Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted social media giant Meta on Monday over its decision to block local news as wildfires continue to force thousands of Canadians from their homes.
"Right now in an emergency situation, where up-to-date local information is more important than ever, Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people's safety, ahead of quality local journalism. This is not the time for that," he said during a stop at the Island Montessori Academy in Cornwall, P.E.I. on Monday morning.
"It is so inconceivable that a company like Facebook is choosing to put corporate profits ahead of ensuring that local news organizations can get up-to-date information to Canadians and reach them where Canadians spend a lot of their time — online, on social media, on Facebook."
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has blocked Canadians from viewing news from Canadian outlets in response to the Liberal government passing its Online News Act, Bill C-18, in June. Google has threatened similar action.
The law forces large social media platforms to negotiate compensation for Canadian news publishers when their content is shared.
As a result, content from news providers in the North — including CBC, the local newspaper The Yellowknifer and digital broadcaster Cabin Radio — is being blocked and people can't access or share information from news sources on Facebook and Instagram, two of the most popular social media sites.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters following an announcement at the Island Montessori Academy in Cornwall, P.E.I., Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
Meta has been under pressure to lift its ban in response to the fires.
In a statement sent to CBC News last week, the company said it's sticking to its position. It also said government sites and other sources that disseminate information aren't subject to the ban.
"People in Canada are able to use Facebook and Instagram to connect to their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations," said Meta spokesperson David Troya-Alvarez.
The company says it has activated a function called Safety Check that allows users to click a button to update their status and let their friends and family know they're safe from the wildfires.
When asked if his government would abandon the Online News Act, Trudeau gave no sign of backing down.
"This is Facebook's choice," he said.
"We're simply saying that in a democracy, quality local journalism matters. And it matters now more than ever before, when people are worried about their homes, worried about communities, worried about the worst summer for extreme weather events we've had in a long, long time."
Trudeau is on the island for a cabinet retreat to meet with new ministers and discuss his government's agenda before the House of Commons returns next month.