facebook decided that Canada was a small country, small enough that they could reject our asks. They made the wrong choice by deciding to attack Canada. We want to defend democracy. This is what we’re doing across the world, such as supporting Ukraine. This is what we did during the Second World War. This is what we’re doing every single day in the United Nations.

There are strongly held views on both sides of the Bill C-18 debate, but the suggestion that stopping sharing news links on a social network is in any way comparable to World War 2 is embarrassingly hyperbolic and gives the sense of a government that has lost perspective on the issue. Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has repeatedly described the manner of compliance with Bill C-18 as a business choice for the Internet companies, yet the Prime Minister now calls that choice an attack on the country.

If it were truly comparable to a world war, then surely the Liberal Party (joined by the NDP) would not continue to advertise on the platform. Yet since the 2021 election call, the party alone has run approximately 11,000 ads on Facebook and Instagram. That is separate from individual MPs, who have also run hundreds of ads. The Meta Ad Library provides ample evidence of how reliant the party has been on social media. For example, since the start of the year, Anna Gainey ran over 500 ads as part of her by-election campaign in Quebec. David Hilderley, who was a candidate in the Oxford by-election, ran approximately 180 ads on Facebook during the same timeframe.

Ultimately, if this is the government’s Plan B to the unfolding mess that is Bill C-18, it is unlikely to make much difference. Government advertising is supposed to be about department communication not subsidy and the suspension may make it harder to reach younger demographics on issues such as summer co-op programs or Canadian Armed Forces recruitment. Regardless, the ad boycott does not alter the foundation of the legislation of mandated payments for links with uncapped liability. Moreover, the costs extend beyond just Canada, as the companies are surely looking to the global market and the potential for billions in liability for linking if others adopt the Bill C-18 approach as their model. Viewed with that prism, a federal government ban that does not even include the governing political party pales in comparison to the risks of the dangerous Bill C-18 precedent.

As I have said for weeks, everyone loses with Bill C-18 and that includes Meta. But it is readily apparent that the Canadian media sector will take the biggest hit with lost links, cancelled deals, and a bill that may not generate any new revenues. The recent experience of the CBC’s Brodie Fenlon provides a vivid illustration of the harm to Canadian media outlets that awaits under Bill C-18. In fact, even if Google finds a compromise position – the government is clearly holding out hope it can strike a deal – the lost revenues from even one platform means this legislation may prove to be a net-negative for the media sector. That suggests that it will soon be time for Plan C, starting with a de-escalation of Prime Minister’s absurd rhetoric of a country under attack.