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Democracy Watch files complaint about Facebook lobbying and favours for politicians with federal Lobbying Commissioner

Questions raised about Facebook/Instagram employees not registering as lobbyists, and doing favours for federal Finance Minister, and federal politicians, and limited activities registered by consultant lobbyists

New Lobbying Commissioner should not rule on situations involving Liberals because of bias – handpicked in secret by PMO and Cabinet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, April 26, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent yesterday to new federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger requesting an investigation of Facebook Canada’s lobbying activities and favours for federal politicians to determine whether Facebook has violated the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct (“Lobbyists’ Code”). Democracy Watch’s complaint also covers lobbying for Instagram which is a separate online service but not a separate company from Facebook.

“The actions of Facebook’s employee and its consultant lobbyists, including favours provided to federal Cabinet ministers and politicians, raise serious questions and an investigation is needed to determine if they have violated the federal lobbying law and lobbyists’ code,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

As Maclean’s magazine first reported recently, Facebook has not been registered as a company in the Registry of Lobbyists to lobby the federal government from 2010 on, until it announced recently 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 several employees and consultant lobbyists registered, and many monthly communications reports.

The Professionalism principle in the Lobbyists’ Code requires that lobbyists follow the spirit of the registration requirements of the Lobbying Act, and the Act requires registration for paid communications “in respect of” various policy, program, financial or contract matters, and for consultant lobbyists also arranging meetings with government officials and MPs. Some communications are also required to be disclosed in monthly reports.

The key question to be investigated for Facebook/Instagram employees is whether they have spent more than 20% of their collective time lobbying and should be registered in the Registry as required by the Act. The key question for their consultant contract lobbyists is whether their registrations in the Registry are complete and accurate, as it is a violation of the Act to file a false or misleading registration.

As well, Facebook is providing 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.

The Lobbyists’ Code rules 6 and 10 prohibit lobbyists from doing anything for anyone they are lobbying that could create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including providing benefits to or doing favours for them. Rule 8 of the Code prohibits lobbying that person after providing the benefit or doing the favour for them.

In the letter, Democracy Watch also requests, as it has in a letter sent on April 20th, and in a letter sent on January 25th, that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning investigations of situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals because the Cabinet created a conflict of interest for her by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process. As well, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders before making her appointment as required by the Lobbying Act.

On January 15th, Democracy Watch filed an application in Federal Court challenging the appointment of the new Lobbying Commissioner.

To allow the investigations into Democracy Watch’s complaints to continue, Democracy Watch proposes that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the situations to a provincial commissioner who is independent of her, the Trudeau Cabinet, and all federal political parties. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

“The Trudeau Cabinet put the new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and as a result the Commissioner is tainted by bias and must not rule on any situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals,” said Conacher.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign

Democracy Watch again requests new Lobbying Commissioner not make any decisions affecting Liberals because of bias – clarifies that organizations violate Lobbyists’ Code if they allow board members or others give gifts or do favours for politicians

Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet put new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process that failed to consult with opposition parties as required

More than 11,000 Canadians have called for key changes to make the Cabinet appointment process actually open, independent and merit-based

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, April 20, 2018

OTTAWA – Democracy Watch released the letter it sent today to new federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger requesting that she not make any decisions concerning investigations of situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals because the Cabinet created a conflict of interest for her by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process. As well, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders before making her appointment as required by the Lobbying Act.

As a result, Commissioner Bélanger has an appearance of bias that taints any decision she may make, including the decision she made on January 24th ending the investigation into Democracy Watch’s complaint alleging that Barry Sherman, Chair of Apotex until he passed away recently, violated rules in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by hosting an August 2015 fundraising event at his home that Justin Trudeau attended. In early March, Democracy Watch challenged Commissioner Bélanger’s ruling in Federal Court.

Democracy Watch also challenged former Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd’s ruling in Federal Court in late January that the Aga Khan’s Bahamas trip gift to Prime Minister Trudeau was legal under the Lobbyists’ Code.

The office of the Commissioner of Lobbying is investigating four other Democracy Watch complaints about situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau or other Cabinet ministers (See the four situations summarized under A.1 here). Democracy Watch’s letter requests that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning any of the four situations or any other situation involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals.

