Hon. Marty Klyne: Senator Gold, my question is with respect to Bill C-18 — the Online News Act — and northern communities. In August, Catherine Tait, President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, wrote to Meta asking Meta to consider that many people living in remote northern communities in Canada depend on getting news on Facebook. This was during the wildfires that forced the evacuation of Yellowknife.
Given the emergency conditions, we are calling on you to exempt people in these communities from Meta’s current blockage of news accounts in Canada so that they are able to share critical news on those accounts, including evacuation order information.
Senator Gold, what actions have the federal government taken or planned to ensure that everyone living in remote northern communities can be informed of risks normally shared on the news via Facebook?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. We all know that in an emergency, every second counts. Canadians rightly expect that they be informed as quickly as possible when there is an imminent threat to their safety. We’ve seen too many tragic examples of lives lost when that is not the case. It’s not only in northern and rural environments, regrettably.
Public alerting to risk is a shared responsibility across all levels of government. The Government of Canada is working closely with its provincial and territorial partners through the National Public Alerting System, or NPAS. I have been assured that the work is ongoing to further strengthen this alerting system. The work is active and ongoing, and it is designed to ensure that it continues to meet regional needs and keep Canadians informed and therefore safe.
Senator Klyne: That alert system is great for alerting some, but there’s a coordination of resources, communities and families that needs to take place. That is a void. We experienced that in Saskatchewan during that mass murder.
If the impasse with Meta is not resolved, does the government have ideas for the medium-term and long-term to fill the dire gap in local news access for these communities?
Senator Gold: Thank you, senator. The Online News Act is designed to build on and strengthen existing supports for journalism — including the Canadian journalism labour tax credit — and increase funding to the Canada Periodical Fund that many local media rely upon, along with other local journalism initiatives. These are all important steps the government is taking in its commitment to continue to support local journalism in its role in keeping Canadians informed and safe.