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Announcing the launch of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression

Press Release

OTTAWA, May 21, 2020 – In light of growing misinformation concerning public health, political disinformation, hate speech and targeted discrimination, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) announces the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression. The annual Commission will develop policy options to directly address the harmful impacts of digital technologies on Canada’s democratic institutions and public life. The Commission is supported by national citizen assemblies as well as by an independent research program led by the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy at McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have become even more reliant on digital technologies to communicate with friends and loved ones, pursue education, and participate in the economy. They also see how misinformation circulating on social media can influence behaviour and pose a direct and immediate threat to public health. In this way, the pandemic underscores the importance of this initiative and the value of its recommendations.

This initiative grew out of earlier insights about the relationship of digital technologies to Canada’s democracy covered by the Public Policy Forum’s ground-breaking report, The Shattered Mirror and its subsequent interdisciplinary research outlined in the Democracy Divided report (with UBC) and through the Digital Democracy Project partnership with McGill.

The Challenge
Digital media and technologies broaden access to information, enable new forms of participation and reshape the economy. They also pose systemic challenges to democratic institutions and public life. Today, algorithms embedded in social media platforms work to shape our public and private lives. These technologies can compromise the quality of publicly available information, and increase the prevalence of hate speech and identity-based discrimination both online and off.

The challenge is to maximize and safeguard the democratic potential of the digital public sphere while mitigating threats that pose significant harms.

Each year, this initiative will bring together a small group of eminent Commissioners to develop recommendations that address the democratic harms of digital technologies. Their work will be informed by an annual citizens’ assembly and research managed by the Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy at McGill University.

Announcing the 2020 Commissioners
We are pleased to announce the participation of seven eminent Canadians who have agreed to serve as Commissioners. The Commissioners bring a range of perspectives and skills and have extensive experience in the areas of law, media, technology, citizen participation, and politics.

  • Rick Anderson, Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group
  • Julie Caron-Malenfant, Director General, Institut du Nouveau Monde
  • Adam Dodek, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
  • Amira Elghawaby, Journalist & Human Rights Advocate
  • Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
  • Jean La Rose, Former Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
  • The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., C.C., Former Chief Justice of Canada

Announcing the 2020 Citizens’ Assembly
Earlier this spring, 12,500 households across Canada received an invitation to volunteer to support the Commission by serving on a Citizens’ Assembly. More than 450 Canadians volunteered, and 42 have been randomly selected to serve as citizen representatives. The Assembly will meet in Winnipeg and Ottawa over six days and advise the Commission on its values and priorities with respect to digital technology and democratic expression.

Announcing the 2020 Research Program
Led by McGill’s Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy, the research program aims to inform the Commission and its stakeholders on key issues pertaining to democratic harms of digital technologies; to support the Commission’s deliberations and the work of the citizen’s assemblies, and to respond to their needs throughout the deliberative process. The research program will develop timely reports from international experts and disseminate results to the broader public on the following key issues for year one:

  • Legal aspects of hate speech and freedom of expression in Canada
  • Technological infrastructure of online harm
  • The digital public sphere
  • Targeted online hate communication
  • Online hate and vulnerable communities
  • Public health misinformation and disinformation
  • Technologically-facilitated gender-based violence online

Open Invitation for Submissions
To ensure that all interested members of the public and institutions have an opportunity to have their voice heard, the Commission will invite written submissions consistent with the areas of inquiry. Submissions will be accepted from July 1 to September 30, 2020. Details regarding how to make a written submission will be announced in late June via the PPF website.

To learn more about this initiative and how Canada can chart a new course in public discourse, democratic expression and the use of digital technologies, please contact the Public Policy Forum.


“The Commission is inspired in part by the 1960s Special Committee on Hate Propaganda in Canada, chaired by McGill University Law Dean Maxwell Cohen. It confronted a period marked by an upsurge of hate speech, studied the issue, deliberated, and issued recommendations that led to Canada’s anti-hate laws. These issues now need to be revisited in light of the digital age.” 
Edward Greenspon, President and CEO of Public Policy Forum

“The Commission has been constructed with true participation at its core:  the public’s voices and the experts, filling a gap on research not overseen by technology providers or a study’s sponsoring party.  We look forward to engagement across the spectrum and the valuable input both the Commissioners and the public will provide.”
Michel Cormier, Executive Director of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression

For further information: MEDIA CONTACTS, Communications: Heather Cavanagh, Director of Communications, Public Policy Forum, [email protected], 613-791-9546; About the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression, Michel Cormier, Executive Director of the CCDE, [email protected]; About the Citizens’ Assemblies, Peter MacLeod, MASS LBP, [email protected]; About the Research at McGill’s Max Bell School of Public Policy, Professor Taylor Owen, [email protected]


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