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Open letter: Defer consultations on the Internet until after the election

Academic experts and civil society are calling on government to defer several open consultations on the future of the Internet until after a new government is formed.

Dear Ms. Charette, Ms. Drouin & Mr. Sutherland, 

We the undersigned academics and organizations are writing to raise concerns with several of the Government’s ongoing consultations, specifically the consultation on “The Government’s proposed approach to address harmful content online” launched on July 29, 2021, and the consultation on “Fair revenue sharing between digital platforms and news media” launched on August 3, 2021. 

We represent a broad cross-section of civil society and public interest stakeholders and experts, and are committed to engaging with the Canadian government on these important issues. However, we note that this consultation takes place during an election period, at a time when the government is in caretaker mode. 

Guidance on the activities of government after the dissolution of Parliament specifically states that government business in matters of policy should be limited to areas that are routine, non-controversial, urgent, reversible without undue cost or disruption, or agreed to by opposition parties. The reference to emergencies such as natural disasters gives further context to the meaning of urgency in this guidance. The guidance further specifies that consultations must be deferred to the extent possible during the writ period. 

We note that the consultations referenced are on novel and highly controversial policy issues that could have profound implications for Canadians. According to media reporting, there is a significant diversity of opinion among stakeholders on these matters, and the political parties themselves have different policy prescriptions. Accordingly, these consultations are on matters that are neither routine, nor non-controversial, nor which have been agreed to by opposition parties, and we are of the view that to conduct them during an election is inappropriate and contrary to guidance. 

Further, we would also highlight that elections regulations mean that many civil society and public interest organizations are constrained in our ability to raise public awareness of the issues raised by these consultations, encourage public participation, or raise funds to support our own participation. It is our view that this creates an undue barrier to participation by civil society and public interest organizations, and the public themselves, and consequently it is inappropriate to continue these consultations during the writ period. Rather, the Government should defer these consultations until a new Government is in place. 

We would be grateful for your feedback and welcome the opportunity to discuss further. 

Sincerely,

Organizational Signers

  1. Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
  2. Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
  3. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
  4. International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG)
  5. Internet Society Canada Chapter (ISOC Canada)
  6. OpenMedia

Academics Signers

  1. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa
  2. Lex Gill, lawyer and associate at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto
  3. Vivek Krishnamurthy, Director of the Canadian Internet policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and Professor at the University of Ottawa
  4. Emily Laidlaw, Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law and Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, at the University of Calgary
  5. Fenwick McKelvey, Associate Professor in Information and Communication Technology Policy, Faculty of Communication Studies at Concordia University
  6. Christopher Parsons, Senior Research Associate at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto
  7. Gregory Taylor, Associate Professor at the University of Calgary
  8. Dwayne Winseck, Professor of Communication Studies at Carleton University