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The Canadian Internet Governance Forum kicks off Tuesday, July 6 at 1:30 p.m. ET with a debate titled Does the Government of Canada Still Support the Open Internet? featuring Dr. Michael Geist (University of Ottawa), Daniel Bernhard (FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting), Laura Tribe (OpenMedia), Janet Yale (Chair of the BTLR Panel), and myself, Byron Holland, as moderator. Learn more and register to attend here.

Amid all the disruption, fear and tragedy in this year of the pandemic, the internet has proven indispensable.  We largely live online now, connecting with family and friends, ordering food, going to school and doing business – all from behind a screen. 

As Canadians’ reliance on the internet has grown, so have their concerns about its darker sides.  It is understandable when they see headlines about a crucial American energy pipeline shut down by a cyberattack, or when they hear of a major health testing firm hit by a data breach.

In this atmosphere, findings from the latest report from Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), Canadians Deserve A Better Internet, make an important contribution to the conversation.

The report features exclusive polling data that sends a powerful message:  Canadians are genuinely worried and hope decision makers will act.  Their priorities are nuanced and thoughtful, calling for action while demonstrating a healthy skepticism towards regulatory overreach. 

In particular, Canadians are fearful about their privacy online, with 77 per cent in support of giving the Office of the Privacy Commissioner new powers to help protect their personal information—a key provision of Bill C-11 currently under consideration.

This legislation has been overshadowed by the uproar over Bill C-10 and the allegations that the government proposes to regulate users’ YouTube and TikTok videos.  Lawmakers should take heed of the feelings of Canadians, consult with experts about C-11’s potential shortcomings, and get an appropriately amended version passed.

Even as our communications regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), asks for public input on new measures to protect against bad actors online, our poll found that 84 per cent of Canadians support Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in blocking websites used to launch cyber attacks, but half also agree it is a measure of last resort.  

This mirrors CIRA’s position.  Cybersecurity is a key part of our mission, which is why we offer our free Canadian Shield service to protect Canadians from cyber attacks.  In our comments to the CRTC, we suggest that ISPs should continue to block traffic facilitating cyber attacks, but within a system that provides independent oversight.   We believe in an appropriate middle ground that protects individual users while also preserving free speech. 

The malicious uses of social media have also hit home, as we hear of horrific abuse and hate online. As Ottawa considers new rules to police social media, our poll shows 79 per cent support for platforms removing illegal or harmful content within 24 hours of it being flagged.  At the same time, 62 per cent are concerned that this could result in the removal of legitimate, lawful speech.   Users are calling for action while warning the government to beware of a blunt force approach that could have unintended consequences.

Our survey found that 88 per cent of Canadians believe the spread of fake news on social media is a problem, at a time when news organizations face existential economic challenges.  A majority (58 per cent) support new funding for news, but only 52 per cent like the idea of forcing social media platforms to pay news publishers for linking to their content, with equal support for requiring platforms to collect GST/HST to fund news from general revenue. 

As the government faces criticism over the implications of Bill C-10 and its attempt to regulate streaming services, it should note that 59 per cent of Canadians favour action to stimulate the creation of Canadian content, with the strongest support for the idea that Netflix and the rest should collect GST/HST, directing some of that money to CanCon.

As the steward of the .CA domain, CIRA champions the needs of all Canadian internet users, promoting a trusted internet.  The Canadians Deserve A Better Internet report tells us that trust is badly shaken.  Canadians are looking to lawmakers to help restore it.