OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday criticized Meta for blocking domestic news from its platforms, saying the Facebook-parent was prioritizing profit over safety as devastating wildfires force tens of thousands to evacuate their homes.
Trudeau's comments represent the latest government attack on Meta, which this month started blocking news on its Facebook and Instagram platforms for all users in Canada in response to a new law requiring internet giants to pay for news articles.
Meta had long-signaled that the Online News Act was unsustainable for its business because it puts a price on links shared by users, and enacted the news ban ahead of the law's expected implementation by the end of this year.
"Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people's safety," Trudeau told a televised news conference in the Atlantic province of Prince Edward Island, saying the company's actions were "inconceivable."
Federal Liberal cabinet ministers last week described the ban as reckless and irresponsible. Some people fleeing wildfires complained to domestic media that the ban prevented them from sharing important data about the fires.
Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, and blazes in the past week have ravaged the western province of British Columbia (B.C.) and the Northwest Territories (NWT).
"It's time for us to expect more from corporations like Facebook that are making billions of dollars off of Canadians," Trudeau said in Cornwall, Prince Edward Island.
A Meta spokesperson said Canadians continue to use its platforms to connect with their communities and access information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations.
As of Friday, more than 45,000 people had used Facebook's "Safety Check" feature to mark themselves safe, and some 300,000 people had visited crisis response pages for Yellowknife, NWT and Kelowna, B.C. to request support, according to the company.