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More than 17,000 call on House Committee to strengthen Bill C-76 to stop secret, fake online election ads and invasions of privacy by political parties

Are Liberals protecting their own data mining and their social media company friends or will they make the public interest changes called for by experts, committees and Canadians?

Over the next week, Democracy Watch will highlight other key undemocratic changes made in Bill C-76 – the Trudeau Liberals must have been joking when they called it the “Election Modernization Act”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, October 11, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, as the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee continues its review of Bill C-76, Democracy Watch announced that more than 17,000 Canadians have either signed its online petition on Change.org or its letter-writing campaign calling for changes to stop secret, false online election ads or signed its online petition calling for political parties to be covered by the federal privacy law, and other key privacy protection changes.

Democracy Watch’s petitions were submitted to the House Committee, and it also testified at the hearings on Bill C-76 in June and pointed to several weaknesses in the bill that will do little to protect political parties from abusing Canadians’ personal information or to stop secret, false online election ads.

While Bill C-76 reduces some key barriers to voting, it does little else to ensure fair, democratic elections – over the next week Democracy Watch will reveal other significant, undemocratic steps backwards in the bill that make it far from an “Election Modernization Act” as the Trudeau Liberals have titled the bill.

Democracy Watch’s privacy protection petition calls for changes to strengthen the rules, enforcement and penalties and apply them to all businesses and government institutions, including political parties. Privacy commissioners across Canada have called for parties to be covered by privacy laws as has another House Committee report released in June. In its current form, Bill C-76 only requires political parties to have a privacy policy that they enforce themselves.

Democracy Watch’s online election ad petition and campaign call for key changes to ensure that all election advertising, in media and social media, complies with the Canada Elections Act’s prohibitions on false ads that exceed political party, candidate and third-party spending limits. Many experts have also called for similar changes.

In its current form, Bill C-76 only prohibits social media companies from knowingly running an ad paid for by a foreigner or foreign entity. That will do nothing to stop secret, fake online election ads paid for by Canadians or Canadian entities, and will do little to stop foreign-paid ads as the social media companies will just claim they didn’t know the ads were paid for by foreigners.

As CTV detailed in March 2017, the Liberal Party uses Data Sciences Inc., run by Prime Minister Trudeau’s friend Tom Pitfield, for its data management of the private, personal information it gathered on Canadian voters. And as CTV in that article, and also Maclean’s magazine detailed in October 2017, Mr. Pitfield also heads up the think tank Canada 2020, which has Facebook and Google as partners (see logos at bottom of page) and executives from Facebook Canada and Google Canada as advisers.

And as the Ottawa Citizen detailed in May 2018, Liberal Party-connected lobbyists and executives work for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, with their friends and/or former colleagues now working for Trudeau Cabinet ministers. In late April, Democracy Watch filed a complaint with the federal Lobbying Commissioner about Facebook Canada failing to register as a lobbying company, and about a Facebook executive doing favours for Trudeau Liberal Cabinet ministers.

“Will the Trudeau Cabinet make the changes called for by experts, committees and thousands of Canadians to ensure the privacy of Canadians and the integrity of federal elections are protected or will the Trudeau Liberals continue to hide behind weak and flawed bills that only protect the Liberal Party and their many friends in social media companies?” asked Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Businesses and political parties and social media companies cannot be trusted to protect Canadians’ privacy or to stop fake or foreign ads on their own because they are in a conflict of interest since they make money from privacy invasions and ads.”

Democracy Watch’s online election ad petition and campaign call for changes to ensure that all election advertising, in media and social media, complies with election laws that:

The problem is mainly with social media sites, like Facebook, through which ads can be targeted directly and only to a specific individual’s page. Unlike an ad in a newspaper or on radio or TV, election watchdog agencies, the media and the public can’t track these targeted online social media ads because only the targeted individual sees the ad. As a result, they can’t ensure the ads comply with the law.

“Canada’s democracy faces the new threat of fake and foreign online election ads, and we need to fight back with changes to elections laws to stop these ads,” said Conacher. “Social media companies cannot be trusted to stop fake or foreign ads on their own because they are in a conflict of interest since they make money from the ads and also some of the companies have significant ties to the Trudeau Liberals.”

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads campaign calls for the following six key changes:

  1. prohibit media and social media companies from publishing election-related ads during the six months leading up to an election if the ad is paid for with foreign currency (such as Russian rubles);
  2. require media and social media companies to report every election-related ad to the election law enforcement agency during the six months leading up to an election so the ad can be reviewed to determine if it makes a clearly false claim about a party or candidate;
  3. require media and social media companies to report to the election law enforcement agency who placed and paid for each ad, and how much was spent on the ad, so agency can determine if the amount spent on the ad violates the legal limit (including the amount spent on having employees or contractors or bots share, like or retweet the ad);
  4. require the government to establish an independent commission (whose members are appointed by non-governmental bodies like the Canadian Judicial Council) to conduct a public, merit-based search for the next Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Elections Canada (and for the next head of the election law enforcement agency in each province), with the commission giving a shortlist of nominees to the party leaders from which they will all choose together one person as the head of the agency;
  5. give the head of the election law enforcement agency (who, at the federal level, is the Commissioner of Canada Elections) the power, during the six months leading up to an election, to order clearly false, illegal ads be deleted from media and social media sites, and require the head to issue these orders within a few days of receiving the information about each ad, and;
  6. give the head of the election law enforcement agency the power to impose significant fines on social media companies and advertisers who violate the rules (the fines must be large enough to discourage attempts to violate the rules).

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179 Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

Democracy Watch’s Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign