Group calls for end to ‘cozy’ and ‘unacceptable’ relationship between senior government officials and Facebook

'Incredibly, Mr. Ripley saw no problem with Facebook’s suggestion that these staffers return to public office after a short stint at Facebook, so they could resume regulating the company'

OTTAWA – A broadcasting advocacy group is urging the federal Heritage minister to put an end to the seemingly “cozy” and “unacceptable” relationship between senior officials in his department and Facebook after emails show the tech giant trying to recruit policy workers from the government.

In February, Facebook’s Canadian Head of Policy Kevin Chan emailed Owen Ripley, a senior official at Canadian Heritage, asking him if he knew of a “promising senior analyst” within the public service he could poach, according to emails obtained by the NDP and first published by The Toronto Star Wednesday.

In his message to Ripley, Chan says that Facebook is looking for potential applicants for a “challenging,” “fascinating” and lucrative job within Facebook’s public policy team.

“I am happy to circulate to a few people who might be good candidates,” replied Ripley, who is director general, broadcasting, copyright & creative marketplace at the department and is currently spearheading the government’s efforts to regulate internet giants such as Facebook.

The apparently “chummy” relationship between Facebook and a senior official of the federal department that is meant to regulate the company is of great concern to FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, an independent media advocacy group.

“FRIENDS is alarmed to learn of the cozy relationship between one of Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s most senior officials … and Facebook’s most senior Canadian lobbyist,” the organization’s executive director, Daniel Bernhard, wrote in a letter to Guilbeault Thursday.

“This revelation is especially critical as it comes precisely as the Department of Canadian Heritage was drafting legislation that would have major impacts for Facebook.”

More On This Topic

Of particular alarm for Bernhard is the fact that Chan told Ripley that he was open to hiring public servants who took a temporary leave of absence from their department to come work for Facebook. They could then later return to their public sector jobs.

“Incredibly, Mr. Ripley saw no problem with Facebook’s suggestion that these staffers return to public office after a short stint at Facebook, so that they could resume regulating the company that had just paid them handsomely,” Bernhard wrote to the minister.

“As the country awaits long-promised amendments to the Broadcasting Act that could have a significant impact on Facebook, the appearance of a cozy, undisclosed relationship between Facebook and senior officials in your department could undermine public confidence,” he said.

Guilbeault also reiterated that his government is “strongly” committed to taxing web giants and making sure their revenues were shared “more fairly” with Canadian media.

It’s a request that has been made for years by the cultural sector, news publishers and broadcasters as well as industry analysts, who argue that web giants such as Facebook and Google eat up a majority of the country’s ad revenue all the while paying little to no taxes, or fees to content creators.

According to a report published last week by News Media Council, an alliance of major publishers including the Toronto Star and Postmedia Network Canada, which owns the National Post, Facebook and Google alone soak up roughly 75 per cent of digital advertising revenues in Canada.

“We will be announcing very good news soon, as the first step for a comprehensive and fairer digital regulatory framework in Canada,” Guilbeault added in his statement.

Facebook Canada did not respond to questions on Friday.

• Email: | Twitter:

FRIENDS is urging Guilbeault to publicly denounce Ripley’s “unacceptable” behaviour and to publish a list of meetings between Chan and officials at both Canadian Heritage and his office.

“To clear the air further, it would help to quickly introduce legislation that ends special treatment for Facebook and their ilk, by ensuring they comply with Canadian law, pay Canadian taxes, and submit to Canadian regulatory requirements, just like any other company,” Bernhard’s letter continues.

Public servants also have a responsibility to minimize the possibility of real, apparent or potential conflict of interest

In a statement that didn’t refer to Ripley directly, Steven Guilbeault said that he fully trusted the public service to give “independent” recommendations and that it was up to the department to manage any human resource issues.

But he also warned that public servants must always steer away from any real or apparent conflicts of interest.

“Public servants also have a responsibility to minimize the possibility of real, apparent or potential conflict of interest between their current responsibilities within the federal public service and their subsequent employment outside of government,” the minister said in an email.

A spokesperson for Canadian Heritage sent a similar statement Friday, saying that public servants are free to pursue professional job opportunities sent by stakeholders outside of government so long as they “minimize” the possibility of conflict of interest. The department did not say if any sanctions or issues were raised with Ripley specifically.

Football news:

Frank Lampard: we need to win against Rennes - then we can rest the players
Leganes can rent Braithwaite. Barcelona bought him out for 18 million euros 9 months ago
In England, fans will be returned to stadiums from December - up to 4 thousand people for the match
Chelsea are ready to let Giroud go this winter
Pique after Real Madrid played a season in Portugal and one and a half years without football. At 32, he was back again-until enough time
Clement Langle: Yes, Barcelona can win La Liga. We need to turn the situation around
Anton Mitryushkin: it is Clear that Golovin is the leader of Monaco, leading everyone