Canada's Call to Outlaw Free Speech

– Yi Nicholls –

There are indications that the Canadian state is having difficulty imposing its disinforming narrative on the polity about the proxy war in Ukraine. Canada is resorting to police powers to criminalize discussion and dissemination of information that does not support the U.S./NATO propaganda for war, to block people from informing themselves and discussing and deciding for themselves what stands serve their interests and the interest of international peace.

Amongst other things, it is promoting the Freedom Online Coalition, which attempts to provide an ideological foundation to justify curbing freedom of speech and information. On March 2, 2022, Maéva Proteau, Director of Communications, Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement on behalf of Canada as the 2022 Chair of the coalition. The statement was signed by Proteau and issued by Global Affairs Canada.

The statement says the coalition is comprised of "34 governments united by our belief that the same human rights people enjoy offline must be protected online."

The statement claims that the "unprovoked and unjustifiable attack by the Russian Federation against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of the democratic state of Ukraine was preceded by a steady outpouring of fabricated claims and unfounded allegations online by the Russian Federation."

"We have since witnessed a continued onslaught of disinformation orchestrated by the Russian Federation," the statement claims.

No evidence whatsoever is given to define the words "unprovoked" "unjustifiable" or "attack." They are just repeated as part of the U.S./NATO narrative for which Canada is an unapologetic cheerleader. Significantly, no evidence is proffered to show that the Russian Federation is pouring out "fabricated claims and unfounded allegations online."

The statement shows disdain for the right of the peoples of the world to be informed about matters which concern them, referring to them as those who "consume" online news. More importantly it makes sweeping assertions that many believe more aptly apply to U.S./NATO propaganda such as this statement:

"At an unprecedented moment in history, when people around the world are turning to the Internet to connect, learn and consume their news, the Russian Federation's coordinated disinformation campaign has conjured false and misleading narratives intended to corrupt the information environment. This campaign aims to sow confusion, seed division, and erode trust in democracy. It ultimately puts lives at risk."

It then builds the case for curbing and criminalizing freedom of speech by saying: "State-sponsored disinformation campaigns undermine peace, prosperity and individual freedoms, threatening to destabilize the fabric of our rules-based international system.

"A strong democracy relies on access to diverse and reliable sources of news and information so that members of society can form opinions, hold governments and individuals to account, and participate in public debate."

The assertion of what a strong democracy requires is hypocritical because it implies that the coalition upholds these practices and aims, which is not the case. It does not encourage discussion or the dissemination of information which permits members of society to "form opinions, hold governments and individuals to account, and participate in public debate."

"The Freedom Online Coalition stands for the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms online and offline," it says, and adds, "We stand with the people of Ukraine, reaffirming that they should be able to participate meaningfully in society online and offline, free from oppressive practices such as state-sponsored disinformation."

We then come to the crux of the matter. The statement says, "We call for the cessation of the conducting and sponsoring of disinformation campaigns, and urge all stakeholders to take active steps to address the issue in a manner that respects human rights, democracy and the rule of law."

But there's the rub. Who defines what it means "to respect human rights, democracy and the rule of law"?

The statement does not pause to ponder such things. It immediately goes on to say what will be outlawed only as concerns what the Russian Federation is accused of doing, not anything done by intelligence agencies working for the U.S./NATO. It says:

"We call for the end of Internet shutdowns and the blocking or filtering of services. We also call for the Russian Federation to refrain from content restrictions on the Internet that violate international human rights laws. States must not unduly restrict, moderate or manipulate online content or disrupt networks to deny users access to information, contrary to their international obligations."

In the name of the freedom it espouses, it then praises the use of social media under its control to curb the social media which it claims is a purveyor of disinformation. It says:

"More than ever, social media platforms are powerful tools of information. They play a key role in the health of democracies and global stability. Social media platforms play an important role in the fight against disinformation -- in the last few days, we have seen them make unprecedented and powerful decisions to restrain the Russian Federation's attempts to misinform national and international audiences."

Totally dismissing the key question of what constitutes freedom of expression, it declares:

"While respecting freedom of expression, Canada calls on platforms to work with the Freedom Online Coalition and to keep taking every step possible to counter state-sponsored disinformation, including that propagated by Russia Today and Sputnik channels online. We offer our continued collaboration to get this done in a manner guided by respect for human rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights."

It says, "Together, let's send a clear message -- the world order we have fought hard to maintain is under attack. Disinformation cannot be enabled, whether through state media, private media or social media platforms."

The statement was endorsed by 19 countries, plus presumably by Canada itself: Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

There is no explanation why, if the coalition was comprised of 34 countries at that time (as of 2023 it has 36 members), the others are not listed as endorsers. Notably, the 20 endorsing countries are either members of NATO, the European Union or the U.S.-led Five Eyes global espionage network. Most of the coalition's other member countries are in Asia, Africa and Latin America. 

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 1 - February 2023

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