The Department of Canadian Heritage says it needs millions more in funding to adequately surveil those with incorrect political beliefs, as first reported by Blacklock's Reporter.
The program claiming to need more taxpayer dollars is called the Digital Citizen Initiative (DCI). It was launched by the Justin Trudeau Liberals in 2018 to “support democracy and social inclusion in Canada by enhancing and/or supporting efforts to counter online disinformation and other online harms and threats.”
A July 2023 evaluation found that “the demand for DCI funding appears to outweigh available resources. The scope and scale of the issue are rapidly expanding along with the potential for harm.”
The update states that “disinformation impacts Canadians’ health and safety, civic discourse and engagement, political beliefs, perceptions of democratic institutions, confidence in political systems and trust in the media,” without providing any examples.
Disinformation may also amplify mistrust among communities, discrimination, stigma and marginalization, as well as exacerbate social divisions. Some groups, such as people with low digital literacy skills, may be more susceptible to misinformation campaigns; others, such as racialized populations and women, may be disproportionately harmed because of the spread of disinformation.
In response to the potential for harm, the Government of Canada provided $7.5 million over two years to support digital, news and civic literacy programming and tools by funding citizen-focused activities, using existing Canadian Heritage funding programs.
But that wasn’t enough.
An additional $19.4 was allotted to the DCI and the Digital Citizen Contribution Program (DCCP) to “fund applied research activities in line with the government’s need to better understand the origins, impacts and potential responses to online disinformation in Canada.”
Additionally, projects totalling $9.9 million were funded like the SSHRC-PCH Joint Initiative, a collaboration between the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Canadian Heritage.
Other funding projects included the Public Policy Forum (PPF) and MediaSmarts’ Digital Media Literacy Week (DMLW).
Some “key informants” received funding, too, such as “members of the consultative body and steering committee, and PCH management and staff who indicated that the DCI addresses real and continuing needs of Canadians with respect to online disinformation and related harms.”
Other key informant funding recipients included informants included Ryerson University (now known as Toronto Metropolitan University), Family Services of Peel, Concordia University and many other institutions all across Canada.
Of course, this scheme received a Special COVID-19 Call to action.
“To enhance citizen preparedness during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Digital Citizen Contribution Program was provided with $3.5 million in funding to amplify the efforts of ten organizations supporting citizens to think critically about the health information they find online, to identify mis- and disinformation, and limit the impact of racist and/or misleading social media posts relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Since DCI ramped up operations in response to COVID-19, the planned total budget was nearly double that which was originally planned.
The 2018/19 and 2020/21 fiscal years were slatted to receive an operating budget of $5.7 million dollars but instead saw actual spending nearly double that at $9.7 million dollars.
This budget expansion raises serious concerns about government overreach and the potential abuse of surveillance powers, which is coupled with the fact that the Justin Trudeau federal government has moved forward with three different pieces of legislation aimed at controlling the internet.
There’s Bill C-11, C-18, and C-36, with a more recent plan to establish new regulators under a Digital Safety Commissioner who would be tasked with overseeing and improving online content moderation.
It’s indicative of a broader trend by this government toward controlling and censoring internet content that doesn’t align with the government's perspectives.
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