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Government won't adopt Liberal policy critics warned could hurt press freedom, PM says

Days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a keynote address at the 2023 Liberal National Convention in Ottawa, he said the government would never implement a Liberal Party policy resolution that critics argued could hurt press freedom. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a keynote address at the 2023 Liberal National Convention in Ottawa, he said the government would never implement a Liberal Party policy resolution that critics argued could hurt press freedom. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will not adopt a controversial Liberal Party resolution to target disinformation that critics have denounced as potentially dangerous to freedom of the press in Canada.

Liberal Party members passed the "combating disinformation in Canada" policy resolution on Saturday. The proposal asks the to government "explore options to hold online information services accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms, and to limit publication only to material whose sources can be traced."

Trudeau committed on Tuesday to never implementing the policy.

"Liberals, like all Canadians, are right to be worried about misinformation and disinformation and wanting to make sure that Canadians are protected from it," Trudeau told journalists on the way into a cabinet meeting. "However, that policy is not a policy we would ever implement."

Critics have warned that the proposal could open the door to the government exerting control over Canadian media or forcing media outlets to reveal confidential sources.

Registered Liberal Party members passed the resolution on Saturday at the Liberal convention without any debate. Those members then ranked the resolution tenth out of 24 in order of priority.

WATCH | Government won't 'implement' combating disinformation resolution passed at Liberal convention, PM says:

The resolution is non-binding, which means the government can simply ignore it.

"We will never harm journalists' capacity to do the professional independent work that they do," said Trudeau.

Expert calls proposal 'dangerous'

The author of the resolution, B.C. Liberal Catherine Evans, said the resolution is intended to target anonymous posts online containing disinformation, not target "reputable journalists."

Evans said the policy is meant to apply to social media platforms, websites that contain disinformation and people who call themselves "journalists" but "post information they have not verified."

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist on Monday called the proposal "dangerous." He said it shouldn't be up to the federal government to decide "who is a good journalist and who is a bad journalist" and regulate those seen as "not good."

Conservative heritage critic Rachael Thomas said the policy, if adopted, would put Canada in a category with "places like North Korea, China, Iran and Russia." She said the resolution could lead to state-run media and censorship in Canada.

WATCH | Conservative MP calls Liberal policy resolution 'disheartening':

Trudeau also took aim at Facebook's parent company Meta over a company representative's testimony at a parliamentary committee on Monday.

The representative from Meta said the company is working on blocking news on Facebook and Instagram from Canadian users if Bill C-18 passes. The bill, first tabled in June 2022, would force digital giants to negotiate deals to compensate Canadian media companies — possibly including the CBC — for linking to or repurposing their online content.

Meta Canada's head of public policy, Rachel Curran, told the committee it's a business decision.

"We believe that news has a real social value. The problem is that it doesn't have much of an economic value to Meta. That's the real concern with this legislation," Curran said. "So if we are being asked to compensate news publishers for material that has no economic value to us, that's where the problem is."

Trudeau calls journalism 'essential'

Trudeau singled out Curran's comment about the "economic value" of news.

"That argument that the internet giants are putting forward is not just flawed, it's dangerous to our democracy, to our economy," said Trudeau.

"Woodward and Berstein weren't influencers. Someone reporting on the horrors in Bucha [Ukraine] is not trying to get likes on their Facebook page."

WATCH | Liberal party resolution targeting disinformation raises censorship concerns:

Trudeau said that "rigorous, challenging, independent journalism is essential."

"The fact Facebook is still saying it doesn't want to pay journalists for the work they do shows how deeply irresponsible and out of touch they are with how we need to ensure all of us are protecting our democracies," he said.

Curran told the House of Commons heritage committee the company would remove news in a way that is transparent, responsible and careful.