In the days approaching former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould‘s testimony to the House of Commons’ Justice Committee on February 27, at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s behest, Karina Gould, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, reached out to social media giant Google to pressure the firm to curtail political criticism of the Trudeau government on its platform.
Gould placed a call to a senior government relations executive at Google, during which she complained about ‘hate speech’ and ‘toxic rhetoric’, referring multiple times to specific criticisms of the Trudeau government that she found objectionable. She then threatened sweeping regulations that would require unprecedented disclosures of advertising sponsors.
The firm’s existing ad systems are not technologically capable of complying with Gould’s demand. It would require a months-long reconstruction of the software to meet the compliance requirements she laid out.
In response, the firm announced that it will not accept political advertising through the October elections. That disappointed Gould, who implored them to reconsider, even complaining to newsmedia that, “they have enormous financial and technical resources… they can get this done.”
In the days following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, and just two weeks after Gould told a House committee that there was “more she was planning to do” to “limit foreign influence” in the election, The Chronicle noticed that articles published on our digital platform relating to the ongoing SNC Lavalin scandal stopped appearing in Google News search results in Canada. (Our coverage continues to appear in regular Google search results, and in Google News results in the United States).
On the same day as Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Gould turned to iPolitics to publicly disparage a recent Chronicle report, with defamatory comments from Gould and a PMO spokesman. The author of the piece, Charlie Pinkerton, used a Twitter comment made by an obscure reporter who formerly wrote for Vice, to broadly characterize this publication as ‘fake’ news.
iPolitics is a subsidiary of Torstar, the publishing giant managed by Frank Iacobucci (in his capacity as a current board member and former Chairman), who finds himself at the center of the SNC Lavalin – Kinder Morgan Scandal — and a subject of recent reporting by The Chronicle.
Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council, was the subject of the report that Gould was quick to go to the press in an attempt to discredit for plainly political advantage. Wernick also sits as one of five government officials who comprise the newly formed ‘election protection unit’, who have been tasked by the Cabinet to monitor and neutralize ‘critical election incidents’.
Less than two weeks after the bum iPolitics story, Gould announced that the Trudeau government will include $7 million in this year’s federal budget to monitor and actively discredit political content on social media platforms.
Critics fear that a curtailment of access to foreign press reports would be violative of Canadian norms and the expectations of a free society. At the same time, the Trudeau government plans to offer Canada’s media giants $600 million in operating subsidies, which has unnerved free speech advocates across all party affiliations.
In recent weeks, The Chronicle has unabashedly published a series of articles covering the Trudeau government’s removal of the former Attorney General. With only minor corrections, that reporting has been accurate and prescient.
Contrary to Gould’s public characterization, that journalism was produced by a Canadian from Southern Ontario (which is very much a part of our media market and our body of readership). This writer requested that his name be concealed for fear of political retribution.
Understanding that journalists in the United States enjoy far more sweeping legal protections relating to political speech, our publisher, Matthew Ricchiazzi, was willing to extend that protection to this writer. Ricchiazzi reaffirmed to me personally and to my colleagues that, “as a matter of policy and our Statement on Corporate Social Responsibility, The Chronicle will continue to protect the work of any journalist fearing the retribution of any government anywhere in the world.”