An appointed advisory group will advise the government on how to fight harmful online content, including formulation of new laws and regulations affecting social media platforms and other online content publisher and distributors.
Building on the work of public consultations last year, and in response to a wide range of constructive – and sometimes not so – criticisms about its stated plans at the time, the government has mandated the advisory group to provide advice on a legislative and regulatory framework that best addresses harmful content online.
The advisory group, members of which are compensated, is holding a series of plenary meetings and workshops over the next several weeks, concluding in June 2022.
Working with the premise that online platforms can bring many benefits to society while also being used as tools to cause real and significant harm to individuals, communities and our country, our digital society in general and many governments in particular recognize that harmful online content is a serious problem, but there is no consensus on what to do about it.
Coming out of last year’s public consultations, and based on thousands of responses and submissions, the government says 62 per cent of Canadians think there should be more regulation of online hate speech, yet there are no broad regulatory requirements in Canada that apply to platforms regarding their responsibilities in relation to such content.
The government – and its new advisory group – has also heard from Canadians that it should reconsider the types of online entities that are regulated; the kind of content moderation obligations, if any, that would be placed on such entities; how that content would be defined; what kind of legislative or technical compliance and enforcement tools, including the blocking power, would be used; and consideration for mandatory reporting of content to law enforcement or preservation obligations.
While there was much concern about hate speech and harmful content online – one in five Canadians have experienced some form of online hate – it must be noted that online safety ultimately means so much more than taking down or blocking harmful content.
More effective would be changes to the business models and operating strategies of platforms like Facebook, Tik Tok Instagram, Twitter or WhatsApp. Their success and profit depend on keeping customers (they are called users for a reason) engaged as long and as often as possible, often with little or no regard to the nature of the content they are engaging with. So-called “dark patterns” or website design tricks and platform engagement techniques are also used to keep customers connected, again regardless of the content, as much as possible.
The Canadian government is one of many around the world saying they are committed to fighting harmful content online and holding social media platforms and other online services accountable for the content they host, and here the government is now taking the next step in its work to design legislation to do so with the introduction of the advisory group on online safety.
“It’s clear that harmful online content is a serious problem, but there is no consensus on how to address it. We’re asking the expert advisory group to go back to the drawing board. We need to address this problem openly and transparently as a society,” Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, said of the group’s agenda over the next few months.
Members of advisory group (supplied bios below) come from several backgrounds with experience on issues relating to platform governance and content regulation, civil liberties, tech regulation, and national security. The group will be led by two co-chairs, Pierre Trudel and Emily Laidlaw, during a series of workshops now underway.
The sessions will tackle:
- Setting out which online services should be regulated, and to what extent
- Establishing how “harmful content” would be defined and regulated
- Identifying a set of obligations and requirements for regulated entities to monitor, moderate and manage harmful content on their services
- Setting an enforcement toolkit to help promote and ensure compliance
- Laying out reasonable linkages to authorities
- Identifying programming and policy responses that could be included in the framework to confront disinformation and build civic and media literacy and resilience
- Ensuring the inclusion of elements that protect freedom of expression and privacy rights
Members of the advisory group are:
- Amarnath Amarasingam, Assistant Professor, School of Religion, Queen’s University
- Bernie Farber, Chair, Canada Anti-Hate Network
- Chanae Parsons, Community Activist and Youth Engagement Specialist
- David Morin, Full Professor, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Université de Sherbrooke
- Emily Laidlaw, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary
- Ghayda Hassan, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal
- Heidi Tworek, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and History, University of British Columbia
- Lianna McDonald, Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Child Protection
- Pierre Trudel, Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Montréal
- Signa A. Daum Shanks, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
- Taylor Owen, Beaverbrook Chair, Media, Ethics and Communications
- Vivek Krishnamurthy, Samuelson-Glushko Professor of Law, University of Ottawa
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AMARNATH AMARASINGAM, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
SCHOOL OF RELIGION, QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY
Amarnath Amarasingam is an Assistant Professor in the School of Religion and is cross-appointed to the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is also a Senior Fellow with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
His research is focused on terrorism and political violence; sociology of religion; religion and violence; social movements; religion and politics in the Middle East; religion and the public sphere; diaspora politics and activism; religion and media/social media; atheism and non-religion; hate movements and the far-right.
