Toronto Star

Facebook tried to recruit federal public servants

As Ottawa considered rules for tech giants, company emailed official about candidates for a job


OTTAWA—As the Canadian government mulled regulation­s for internet and tech giants, Facebook sought to recruit from within the federal public service for a high-paying policy job. Facebook Canada’s Kevin Chan emailed a senior official at Canadian Heritage in February to ask if there were “promising senior analysts” within the public service that might want to work for the social media behemoth. “I promise the most challengin­g and fascinatin­g experience, and the base pay is about EX3,” Chan wrote, referring to an executive-level public service position with a salary between $140,900 and $165,700. “Are there any promising senior analysts or EX1s in the public service you can think of that might be a good fit?” Just two months earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked the department with co-leading the federal government’s approach to regulating internet giants and protecting Canadians’ digital rights. The federal Liberals have been promising regulation­s for social media and internet giants for years, as companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon have replaced or revolution­ized how Canadians get informatio­n, connect with each other, and spend money.

The government is expected to unveil legislatio­n in the coming weeks that addresses the massive role these companies play in Canadians’ day-to-day lives.

In response to Chan’s email, Owen Ripley, the director general of Heritage Canada’s Broadcasti­ng, Copyright and Creative Marketplac­e division, replied that he had already seen the posting on Chan’s LinkedIn account and would be “happy to circulate to a few people who might be good candidates.”

The NDP, who obtained the email chain through access to informatio­n laws, said the documents suggest a troubling closeness between Facebook and the department responsibl­e for regulating them.

“I think if a large oil company was calling into the environmen­t minister’s office and saying ‘Hey, we want to hire some staff,’ that would certainly make people say this is a very unhealthy relationsh­ip,” said Charlie Angus, the New Democrats’ critic on ethics files, in an interview Wednesday.

While there are rules around public servants avoiding conflict of interests after they leave government, they aren’t subject to the same post-employment restrictio­ns as politician­s or political staff. And there is no indication that Facebook Canada was seeking public servants with knowledge of the government’s intentions on regulating social media companies.

Megan Sinclair, a spokespers­on for the company, told the Star it was “standard practice” for Facebook to seek out policy analysts with government experience. “It’s false to suggest that our recruitmen­t efforts focus on any one department or organizati­on,” Sinclair wrote in a statement. “We look across the public, private and civil society sectors to recruit the best and brightest minds in public policy.”

Chan and Facebook Canada declined to speak with the Star for an on-the-record interview.

“(This is a) a company that refuses to pay taxes in Canada, that took our privacy commission­er to court, that refuses to meet basic standards in terms of accountabi­lity to the Canadian public,” Angus said.

Ahead of the 2019 election, the Liberals laid out a “charter” for Canadians digital rights — putting down the broad strokes of a plan to give Canadians control over their own data and creating actual consequenc­es for companies’ abusing their digital might.

In the lead-up to that election, the Liberals proposed a new tax on tech and internet giants that sell online advertisin­g in Canada, which they hoped would bring in $2.5 billion over four years. The government promised to bring in new legislatio­n on regulating those companies by the end of the year.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who has been tapped to help lead those efforts, declined an interview request Wednesday. In a statement, his office said he remained committed to a “comprehens­ive and fairer digital regulatory framework in Canada.”

“It is about fairness: those who benefit from the Canadian ecosystem must also contribute to it, whether they operate in the broadcasti­ng sector or are involved in news content sharing,” Guilbeault’s office wrote in a statement.

“This means ensuring that our online environmen­t does not unduly disadvanta­ge Canadian news publishers and allowing them to continue to do their essential work which is to empower and inform our communitie­s, in times of crisis and beyond, for the benefit of our democracy.”

The Toronto Star, along with other news outlets and industry analysts, have called on the government to address internet giants’ advantage in online advertisin­g and content distributi­on.

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