Un-Googled: Trudeau government had Harper web pages removed from search results

While it appears to have been standard practice in previous transitions, there is a need for easy and transparent access to historical documents.

My experience with the Library and Archives site is mixed in this regard, either directly with LAC or through Google searches:

Dozens of government web pages related to former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s time in office have been removed from all Google search results at the new Liberal government’s request.

In fact, the requests on behalf of the Privy Council Office to remove sites such as Harper’s daily.pm.gc.ca site and the former PMO’s 24seven video website from search results began Nov. 4, 2015 – the day Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was sworn into office.

A few days later, on Nov. 9, 2015, the government asked Google to clear the index for the prime ministerial website pm.gc.ca for any page published prior to Nov. 4, 2015. The request was unsuccessful, however, because Google did not offer that option, according to documents tabled by the government in the House of Commons.

On Jan. 27, 2016, the government asked Google to remove dozens of sites containing Harper’s news releases in English and in French from search results.

Cameron Ahmad, spokesman for Trudeau, insisted the prime minister’s office did not make the request to have the websites related to Harper removed from Google search results and was not aware it had happened.

Christiane Fox, assistant secretary for communications in the Privy Council, said the requests to Google were part of the Privy Council’s standard transition from the Harper government to Trudeau’s. She said the content of Harper’s prime ministerial website was transferred to Library and Archives Canada but did not know whether it was online and available to the public.

In total, the documents tabled in the House of Commons show the government made 51 requests to Google between November 4, 2015 and March 3, 2016 to remove the government record of Harper’s time in office from its search results.

Attempts to access those url’s produce error messages – regardless of whether you search using Google or a web browser like Safari. Googling “Prime Minister Stephen Harper” and “news releases” leads you to Trudeau’s news releases, which begin the day his government was sworn in.

While government departments generally make the previous government’s news releases available on their websites there is no pointer on the prime minister’s website to archived news releases from any of his predecessors.

A check of an Internet Archive version of Stephen Harper’s prime ministerial website after he took power in 2006 does not include press releases from his predecessors. It is not known if requests were made at the time to remove his predecessor’s web pages from Google search results.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen, who tabled the order paper question asking about government requests to have material removed from search results, said she was “shocked” to learn the government had removed the pages related to Harper’s time in office from Google search results.

“Regardless of what somebody might think of Stephen Harper, Stephen Harper served the Canadian public as a member of parliament and then as prime minister for over 10 years.”

Bergen described the move as “Orwellian” and “censorship”, adding it was “sneaky”, “petty” and “not transparent.”

Bergen said she wants to know who decided to request the Harper pages be removed from search results and whether there was political direction behind the move.

Fox could not explain why some of the requests to Google to remove Harper era websites from search results were made in November at the time of the transition and dozens of others were only made in January.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was critical of the decision to remove Harper’s web pages from search results.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate. There’s a new government and I think people who want to google things in our past should be able to google things in our past.”

Source: Un-Googled: Trudeau government had Harper web pages removed from search results

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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