A question of honesty

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the topic of order paper questions in a report. To refresh your memory, an order paper question is a written inquiry that, after a 48-hour notice period, is posted on the Order Paper. It is expected that the responsible Minister will provide a comprehensive response within 45 sitting days.

Recently, I received a response from the Trudeau government to my order paper question, which was about the Government’s online censorship activities. As some may know, the Trudeau government, through various bills, aims to gain more control over the internet. This includes the power to define online hate speech and penalize citizens accordingly.

In my opinion, any government endowed with the power of censorship should exercise great responsibility. Therefore, I submitted an order paper question requesting the government to disclose how many times it has asked a social media company to censor and remove online content.

The response I received from the Privy Council Office (PCO) was unambiguous. They stated that they have never “made any requests to censor information.”

I had assumed the case was closed. However, on Friday, April 5th, a representative from the Privy Council Office testified at the Public Inquiry on Foreign Interference. They stated that in 2019, the PCO had asked Facebook to remove a post about the Prime Minister from “The Buffalo Chronicle.”

The representative from the PCO further revealed that Facebook agreed to their request, resulting in the content’s removal. The PCO  expressed their belief that this post was disinformation, which could potentially compromise the integrity of the 2019 election.

The PCO also stated that it was aware of misinformation targeting Conservative candidates during this same time frame. However, in this instance, they took no action. Frankly, I am disturbed by the double standard.

The PCO took measures to guard against disinformation aimed at the Liberal Party of Canada, citing the integrity of the election as the reason. However, it did not take similar actions to protect the Conservative Party of Canada under similar circumstances. While I have serious concerns about this issue, that’s not the focus of my report today.

My main concern is the contradiction regarding the Privy Council Office (PCO). The PCO admitted to asking Facebook to censor and remove a post, a request that Facebook complied with. However, in response to my question in the order paper, the PCO stated, “Since January 1st, 2016, the Privy Council Office has not made any requests to censor information.”

This suggests that the PCO wasn’t truthful in their response to my order paper question. As a result, I brought up a Question of Privilege in the House of Commons.

What does “Question of Privilege” mean? The House of Commons describes it as “Parliamentary privilege refers to the rights and immunities that are considered necessary for the House of Commons, as an institution, and its members, as representatives of the electorate, to carry out their roles.” In this role as a Member of the Official Opposition, we must rely on the government to provide factually accurate and honest information to all members through order paper questions in order to hold the government accountable.

This did not occur here. I believe that Members of Parliament should be prepared to stand up when our right to truth from our government is undermined. If we remain silent, we will only witness more of the same.

My question for you this week is: Do you support the federal government’s ability to censor and potentially remove online media content without disclosure? Why or why not?

I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll-free 1-800-665-8711.