Given federal government is reviewing social media rules, ruling must be made public on whether Facebook violated lobbying law and ethics code
Lobbying Commissioner has ruled on a dozen other complaints filed since Democracy Watch filed its April 2018 complaint
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, January 30, 2020
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch sent another letter to federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger, following up on its August 1, 2019 letter, calling on her to ensure an independent ruling on the complaint letter it filed in late April 2018 about unregistered lobbying and doing favours for Cabinet and federal politicians by Facebook employees, and employees of its subsidiary Instagram.
As of the end of March 2019, the Lobbying Commissioner had investigated and ruled on a dozen other complaints and/or situations filed since April 2018.
“Almost two years ago, Democracy Watch filed a complaint calling for an investigation of Facebook’s unregistered lobbying and favours for Liberal Cabinet ministers and MPs, and the Lobbying Commissioner has negligently failed to issue a ruling on the complaint,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Lobbying Commissioner has issued rulings on a dozen complaints filed since spring 2018, and so the Commissioner’s delay in ruling on Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint is completely unjustifiable, and likely linked to the fact that the Commissioner was handpicked by Prime Minister Trudeau.”
The federal Lobbying Act requires businesses to register if its employees spent more than 20% of their collective time lobbying during any 6-month period, including arranging meetings, and some communications are also required to be disclosed in monthly reports. The Professionalism principle in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct requires that lobbyists follow the spirit of the registration requirements of the Act. As well, the Lobbyists’ Code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after doing favours for them (former Rule 8 and, since December 2015, Rules 6-9).
Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint asked whether Facebook’s employees had ever crossed the 20% line from 2010 to 2018 and violated the Act by failing to register, and whether any of Facebook’s employees violated the Code by doing favours for Cabinet ministers or MPs and then lobbying them afterwards.
As Maclean’s magazine first reported, Facebook was not registered as a company in the Registry of Lobbyists to lobby the federal government from 2010 on, until it announced in spring 2018 it would register (while still maintaining that it is not required to register). Facebook also has several consultant lobbyists on contract but they have reported only one communication with federal government politicians and officials since 2014.
In contrast, other social media companies such as Google have had several employees and consultant lobbyists registered for years, and many monthly communications reports.
As well, Facebook has provided cyber-threat training and services for free to federal politicians, and Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan provided advice for free to Finance Minister Morneau about how to do a Facebook Live event for his budget speech.
Democracy Watch also recently requested that the Lobbying Commissioner rule on another two-year-old complaint involving Liberal Cabinet ministers.
Democracy Watch requested in its April 2018 letter that Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she was handpicked by Trudeau, and has also made statements that show a bias in favour of lobbyists.
Democracy Watch challenged Commissioner Bélanger’s appointment in court. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled on Tuesday that the Trudeau Cabinet was biased when it appointed her but that the bias was “inevitable” and is allowed under a 2001 Supreme Court of Canada ruling. Democracy Watch will soon apply for approval to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179