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Trudeau says Canada watching TikTok debate in U.S.

Review ongoing feds reveal in the wake of US action toward a ban on Chinese social media giant

The federal Liberals ordered a national security review of popular video app TikTok in September 2023 but did not disclose it publicly.

“This is still an ongoing case. We can’t comment further because of the confidentiality provisions of the Investment Canada Act,” a spokesperson for Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said.

“Our government has never hesitated to (take) action, when necessary, if a case under review is found to be injurious to Canada’s national security.”

The revelation comes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to ban TikTok unless its China-based owner sells its stake in the business.

Asked whether the Canadian government would consider a measure similar to the U.S. bill, Champagne’s office said that the Liberal cabinet “issued an order for the national security review of TikTok Canada” on Sept. 6.

It said the review was based on the expansion of a business, which it said constituted the establishment of a new Canadian entity. It declined to provide any further details about what expansion it was reviewing.

The office said the cabinet order was not accessible online, as is routine, because the information is protected and confidential under the Investment Canada Act.

It indicated TikTok would be subject to “enhanced scrutiny” under the act under a new policy on foreign investments in the interactive digital media sector released by the government earlier this month.

That policy statement says “hostile state-sponsored or influenced actors may seek to leverage foreign investments in the interactive digital media sector to propagate disinformation or manipulate information in a manner that is injurious to Canada’s national security.”

The federal government banned TikTok from its mobile devices in February 2023 after federal and provincial privacy commissioners launched their own investigation into the platform.

The Canadian review is not related to the proposed U.S. bill, which is driven by concerns that the company’s current ownership structure is a national security threat.

TikTok is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd.

U.S. lawmakers contend ByteDance is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok’s U.S. consumers, given Chinese national security laws that compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering.

The bill must still pass the Senate, where lawmakers have indicated it will undergo a thorough review. U.S. President Joe Biden has said if Congress passes the measure, he will sign it.

Nearly 30 per cent of Canadian respondents to an October 2022 survey by Toronto Metropolitan University said they were on TikTok.

For many Canadian creators who make TikTok content, the U.S. market is paramount, said Scott Benzie, executive director of Digital First Canada. The organization advocates for digital creators, and has in the past received funding from TikTok.

“If a ban actually goes through in the U.S., Canadian careers on TikTok are over,” he said.

In addition to losing audience reach, for creators who earn money through sponsorships, “obviously most of those brands want to connect with U.S. audiences, and if that’s not a possibility then that money just goes away.”

Nathan Kennedy, a personal finance content creator from Hamilton, Ont., said he’s “pretty calm” about the situation, noting threats to ban TikTok have been around for years.

TikTok is his biggest platform, and the majority of his audience is in the United States. He became a full-time content creator two-and-a half years ago.

“You kind of just have to be even-keel about the whole thing … I literally cannot do anything. It’s not even in my country,” he said.

He said it’s hard to believe a ban will actually happen that causes TikTok to exit the U.S.

But if the hypothetical worst-case scenario does happen, Kennedy said he would turn to other platforms.

“People are going to be watching content. That’s not going to change. It’s where they watch their content that might change over time,” he said.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m being very nonchalant here. But it’s one of those things that you have to accept, that it’s not your platform, it’s not your business. And you kind of have to go to where the attention is.”

READ ALSO: China says TikTok ban reflects US insecurities

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