MEDIA RELEASE – Canada in a room: 45 citizen volunteers are providing advice on combatting online hate speech

Ottawa, Canada, June 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Ottawa, ON (June 13, 2022) A diverse group of volunteers from every province and territory in Canada is gathering in Ottawa over the next five days to look at the impact of digital technologies on Canadian democracy and deliver a series of recommendations to the federal government on how to protect democratic expression online and address the spread of harmful content, including disinformation and hate speech.
 
The group—called the Citizens’ Assembly on Democratic Expression—is part of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression. The Commission is a three-year initiative aimed at responding to the democratic risks of digital technologies. This project is led by the Public Policy Forum (PPF). It is composed of a Commission, a Citizens’ Assembly led by MASS LBP, and an independent research program led by the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy at McGill University. This project is funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and the McConnell Foundation.
 
The Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez will attend and deliver opening remarks on Wednesday, June 15. Following the conclusion of the Citizens’ Assembly, final recommendations will be shared with the Government of Canada on Sunday, June 19.
 
In addition, Beverley McLachlin, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who co-chairs the Commission, is scheduled to deliver a speech on Saturday, June 18. 
 
MPs and Senators have also been invited to attend.
 
Assembly’s recommendations will inform upcoming legislation designed to promote online safety and safeguard user rights. The full report summarizing these recommendations will be published in August.
 
Since its formation in April 2020, two Commissions and two Citizens’ Assemblies have provided critical policy advice to the government on how best to enhance online safety while safeguarding user rights. They have advised on critical topics, such as how to reduce harmful content online without impairing free speech and how to increase online platforms’ transparency and accountability.
 
Eighty-four citizens, from diverse age groups, communities, ethnicities and backgrounds, who were selected through a representative process, have contributed more than 3,500 volunteer hours during their service as members. Forty-five of those volunteers are involved in this latest meeting.
 
“I would like to think that through my contribution to the Citizens’ Assembly, I’m playing a small part in shaping a better future for my children and their generation in helping them prepare to face future challenges,” says Motasem Salem, a member of this year’s Citizens’ Assembly. “I’m proud to bring my voice to one of the most important policy debates of our time and help protect the state of democratic expression and safeguard against disinformation.”
 
“The ongoing dedication of Citizens’ Assemblies’ members is evidence of how Canadians recognize the need to take action to protect democratic expression online while developing solutions to protect against disinformation and online hate speech,” says the Commission’s Co-Chair, Beverley McLachlin. “Canadians live in a free, democratic and rights-based society, where free expression is an essential principle, but every day we are threatened by hateful and false online rhetoric. The voices of Canadian citizens need to be reflected in the legislation, which will govern how we interact with and use digital technologies.” 
 
The creation of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democratic Expression is also a direct response to the priorities reflected in the Minister of Canadian Heritage’s Mandate Letter.

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