Bill C-18 passes the Senate and returns to the House of Commons

Bill C-18 to force “web giants” to compensate news media for sharing their articles and stories was passed by the Senate on Thursday and will likely become reality in the coming days as even where Meta blocks the access of many Canadians to this same content on Facebook and Instagram.

A majority of senators gave the last green light needed for the legislative proposal to be sent back to the House of Commons.

This seal of approval resulted in a third reading vote of 51 people in favor and 23 against. Very few of the amendments made are likely to displease the government.

This situation could facilitate the future if the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois continue to be on the same wavelength as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the Commons, as has been the case in the past. .

Both Houses must agree on the same version of the legislative proposal for the formality of Royal Assent to take place and for C-18 to become law.

In fact, the vast majority of amendments submitted by senators have the support of the government or, at the very least, the government does not oppose them, according to indications given by the sponsor of the legislative proposal in the Upper House, Senator Peter Harder, during clause-by-clause consideration in the Senate committee.

The government wishes, with this bill, to oblige Google and Meta to conclude “fair compensation” agreements with the Canadian media according to several criteria. The two digital companies strongly oppose it.

“We are very concerned about the path we are embarking on and urgently seek to work with the government to find a compromise that would avoid a negative outcome for Canadians and pave the way for us to maintain and grow our investments within the community. ‘news ecosystem in Canada,’ spokesman for Google’s Canadian division, Shay Purdy, said in writing Thursday.

Meta referred The Canadian Press to a web page on which the company reiterates that “if Bill C-18 […] is passed, content shared by news media, including news publishers and broadcasters, will no longer be available to Facebook and Instagram users in Canada.”

In the context of the end of C-18’s legislative journey, Meta has already set in motion, as announced at the beginning of the month, its blocking following repeated threats for months, through what is presented as “tests “. Google had done the same in March and leaves open the possibility of returning to the charge.

Meta maintained that its “testing” should identify any issues before it shuts off the tap permanently. This week, screenshots of people who do not have access to the Facebook pages of daily newspapers such as “Le Journal de Québec” or “La Presse” circulated widely, triggering a wave of denunciation among press owners, media and politicians.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez was among those who condemned the “intimidation” attempt. “I would like to thank the senators for their important work during the study of Bill C-18,” he said in a written statement Thursday.

He did not want to immediately comment on the Senate amendments. “At the end of the day, we want to continue to have a free and independent press, it’s fundamental for our democracy,” he added.

When the bill was introduced in April last year, the government presented the goal as giving digital companies six months to voluntarily agree with a range of players, including media local authorities, otherwise they would be forced into a three-stage negotiation framework.

The first is to set a deadline of about three months for an agreement to be reached between the parties. Then, a mediation process lasting a maximum of approximately four months can be initiated and, as a last resort, an arbitration process lasting no more than 45 days.

An amendment proposed by the Senate aims to write down the six-month period in black and white. Another proposed change — the only one that the government will oppose, according to Senator Harder — would have the effect of specifying that the media and digital companies must discuss, from the first stage of the planned framework of negotiations, “the value that each party derives news content” and what should be transferred.

Without the modification, this “value”, which can be monetary or other, will be mentioned as having to be considered only at the stage of the arbitration.

Thomas Owen Ripley, assistant deputy minister at the Department of Heritage, said during the study of C-18 in Senate committee that this choice was made in the hope that most negotiations would be concluded without the need for a process of arbitration and to leave, in the earlier stages, “a great margin of maneuver [et] discretion to the parties.

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