How can we protect our democratic process from newly emerging cyber threats?
This important question was the focus of our Toronto-St. Paul’s town hall meeting on “Protecting our Democracy in the Digital Age” which took place on Sunday, February 24th at Yorkminster Baptist Church. I was very happy to welcome two special expert guests for this discussion – the Hon. Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions, and Dr. Taylor Owen, the Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications and Associate Professor at the Max Bell School of Public Policy. The afternoon proved very successful – one of our best town halls yet! I was thrilled with the incredible turnout, and that there were so many thoughtful insights and suggestions!
The Internet has fueled a rapid evolution of information-sharing technologies, and the advent of social media platforms has brought an unprecedented transformation in the way we communicate with each other. This creates a new challenge, as we can be susceptible to the kinds of attacks on our democratic process that we saw during the 2016 elections in the United States. Professor Owen notes that these technologies and their systems have not been regulated as they emerged and evolved. He emphasized that we now need to focus our conversation on accountability, transparency and safeguarding our democratic institutions and norms.
Minister Gould also discussed some of the issues that our government is working to address, as well as the steps that we have taken to protect Canada’s democratic process. Disinformation online can create confusion and exploit existing social tensions. Further, it can undermine the trust we have in our democratic system and its composite parts. The Government of Canada is focusing on concrete actions to increase transparency, authenticity and integrity in our systems to help safeguard our elections, including but not limited to:
- The election management and enforcement regime, comprised of the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections;
- The use of paper ballots by our federal election system; and
- New measures introduced in Bill C-76, The Elections Modernization Act, which would require online platforms to have a registry of political ads while banning political ads with foreign funding. The Bill also ensures that ads must be identified and authenticated (i.e. “this ad was paid for by…”). To learn more about how we can all remain proactive and engaged as voters, please visit: www.cse-cst.gc.ca/en/cyberhygiene-pratiques-cybersecurite.
Sunday’s event was a fantastic example of why our Toronto-St. Paul’s model of “democracy between elections” is so important to us. It is crucial that citizens are able to speak directly with their elected representatives about government policy and have their concerns taken seriously. I very much enjoyed participating in this important conversation and I look forward to our next community discussion!