YEAR TWO | DISINFORMATION ONLINE: TACKLING THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM 

The Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression was established in spring 2020 with a three-year mandate to better understand, anticipate, and respond to the effects of new digital technologies on public life and Canadian democracy. In January 2021, the Commission published the first of its three annual reports, which laid out a six-step program to reduce online hate and other harms.

In year two, the Commission seeks to build on that work by identifying and outlining the root causes of such harms and what can be done about digital information practices that serve to lift up or amplify disinformation and other democratic harms. The Commission will deliberate on the central question: “How can the root causes of disinformation and other harms be addressed in order to reduce the incidence and prominence of such content, thus ensuring the digital ecosystem does not accord it a special place of privilege?”

The Commission will explore a range of policies being debated around the world to make online systems more transparent to users and researchers and accountable to the public interest. These policies are at the forefront of the governance conversation and would allow Canada to serve as a leader in the global policy conversation about what can be done about harmful information without crossing free speech lines. The Commission will put forth recommendations to increase transparency and accountability and otherwise lessen the incentives that favour these forms of expression over other forms.

To this end, the Commission will undertake a six-month program of study and deliberation, beginning this September and informed by expert testimony and custom research organized by McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy. The work of the second Commission will culminate in the Spring of 2022 with the publication of its findings.

We are pleased to announce the participation of nine eminent Canadians who have agreed to serve as Commissioners in 2021-22. The Commissioners bring a range of perspectives and skills and have extensive experience in the areas of law, media, technology, citizen participation, and politics. 

  • Rick Anderson, Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group
  • Wendy Chun, Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media, Simon Fraser University
  • Nathalie Des Rosiers, Principal, Massey College, Full Professor, Faculty of Law (Common Law) University of Ottawa, Distinguished Visitor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
  • Amira Elghawaby, Director of Programming and Outreach, Canadian Race Relations Foundation
  • Merelda Fiddler-Potter, Vanier Scholar, PhD. Candidate, and Executive in Residence, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
  • Philip N. Howard, Director, Programme on Democracy and Technology and Professor of Internet Studies, Balliol College, University of Oxford
  • Vivek Krishnamurthy, Samuelson-Glushko Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa
  • The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, PC, CC
  • Taylor Owen, Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications and Associate Professor, Max Bell School of Public Policy, McGill University

Citizen Assembly on Democratic Expression

Informing the work of the Commission will be the second of three national Citizens’ Assemblies. The Citizens’ Assembly will be selected using a civic lottery, a process which employs random selection while ensuring that the Assembly broadly represents the diversity of the Canadian population. The Assembly will complement the work of the Commission by undertaking a parallel, though integrated, three-month program of study and deliberation on a focussed issue. In 2021, the Citizens’ Assembly will consider whether there should be legal penalties or other consequences for individuals and organizations that knowingly spread disinformation online with the intention to cause harm.

Like the Commission, the work of the Assembly will be informed by expert testimony and custom research organized by McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy. The work of the second Citizen Assembly on Democratic Expression will culminate in Winter 2022 with the publication of a report detailing its findings.

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