On Sunday, Heritage shadow minister Rachael Thomas penned a letter to the House Speaker, requesting an “emergency debate” on social media censorship by the Trudeau Liberals.
“These attempts [to edit or remove content it considered embarrassing] can fairly be described as government censorship of the news and the internet,” writes Thomas, referencing her colleague’s order paper question on government censorship.
As first reported by Rebel News, Conservative MP Dean Allison tabled documents in Parliament that unveiled Ottawa had requested social media companies remove 214 posts between January 2020 and February 2023.
Thomas referenced an attempt by Immigration Canada to censor a 2021 Toronto Sun article by columnist Lorne Gunter on pending changes within the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).
“The government’s requests were denied, thankfully,” she said.
On April 12, three political aides acting as "communication directors" for the department would not comment on an attempt to censor Facebook and Twitter links to the column critical of the government. According to Blacklock's Reporter, the aides implicated in the failed scheme did not answer questions.
“The article in question was mine,” wrote Gunter, a longtime Sun columnist. He accused Immigration Canada aides of going to 'extraordinary lengths' to censor his article, stating they tried to block the readership of his September 26, 2021, column headlined, "Liberals To Make Immigration To Canada Much Easier."
An unnamed “director of communications” contacted Facebook and Twitter on September 27, 2021, to demand they delete links to Gunter's column, mistakenly claiming it contained “serious errors of fact.” Immigration Canada linked the request to the article, stating, “[it risked the] independence…[and] the integrity of the refugee determination system.”
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, the column covered a leaked IRB memo that proposed broadening guidelines to permit more refugees into Canada without first seeking Parliament’s approval.
“The Board asked my editors to ‘correct’ or pull my column which the editors courageously refused to do,” wrote Gunter on April 12. “When that route failed, we have now learned, the then-director of communications for the Board approached the big social media platforms to ask that they take down any posting of my column and prohibit users from linking to it.”
Thomas lambasted Ottawa for trying to ban the article “as misinformation because it was embarrassing to them.”
On April 14, the Public Safety Ministry said it played no role in attempting to censor the column.
“I can confirm neither I nor any other staff member of the Minister’s office made this request nor did we have any knowledge of it,” said Alexander Cohen, press secretary to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
The shadow minister’s request for emergency debate comes amid concerns that Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 could pass the senate and immediately regulate the Internet.
“I acknowledge that the Chair normally affords a wide latitude for contributions during the Budget debate, and therefore might not normally be inclined to grant an emergency debate at this time. However, I urge you [Speaker Anthony Rota] to recognize that these issues touch upon one of our fundamental freedoms: the freedom of speech,” she wrote.
“If adopted, these two bills will greatly diminish the ability of media companies and social media platforms to ignore government commands concerning what information can and cannot be made available to the Canadian public,” said Thomas.
“News and cultural content will be at the mercy of government oversight and approvals. This is a terrifying thought in a longstanding, robust, and proud democracy like Canada.”
The attempt to censor the column followed repeated federal complaints that they regulate legal internet content considered harmful. Unregulated tweets and Facebook posts “undermine Canada’s social cohesion or democracy,” said a June 16, 2021 Department of Canadian Heritage briefing note Regulation Of Social Media Platforms.
The Heritage Department also issued a 2021 booklet for reporters called Guiding Principles Of Diversity Of Online Comment that urged measures against “disinformation and misinformation” for the sake of “social cohesion.” It did not elaborate.
Media must “foster greater exposure to diverse cultural content, information and news” and “contribute to a healthier public discourse, greater social inclusion within society, bolster resilience to disinformation and misinformation and increase our citizens’ ability to participate in democratic processes,” said Guiding Principles.
The guide defined misinformation as “false or misleading content shared without harmful intent though the effects can still be harmful, e.g. when people share false information with friends and family in good faith.”
On March 30, Thomas and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of silencing Commons debate on Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, to hasten a Senate vote on the controversial legislation.
“The Liberals in coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois have just passed the censorship bill out of the House of Commons,” said a dejected Poilievre.
On February 2, Liberal Senator David Richards likened the censorship bill C-11 to totalitarian regimes.
“Stalin again will be looking over our shoulder when we write,” he said, drawing additional similarities between this bill and dictatorships.
“In Germany, it was called the Ministry of National Enlightenment,” continued Richards, as he compared it to the Third Reich's Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment which controlled film, radio, theatre, and the press during Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany.