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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes an announcement on a child care funding in Mississauga, Ont., on June 28. Trudeau accused Google and Meta of behaving in a 'pretty irresponsible way' in response to the Online News Act.Andrew Lahodynskyj/The Canadian Press

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez made moves Wednesday to bring Google on board the Online News Act, sending the tech giant an official letter to clarify how it could be affected by the new law.

As the Prime Minister accused the tech giants Google and Meta of behaving in a “pretty irresponsible way” in response to the act, Mr. Rodriguez agreed to a request from Google to provide clarity in writing to address its concerns.

It is not known if the letter will provide sufficient assurances to keep Google from blocking access to news in Canada, but on Wednesday night Google said the two sides appear to be heading toward an impasse. Google would not comment further.

The company has conducted tests in response to the Online News Act, blocking the ability of around 1.2 million Canadians to search for news. It says it has not yet decided how it will respond to the act.

Rodriguez still optimistic of C-18 deals with tech giants but they are ‘not above the law’

One issue Google has asked for ministerial clarity on is whether there is a path to exemption from regulation under the act – for example, if it continues to negotiate voluntary deals with news organizations in Canada. Google has expressed concern that the legislation is vaguely worded and it could face uncapped financial liabilities.

The Online News Act is designed to support the Canadian news industry, which has seen its advertising migrate to the Big Tech platforms. It would make Facebook and Google negotiate deals to compensate news outlets for posting or linking to their work.

Laura Scaffidi, spokeswoman for Mr. Rodriguez, confirmed that the minister’s office had sent Google the letter, setting out in writing issues discussed in meetings with the tech giant about the application of the act.

“We’ve always said we’re open to working with the platforms. What they want is more clarity and certainty, which is normal for a business. It’s also part of every government regulatory process,” she said.

Facebook has said it will block Canadians’ ability to access or share news on the platform, which would allow it to avoid regulation when the Online News Act comes into force in about six months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that tech giants Google and Meta have “reacted in a pretty irresponsible way” in response to the act, but added the government is now having “good conversations with Google” to find a way forward.

Speaking at a news conference in Mississauga, Mr. Trudeau said he was disappointed by Facebook’s decision to block Canadians’ news access on its platform before the law comes into force.

“It is extremely disappointing to see that Facebook continues to refuse to accept its responsibility towards our democracy by refusing to pay their fair share for Canadians to get local news and independent, rigorous journalistic content,” he said. “Their decision to walk away, rather than engage constructively, is disappointing.”

Rachel Curran, Meta’s head of public policy in Canada, said in a CBC interview on Tuesday that there are no talks under way with the government on the online streaming act, which got royal assent this month. She said Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, was pressing ahead with its plans to block access to Canadian news on both platforms in response to the bill.

“We are proceeding towards ending the availability of news permanently in Canada,” Ms. Curran told Power & Politics.

Mr. Trudeau said the government wants to resume talks with Facebook ”to have conversations with them about how to make sure we’re both supporting journalists and ensuring that Canadians can continue to function online in free and open ways.”

The act, which passed through Parliament last week, will be implemented through regulations that will set out in more detail how the law will apply to the tech giants.

Michael Geist: Artificial intelligence makes Bill C-18, Canada’s Online News Act, already outdated

Google has been in talks with Mr. Rodriguez and his officials in the past week. Last week, Mr. Rodriguez held 11th-hour talks via videolink with Google’s U.S. executives Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs and chief legal officer, and Don Harrison, president of global partnerships.

Both Facebook and Google have reached a number of deals with Canadian news organizations, including The Globe and Mail, to pay for using their content.

On Tuesday, the parent companies of the country’s two largest newspaper chains, Postmedia Network Canada Corp. and Nordstar Capital LP, announced they were in merger talks, working on a deal that would slash debt and build a media business better able to compete with global digital platforms.

“This is a proposal that is being carefully looked at and analyzed by the Competition Bureau,” Mr. Trudeau said, adding that it is a “significant step.”

The government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which will regulate the Online News Act, both have the ability to issue regulations about how the act will work. A consultation on the regulatory process is expected to start within weeks.

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