Mr. Amarasingam is the author of Pain, Pride, and Politics: Sri Lankan Tamil Activism in Canada (2015), and the co-editor of Sri Lanka: The Struggle for Peace in the Aftermath of War (2016). He has also published over 40 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, has presented papers at over 100 national and international conferences, and has written for The New York Times, The Monkey Case, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, The Atlantic, and Foreign Affairs. He has been interviewed on CNN, PBS Newshour, CBC, BBC, and a variety of other media outlets.
BERNIE FARBER, CHAIR
Bernie Farber is the Chair of the Anti-hate Network. He is acknowledged as one of Canada’s most accomplished NGO CEOs. His career spans more than 30 years focused on human rights, diversity, anti-racism, and extremism. His efforts have been documented in numerous Canadian Human Rights publications, books, newspapers and magazines. His work has also been cited for its expertise in a number of academic publications.
Mr. Farber has successfully run large NGOs and Foundations such as the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Paloma Foundation, and retired as the Executive Director of the Mosaic Institute.
Mr. Farber is a human rights consultant, newspaper columnist and social justice advocate. He has received numerous awards for his civil rights work, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal, Government of Canada 125 Commemorative medal, the Chancellor’s Commendation of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police Award for Outstanding Service and Dedication to Policing in the province of Ontario, among others.
CHANAE PARSONS, SPECIALIST
COMMUNITY ACTIVIST AND YOUTH ENGAGEMENT
Chanae Parsons comes from the historical Black Heritage community of Lucasville and is a loving mother to her son Cairo. She is a strong professional with a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Dalhousie University and pursuing a Master of Education focused in Adult Education, Women’s Leadership and Community Development from St. Francis Xavier University. In her official role as the Manager of Programming and Community Engagement for the Eastern District of the Halifax Public Libraries, the largest public library system in the Province, Chanae oversees the development and implementation of programming and community engagement strategy for one of four regions of the Halifax municipality, as well as Youth Services across all branches.
Ms. Parsons participates on several Nova Scotian leadership committees, such as the African Nova Scotian Sexual Violence Advisory Committee, formed by the Department of Community Services to create the e-learning module: African Nova Scotian Perspectives on Sexual Violence, and the African Nova Scotian Employment Innovation Lab, also formed by the Department of Community Services to find innovative solutions to help lower the unemployment rates amongst Black youth in Nova Scotia. She also sits on the Board of Directors for Black Girls Gather and GameChangers902. Additionally, she is co-founder of the community-based organization ACCE HFX (Arts, Community, Culture, and Economics), where she provides support, resources, and learning opportunities to a wide range of African Nova Scotians in vulnerable positions.
Ms. Parsons is both passionate and experienced in youth leadership, program creation and facilitation, research, project management, policy reform, critical thinking, public speaking, as well as diversity and inclusion. She prioritizes youth-led initiatives and is committed to ensuring that youth, specifically Black youth, see themselves reflected in leadership roles.
DAVID MORIN, PROFESSOR
FACULTY OF ARTS AND HUMANITIES, UNIVERSITÉ DE SHERBROOKE
David Morin is a full professor at the School of Applied Politics of the Université de Sherbrooke. His areas of expertise and professional experience focus on national and international security issues. Since 2017, he has been a co-holder of the UNESCO Chair in the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Extremism (UNESCO-PREV Chair) and in 2015 co-founded the Observatory on Radicalization and Violent Extremism (OSR). He is also a manager of the PREV-IMPACT Canada program on the evaluation of violent extremism prevention programs, funded by Public Safety Canada’s Community Resilience Fund. Mr. Morin is an active contributor to the debate and dialogue on these issues in the Canadian context and leads numerous scientific and public activities.