In its letter, Democracy Watch also clarified that its complaints allege that businesses and other organizations violate the Lobbyists’ Code by allowing their board members and others associated with them give gifts to or do favours for politicians and government officials.

On January 15th, Democracy Watch also filed an application in Federal Court challenging the appointment of the new Lobbying Commissioner by the Trudeau Cabinet because of the failure to consult with opposition party leaders, and because the Cabinet was in a conflict of interest as the office of the Lobbying Commissioner was investigating situations involving Prime Minister Trudeau and other Cabinet ministers at the time the appointment was made.

To allow the investigations into Democracy Watch’s complaints to continue, Democracy Watch proposes that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the situations to a provincial commissioner who is independent of her, the Trudeau Cabinet, and all federal political parties. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

“The Trudeau Cabinet put the new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and as a result the Commissioner is tainted by bias and must not rule on any situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

“It would be a clear conflict of interest if someone sued Prime Minister Trudeau or a Cabinet minister and the Cabinet chose which judge would hear the case, and it is just as clearly a conflict of interest for the Cabinet to choose the new Lobbying Commissioner when she is judging whether the PM and other Cabinet ministers are involved in illegal situations,” said Conacher.

More than 11,000 Canadians have signed a petition supporting Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign calling on federal parties to work together to change the appointment process for all officers of Parliament and judicial and watchdog positions, to make it actually merit-based and independent from Cabinet, and to prohibit reappointments.

For many appointments, including of the new Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner, the Trudeau Cabinet continues to use the same secretive, PMO-controlled, partisan process that past governments used.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch calls for changes to stop secret fake online election ads that can easily violate spending limits

More than 4,500 Canadians have signed online petition supporting changes to election laws to prohibit social media companies from running secret, false election ads that violate limits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, as more and more details about secret, fake online ads in the U.S. election and Brexit referendum that violated spending limits are being revealed, Democracy Watch called for changes to election laws across Canada to stop such ads undermining elections and referendums here.  More than 4,500 Canadians have signed its online petition on Change.org aimed at federal party leaders, and Democracy Watch also has an online letter-writing campaign calling on all governments across Canada to make the same changes.

The campaign calls for changes to ensure that all election advertising, in media and social media, complies with election laws that:

The problem is mainly with social media sites, like Facebook, through which ads can be targeted directly and only to a specific individual’s page.  Unlike an ad in a newspaper or on radio or TV, election watchdog agencies, the media and the public can’t track these targeted online social media ads because only the targeted individual sees the ad.  As a result, they can’t ensure the ads comply with the law.

“Canada’s democracy faces the new threat of fake and foreign online election ads, and we need to fight back with changes to elections laws to stop these ads,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.  “Social media companies cannot be trusted to stop fake or foreign ads on their own because they are in a conflict of interest since they make money from the ads and also may support one political party more than others.”

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads campaign calls for the following six key changes:

  1. prohibit media and social media companies from publishing election-related ads during the six months leading up to an election if the ad is paid for with foreign currency (such as Russian rubles);
  2. require media and social media companies to report every election-related ad to the election law enforcement agency during the six months leading up to an election so the ad can be reviewed to determine if it makes a clearly false claim about a party or candidate;
  3. require media and social media companies to report to the election law enforcement agency who placed and paid for each ad, and how much was spent on the ad, so agency can determine if the amount spent on the ad violates the legal limit (including the amount spent on having employees or contractors or bots share, like or retweet the ad);
  4. require the government to establish an independent commission (whose members are appointed by non-governmental bodies like the Canadian Judicial Council) to conduct a public, merit-based search for the next Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections Canada (and for the next head of the election law enforcement agency in each province), with the commission giving a shortlist of nominees to the party leaders from which they will all choose together one person as the head of the agency;
  5. give the head of the election law enforcement agency (who, at the federal level, is the Commissioner of Canada Elections) the power, during the six months leading up to an election, to order clearly false, illegal ads be deleted from media and social media sites, and require the head to issue these orders within a few days of receiving the information about each ad, and;
  6. give the head of the election law enforcement agency the power to impose significant fines on social media companies and advertisers who violate the rules (the fines must be large enough to discourage attempts to violate the rules).

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch

Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign