Immigration Canada asked Facebook, Twitter to censor article over 'serious errors of fact'

'The last people on Earth that would be justified in doing that would be government entities,' says Paul Knox, a professor emeritus at Toronto Metropolitan University's School of Journalism.

Immigration Canada asked Facebook, Twitter to censor article over 'serious errors of fact'
Adobe Stock/Aleksei
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Immigration Canada asked Facebook and Twitter to delete a Toronto Sun article alleging it contained “serious errors of fact [that undermine] public confidence in the…refugee system.” Both social media giants denied the request, according to newly released documents, as the article wasn't their proprietary property.

"You can't only have freedom of the press for people you approve of and people you consider to be right," said Paul Knox, a professor emeritus at Toronto Metropolitan University's School of Journalism.

Knox, who also sits on the Canadian issues committee for the Canadian Journalists For Free Expression, said the government has no business telling anybody what can be published where, claiming they are "totally out of their lane on this one" and need to apologize.

The Immigration Department linked the request to an unspecified article on September 27, 2021 on Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board that "[risked its] independence…[and] the integrity of the refugee determination system." The Board nor the Toronto Sun responded to questions from The Canadian Press.

According to the professor emeritus, publications can be held accountable for being wrong, but people cannot demand the removal of content from a platform.

"The last people on Earth that would be justified in doing that would be government entities," he told The Canadian Press.

On Tuesday, the Official Opposition said the governing Liberal Party "cannot be trusted" to defend freedom of expression.

"No government should be able to demand that news be erased from history simply because they do not like the facts," said Conservative MP Rachael Thomas. "It is extremely concerning that the Trudeau government has sought to censor the free press through secret requests to big tech companies."

From January 2020 to February 2023, Ottawa requested social media companies remove 214 posts, according to documents tabled in Parliament at the request of Conservative MP Dean Allison as reported first by Rebel News. They removed half the posts for reasons including impersonation or copyright violations.

Though required by the inquiry to provide details of the social media take-down requests by the heavily subsidized public broadcaster, CBC did not offer any information about the nature, authors and topics of the social media content it targeted for censorship.

The Privy Council Office echoed earlier replies to an access to information filing by Rebel News and denied asking for the removal of social media content. However, documents submitted to the Public Order Emergency Commission indicated that PCO staff made requests to have Freedom Convoy participants' social media posts censored.

Allison's query asked for any attempted or successful requests by any federal agency, including the CBC, to have user-generated content on social media removed, altered or otherwise censored through direct contact with social media companies.

Other examples included the Canada Revenue Agency requesting the deletion of private messages from Facebook Messenger after employees shared taxpayer information online. While it is unclear if Facebook deleted the messages from its servers, the CRA claimed an administrator deleted the chat on June 7, 2022.

"The CRA disciplined the employees involved, up to and including termination of employment," reads the documents. They also notified the affected taxpayers and offered them credit protection services.

Following the incident, the federal tax agency retrained employees on unauthorized access and social media.

In another case, Facebook granted a request by the government to delete an account impersonating former RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and sending people fake messages.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn all complied with requests to remove posts that infringed on copyright or company policies. However, they did not abide by requests to remove posts that government entities perceived as offensive.

According to public reports since 2011, Google received 1,347 requests from Canadian governments to remove Instagram posts.

Between January 2022 and June 2022, Google removed 73 YouTube posts primarily because of defamation, privacy and security concerns, adult content, bullying, and harassment.

During the same period, Meta restricted access to 2,859 posts for a multitude of reasons, including two posts on Health Canada consumer policy reports on unsafe health practices.

According to data provided by the federal government, Health Canada contacted Facebook at least three times to demand the removal of posts with 'disinformation about lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.'

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