He is currently Co-President of the Dialogue+ project, which aims to prevent discrimination and radicalization in Canada, and was one of the initiators of the Youth Forum – Thinking Democracy Differently, a Quebec program aimed at combatting and defusing extremist discourse leading to violence. He sits as a designated expert on the steering committee of the Francophone Network for the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Extremism that could lead to Terrorism (FrancoPREV) of the International Organization of La Francophonie and was a member of the scientific committee for the UNESCO Internet and the Radicalization of Youth conference in 2016.
Mr. Morin also has a rich and diverse experience in coordinating international projects with researchers and practitioners and in capacity building in Francophone Africa. He has just co-edited the book Le nouvel âge des extrêmes? Les démocraties occidentales, la radicalisation et l’extrémisme violent, published in 2021 by the Presses de l’Université de Montréal. He has also co-authored a number of recent reports on the evaluation of violent extremism prevention, on prevention mechanisms in the Francophone space, and on conspiracy and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
EMILY LAIDLAW, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR
FACULTY OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY
Emily Laidlaw is a Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law and Associate Professor at the University of Calgary in the Faculty of Law. She researches in the area of technology regulation and human rights, with a focus on content regulation, platform liability, privacy and freedom of expression. She is the author of the book Regulating Speech in Cyberspace: Gatekeepers, Human Rights and Corporate Responsibility (Cambridge University Press, 2015). As a scholar, she actively contributes to law reform, with recent projects on defamation, non-consensual disclosure of intimate images, the tort of privacy and online abuse, and platform governance.
Ms. Laidlaw has taught a variety of courses over the years in Internet Law, Privacy and Cybersecurity, Media Law, Human Rights, Tort Law, Intellectual Property, and Foundations of Law and Justice. She is also the Ethics Advisor to the Members of Council at the City of Calgary and previously practiced as a litigator. From 2006 to 2014, Ms. Laidlaw obtained her LLM and PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science and was an Assistant Professor (lecturer) at the University of East Anglia Law School.
Ms. Laidlaw is a network director of the Canadian Network on Information Security and a member of the Institute for Security, Privacy and Information Assurance.
GHAYDA HASSAN, PROFESSOR
UNIVERSITÉ DU QUÉBEC À MONTRÉAL
Ghayda Hassan, a clinical psychologist and professor of clinical psychology at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), is the founder and director of the Canada Practitioners Network for the Prevention of Radicalization and Extremist Violence (CPN-PREV). She is also a researcher with the Research and Action on Social Polarization (RAPS) team of the SHERPA University Institute at the Integrated Health and Social Services University Network for West-Central Montreal. She also acts as a policy consultant on violence intervention (radicalization, domestic violence and war) and is a member of the RCMP Interim Management Advisory Board.
She contributes her expertise to several national and international partnerships in research, clinical practice and community intervention. Her systematic reviews, research and clinical activities focus on four main areas: social suffering, relationships between communities, and violent extremism; intervention in the context of armed conflict and domestic violence; identity, belonging and mental health of children and adolescents who are members of ethnic or religious minority groups; and intervention and cultural sensitivity training of various professionals working with vulnerable immigrants and refugees.
HEIDI TWOREK, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR
SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS AND HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Heidi Tworek is a Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor of international history and public policy at the University of British Columbia. She is an award-winning researcher of media, history, health communications, international organizations and platform governance. She is also a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. She is also a non-resident fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Ms. Tworek received her BA (Hons) in Modern and Medieval Languages from Cambridge University and earned her PhD in History from Harvard University.
Ms. Tworek has advised officials and policymakers from multiple European and North American governments on media, democracy and the digital economy. She previously held the position of Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies and lecturer in History at Harvard University.
LIANNA MCDONALD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
CANADIAN CENTRE FOR CHILD PROTECTION
Lianna McDonald is the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Since 1998, she has guided the agency from its grass roots origins to a leading organization on the international stage in the fight against child victimization.
Ms. McDonald spearheaded the creation of Project Arachnid, the world’s leading technology for disrupting the online distribution of child sexual abuse material globally. To date, more than six million images targeted by Project Arachnid have been removed from the internet. She works closely with international partners, including survivor organizations, child protection NGOs and law enforcement agencies. Her expertise in this space is frequently called upon by key groups including the Five Country Ministerial’s child exploitation task force, the United Kingdom’s Home Office as well as European Union officials.
In Canada, Ms. McDonald oversaw the establishment of Cybertip.ca, which later became the national tipline under the Government of Canada’s National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet. Her advocacy efforts with provincial and federal governments have contributed to multiple legislative changes for the protection of children, including the creation of the criminal code offenses related to online child luring and legislation for the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse material by internet service providers.
Ms. McDonald is the recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002) and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012) for her continued dedication to the safety of children.
PIERRE TRUDEL, PROFESSOR
FACULTY OF LAW, UNIVERSITÉ DE MONTRÉAL
Pierre Trudel is a full professor at the Centre de recherche en droit public of the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Law. He is a member of the Royal Society of Canada. He teaches civil law, intellectual property law, information law and cyberspace law.
From 1990 to 1995, he was director of the Université de Montréal’s Centre de recherche en droit public. From 2003 to 2015, he was the holder of the L.R. Wilson Chair in Information Technology and E-Commerce Law.
Mr. Trudel was a member of the expert panel for the review of Canada’s communications laws from 2018 to 2020. He is the author or co-author of several books, including Droit du cyberespace (1997), Introduction à la loi sur le cadre juridique des technologies de l’information (2012) and Les fausses nouvelles nouveaux visages, nouveaux défis (2018).
Mr. Trudel is currently working on research projects on fundamental information rights, privacy protection in public service networks, assessment of legal issues and risks, the Internet of Things, e-health, audiovisual law, e-commerce and methodologies for developing rules of conduct in Internet environments.
SIGNA A. DAUM SHANKS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR
FACULTY OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA
Signa A. Daum Shanks is a trained lawyer, law professor, and historian. Most recently, she was an Associate Professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Her teaching has included classes such as Torts, Law and economics, Aboriginal Self-government, Canadian legal History, the Kawashimhon Aboriginal Rights Moot, Game Theory and the Law, Indigenous Peoples and Canadian Law, and Comparative Indigenous Legal Traditions and Indigenous Peoples. She previously taught at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law, the summer program hosted at the Indigenous Law Centre in Saskatoon and the Nunavut Law Program in Iqaluit.
Ms. Daum Shanks has also worked for Justice Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and Saskatchewan Justice, as well as the Toronto office of a national law firm and the criminal appeals division of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario.
Her current research interest revolves around law and economics, Indigenous Governance, and legal history. She has received recognition and funding for her impactful research and professional accomplishments.
TAYLOR OWEN, BEAVERBROOK CHAIR
MEDIA, ETHICS AND COMMUNICATIONS
Taylor Owen is the Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications, the founding Director of the Center Media, Technology and Democracy, and an Associate Professor in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. Mr. Owen is also a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
He is the Co-Chair of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression with former Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLaughlin. He was previously an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia and the Research Director of Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism.
Mr. Owen has a doctorate from the University of Oxford and his work focuses on the intersection of digital media, technology, and public policy. His main research projects at the moment include work developing and studying domestic and international platform governance policies, a large-scale digital ecosystem monitoring project called the Media Ecosystem Observatory, work on understanding the impact of digital technologies on childhood development, and comparative analysis of government journalism support policies around the world.
He has been a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar, a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, an Action Canada and Public Policy Forum Fellow, the 2016 Public Policy Forum Emerging Leader and, until 2019, served on CIGI’s Board of Directors and the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
VIVEK KRISHNAMURTHY, SAMUELSON-GLUSHKO PROFESSOR OF LAW,
UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA
Vivek Krishnamurthy is the Samuelson-Glushko Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).
Mr. Krishnamurthy’s teaching, scholarship, and clinical legal practice focus on the complex regulatory and human rights-related challenges that arise in cyberspace. He advises governments, activists, and companies on the human rights impacts of new technologies and is a frequent public commentator on emerging technology and public policy issues.
Mr. Krishnamurthy is currently a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, a Faculty Associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and a Senior Associate of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.