Justin Trudeau Likens Bill C-18 Debate to War in Ukraine, World War II

We may very well be entering into a new level of unhinged in the Bill C-18 debate. This after Justin Trudeau compared it to WWII.

It’s probably a safe bet at this stage that solutions are about the last thing on the Canadian governments mind when it comes to dealing with the mess of the Online News Act.

Experts and citizens alike have long warned the Canadian government that passing Bill C-18 would mean that platforms drop Canadian news links. After all, demanding platforms pay money to platforms for the privilege of hosting their links and sending them traffic really isn’t something any platform in their right mind would want to do. The government and the few bills supporters – namely lobbyists from big publishing, ignored those warnings and dismissed the criticisms as some sort of grand conspiracy from big tech because, in their minds, the bill is perfect in every way and all must bow down to their holy and sacred bill.

Critics, however, kept pushing because they rightfully saw the entire news sector – be it the largest players or the smaller startups – being pushed towards the abyss. This especially in light of the fact that the internet is one of the few – if not, the only – source of growth for the news sector these days. Cutting that off would prove to be devastating for numerous businesses across the country. The government shot back with this belief that because a compromise was miraculously reached in Australia, that the platforms would just cave any moment now and “return to the negotiating table”. You just had to believe hard enough and the problems will solve themselves.

Well, the government passed Bill C-18 much to the dismay of critics. While the government held last ditch talks to salvage the situation, those talks ultimately failed. Both Meta and Google announced that they would be ending support for Canadian news links – an outcome that was perfectly predicted by critics of the legislation.

Shortly after, Meta began cancelling publisher agreements on top of it all. Once again, this was predicted by critics and the critics were proven right yet again.

One of the biggest questions that a number of news publishers had was whether or not there was a plan “B”. If the platforms actually carried through with their promised reaction, what is the next step for the Canadian government. Critics have long pointed out that there doesn’t appear to be any real option available for the Canadian government. There are no laws that the government can use to get the platforms to carry Canadian news links. There are no international laws that the government can utilize. Ultimately, this is a case of the Canadian government being completely screwed and the whole country is watching the news sector be on a one way trip to financial ruin.

Evidently, the critics were proven right as the government found itself scrambling for a solution. Apparently, the government requested help from this from the United States, but the US chose not to intervene seemingly on the fact that this is Canada’s mess to deal with – and Canada’s alone. So, Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, opted to go on international media and badmouth the platforms. How exactly does that help the situation? Apart from the minister venting frustration about the situation he put himself in, we don’t really know. It’s not as though such a move was going to really change much in the situation.

Supporters of the legislation, for their part, decided to start launching personal attacks against critics. Again, how this does anything other than shooting the messenger is anyone’s guess.

The government, for its part, decided that maybe retaliatory measures were in order. So, they decided to cancel their $10 million advertising payments. We ran the numbers and found that Meta could make that back in less than one hour. So, Meta likely wouldn’t even really notice the difference. If anything, Meta’s reaction is probably similar to Jeremy Clarkson’s famous reaction to a delay in the Dacia Sandero:

All this returns to the point that critics have made all along: there is no plan “B” for the government. There’s no lever they can pull to force the platforms to comply with the new law in the way they want them to comply. Instead, the platforms are going to comply by, in the words of the government itself, exiting the market or dropping Canadian news links entirely. By taking the above actions, the government is proving the critics right on this point as well.

So, what is a government to do at this point? They have no intention of backing down. In fact, government officials and die hard self-destructing supporters are pushing this idea of not backing down and that Canada needs to stand up to the big bad bullies that are big tech platforms. A number of them are under the mistaken impression that the Canadian government and the platforms are still in a negotiating position – this despite the platforms having walked long ago already.

That has led to this seemingly unhinged moment during a recent press conference with Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. In it, Trudeau insisted that they are standing up to the big bad bullies in big tech and repeating the false talking point that journalists need to be paid for their work (they do, but that’s the job of the publishers, not “big tech”). While it was clear that the governments strategy was to make a bunch of noise at this stage (since they have no other options apart from repealing Bill C-18), few could have predicted just how unhinged some of the rhetoric would end up being so soon after everything falling apart for the government.

In a video posted on CPAC, at 12:30, a journalist asked if Canada was going to pay a steep price for being a test case for the rest of the world. The question was not that unreasonable, but Trudeau’s answer was stunning. He basically compared the Online News Act debate to World War II. While there’s no way to embed the video, I am happy to provide a transcript of the entire exchange based on what I heard if you can’t or don’t want to watch the video segment in question:

Reporter from the Canadian Press: I would like to go back to the Meta file. Many countries want to follow on Canada’s step. Canada is becoming a test case. Do you think Canada will pay the price because the tech giant will want to make an example of Canada?

Trudeau: I would say yes. This is what they want to do: make an example of us. They are worried about what will happen here in Canada. We’re saying “no” right now. We think that Canadians must have access to quality news – quality information. They have to be paid for that. Facebook decided that Canada was small enough in 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 are doing across the world such as supporting Ukraine. This is what we’ve done during the second world war. This is what we are doing every single day in the United Nations and I know that Canadians will not be bullied by billionaires in the US. Billionaires that are impacting negatively our democracy. We will have a strong stance with that.

We’re not alone. Other countries are looking closely at what we are doing. We will not accept this type of threats – the threats by Meta. Our democracies are threatened everywhere around the world and if we are letting go, we will lose.

That’s the reason why we have a good consensus within Parliament amongst the Bloc, the Liberal Party, and the NDP. We will keep a firm stance. That’s too bad that the Conservative Party is aligned once more with the web giants in with the US – the American billionaires instead of defending democracy.

For context, this argument of ‘defending democracy’ stems from the idea that the work of journalism does is a pillar of democracy. So, supporters took that point and heavily warped it to say that what the platforms are doing is a threat to democracy. Specifically, by the platforms not giving away their money to the news outlets for the privilege of hosting the links the publishers post on the platforms services, the platforms are in the process of destroying democracy. Trudeau took this warped and delusional perspective and took it a step further by comparing the debate to the war on Ukraine and World War II.

In short, we have entered into a new level of unhinged, here. It’s worth repeating that the platforms have already walked. The battle is over and the government lost. The price of the governments failure is a news media sector that is about to get largely cut off from some of the largest portions of the internet – portions that many media outlets have depended almost entirely on for their traffic. Unless the platforms do, at this stage, the unthinkable of caving to pressure (and they have a lot of motivation not to), this isn’t going to change a thing.

The news conference was so surreal, experts were stunned by what they witnessed. For instance, University Law Professor, Michael Geist, found himself asking “Is this real life?”

Is this real life? Govt mandates payments for links in C-18. Meta says will comply by not linking. @JustinTrudeau says democracy under attack and likens to WW2:
“They made the wrong choice by deciding to attack Canada. We want to defend democracy…This is what we did during WW2.”

We are now entering into the second week of this bill becoming law. With 6 months before the bill is implemented, and the government already reaching this level of hyperbole, one thing is for sure: this is going to be a long Summer.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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