OTTAWA—Conservative MP Candice Bergen is angry that the government has had dozens of web pages from Stephen Harper’s days as prime minister deleted from Google search results, but the Liberals say it’s just a matter of keeping websites current.
“The prime minister’s website is not his own website to do with as he pleases, it belongs to the Canadian people,” Bergen said in the Commons on Thursday. “It cannot just be changed at the whim of the Liberals.”
Documents tabled in the Commons in response to a written question from Bergen detail the deletion requests, showing that Privy Council Office requests for deletion from Google began last Nov. 4, the day the Trudeau government took office. They continued into January.
The Prime Minister’s Office called it a technical matter; public servants wanted the change so that searches produced the latest material.
The government said the Harper material was neither deleted nor destroyed and remains available.
“All of the previous prime minister’s archived web content can be accessed via Library and Archives Canada along with other archived government materials,” Treasury Board President Scott Brison told the Commons.
“Canadians expect government websites to reflect the most up-to-date information and accurate information when they are searching on these sites.”
No one wants Harper forgotten, Brison said, prompting guffaws of laughter from the Liberal benches: “Our government hopes that the memory of the former Conservative prime minister lives in the minds of Canadians for a very long time.”
Google said in a statement it just wants to ensure that its searches reflect the contents of websites.
“We don’t take a view on what is appropriate for site owners to feature on their own websites,” it said. “But, like any website owner, they can submit a request (via a form we make available to all website owners) to update our search results to include the latest, most recent version of their website.”
The government search result requests covered Harper’s daily posts and his 24-Seven video diary as well as news releases in both French and English.
On Nov. 9, the PCO asked Google to clear its index for any page published on the domain pm.gc.ca before Nov. 4, but Google did not offer such a service.
In January, requests were made for more deletions year-by-year through Harper’s tenure and the government reply says pages no longer show up search results.
In all, the PCO asked Google 51 times to remove Harper material from its search results.
The office said, however, that Harper’s website material was saved in its entirety in the archives.
“This application went live in April and a link to it has been added to the PCO website,” said Raymond Rivet, director of corporate and media affairs for the PCO.
A few other agencies made a handful of requests to Google asking that documents be removed from web searches.
For example, the RCMP asked that one news release be removed because charges had been dropped and that another be deleted because a publication ban had been imposed in a case.
National Defence asked Google to remove an older version of a document from its cache because it included personal information about a member of the Forces.
The Treasury Board asked for a change after finding that Google searches tied a photo of Bill Matthews, comptroller general of Canada, to biographical information for Bill Matthews, a former MP from Newfoundland and Labrador.