Google has sent a Commons committee probing the tech giant’s decision to block some Canadians’ search for news a batch of internal communications after facing the prospect of disciplinary action for missing a deadline.
The U.S. company sent the documents about its response to Bill C-18 to the House of Commons heritage committee this weekend, a number of sources told The Globe and Mail, although it missed a Thursday deadline the committee imposed last week.
The Globe and Mail is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Anthony Housefather, a Liberal member of the committee, had warned he would refer Google to the House of Commons for failing to send it internal communications, and for refusing its summons for its chief executive officer, Sundar Pichai, to answer their questions.
In addition to Mr. Pichai, the committee voted to summon Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs; Richard Gingras, its vice-president of news; and Sabrina Geremia, its vice-president and country manager for Canada.
But Google agreed to send only Ms. Geremia, along with Jason Kee, its Canada-based public policy manager, to testify by video link.
They were to testify for two hours on Monday about the company’s response to Bill C-18, which would make Google and Facebook pay news organizations for posting or linking to their work. But the meeting was cancelled because of technical issues that interfered with the ability of interpreters to hear. The technical issues persisted despite changing committee rooms, leaving the Google witnesses waiting.
The committee has rescheduled the meeting for Friday. But the batch of documents from Google may have arrived too late to be translated into French in time, according to the sources.
Google declined to comment or confirm details of what documents were sent to the committee or when.
Paul Deegan, president of News Media Canada, urged MPs to ensure all the communications they have demanded have been produced by the tech giant.
He said Parliament’s rules gives the committee “broad absolute powers to order the production of papers and records.”
“The committee needs to examine all documents and electronic communications – including messaging over social media platforms – both within Google and with external parties like surrogates,” he said. “If material issues arise, they should be brought to the attention of the appropriate body.”
Google’s tests, which started during the second week of February, were planned to last for five weeks, Google has said, ceasing next week.
The company has said it affects about 4 per cent of Canadian users, and that the restrictions are a test of a potential response to the federal government’s Bill C-18.
The search engine has been sharply critical of the bill which it says will force it to pay for links that connect Canadians to news free. It has also expressed concern that amendments to the online news bill in committee broadened its scope beyond news organizations.
An amendment in the Commons heritage committee added community radio stations to the list of media groups that could enter into negotiations with Google and Facebook funding from the tech giants.
The Commons can pass motions disciplining, rebuking or even imprisoning people who fail to comply with MPs’ instructions – though it has not exercised its right to jail someone since 1913.
It has no power to force people based outside Canada to testify. But it could vote to force Google’s American executives to appear before the heritage committee if they ever cross the border into Canada, including on vacation.
In 2021, Iain Stewart, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, received a formal reprimand from the House of Commons over the government’s refusal to hand over documents relating to the 2019 firing of two scientists from the National Microbiology Lab.
The sergeant-at-arms, who has a formal responsibility for Commons security, escorted Mr. Stewart to the bar of the House of Commons – a brass rod across the floor of the chamber – where he was rebuked by the Commons speaker, Anthony Rota, in front of MPs. He did not produce the documents MPs had demanded.