Citizenship in a Connected Canada

A Research and Policy Agenda


Edited by

Elizabeth Dubois & Florian Martin-Bariteau


with contributions from

Kent Aitken, Jane Bailey, Megan Beretta, Jacquie Burkell, Amanda Clarke, Alexander Dirksen, Michael Geist, Alfred Hermida, Mike Morden, Marina Pavlovic, Jonathan W. Penney, Adelina Petit-Vouriot, Priscilla Regan, Teresa Scassa, Leslie Regan Shade, Valerie Steeves, and Mary-Lynn Young.


University of Ottawa Press

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What does it mean to be a citizen in Canada in a digital context?

What are the implications of this digital setting for citizens and policy making?


This interdisciplinary edited collection brings together scholars, activists, and policy makers to build consensus around what a connected society means for Canada. The collection offers insight on the state of citizenship in a digital context in Canada and proposes a research and policy agenda for the way forward.

This collection continues a unique conversation started as part of the Connected Canada initiative, launched in 2017, and extends the research agenda previously outlined in the Canadians in a Digital Context report. The chapters also summarize and synthesize existing work for a Canadian policy audience.

Part I examines the current landscape of digital civic participation and highlights some of the missing voices required to ensure an inclusive digital society. Part II explores the relationship between citizens and their political and democratic institutions, from government service delivery to academic and citizen engagement in policy making. Part III addresses key legal frameworks that need to be discussed and redesigned to allow for the building and strengthening of an inclusive society and democratic institutions.

This is a foundational resource for policy makers, students, and researchers interested in understanding the specific Canadian context of citizenship in a digital context.



Citizenship in a Connected Canada

Dr. Elizabeth Dubois and Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau



Part I
Building an Inclusive Society in a Digital Context



Decolonizing Digital Spaces

Alexander Dirksen

Power without purpose. Aspiration without intention. Ubiquity without diversity. For too long, we have been enraptured by the promise of the digital age, failing to critically examine the roots, intentions and impact of an increasingly small number of for-profit firms. In a world in which digital spaces play such an integral role in all aspects of our lives, this accumulation of reach, power, and influence is something that poses critical questions and concerns relating to citizenship in a digital context, particularly within the context of Canada as a colonial state articulating a commitment to reconciliation. In this chapter, I will provide a brief overview of the history of digital spaces through a decolonized lens, a critical step towards grounding ourselves in the current realities and complexities around citizenship in a digital context. Focus will then shift with an eye to the future, identifying potential next steps for researchers and policymakers as to ways in which the private and public sectors can begin to mobilize around a more robust definition of citizenship in a digital context in Canada that will serve and support the emergence of decolonized digital spaces.




Telling a Different Story
Canadian Citizens and their Democracy in the Digital Age

Adelina Petit-Vouriot and Dr. Mike Morden

The new centrality of the digital public sphere has disrupted politics, and generated questions about the robustness and sustainability of liberal democracies. This chapter draws on recent public opinion research to examine trends in Canadians’ attitudes toward democracy and their engagement in formal and informal politics. The data suggests that technological and political changes both in Canada and abroad have produced concern among Canadians about the health of their democracy. But longitudinal comparison reveals that despite these disruptions, and contrary to prevailing public narratives, Canadians have become more engaged and more satisfied with their democracy in recent years. 




Framing the Challenges of Digital Inclusion for Young Canadians

Dr. Leslie Regan Shade, Jane Bailey, Dr. Jacquie Burkell, Dr. Priscilla Regan, and Dr. Valerie Steeves

This chapter reports on The eQuality Project’s initial findings from focus groups conducted in Fall 2018 and Winter 2019 with a diversity of youth (ages 13–17) in three Canadian cities about their perspectives and experiences of privacy and equality in networked spaces. Focus groups explored online activities and platforms used by participants, whether and how privacy was an essential aspect to their enjoyment, online experiences where they felt unwelcome or disrespected, and their strategies to mitigate these constraints. We use a modified version of the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ digital inclusion framework to link the perspectives and apprehensions of the young people we interviewed to emerging digital policy questions. These include access (availability, affordability, inclusive design, and public access), application (across various sectors and uses like education, workplaces, employment, economic development, health, public safety, and civic engagement), and adoption (uptake and relevance, privacy and data rights, safety, and digital literacy). We conclude with several policy suggestions, including holding platform companies accountable and transparent about their data collection and privacy protection practises through producing coherent and well-designed terms of service; ensuring funding for enriched digital literacy programming for schools, parents, and young people in order to strengthen digital skills and knowledge about the dynamic nature of datafication; and bringing the voices of diverse Canadian youth into policymaking to ensure that intersectional perspectives and digital justice are core components for a rights-respecting networked environment.



Building Democratic Institutions in a Digital Context



Government in the Connected Era

Kent Aitken

Digital government is not about putting things online, but rather a public sector that understands and exists fully in a digital world, which includes understanding the reasonable limits of digital approaches and the relative merits of the analog world. The digital era has created unprecedented speed and reach for citizens accessing government services to voice their opinion about the policies behind those services. It’s created ways for citizens to directly change or circumvent government programs. And, perhaps most importantly, the digital age has revealed many previously invisible voices and perspectives. This chapter will explore how Canadian governments are evolving, what digital government means for citizens, and what questions remain unanswered.




Data Governance
The Next Frontier of Digital Government Research and Practice

Dr. Amanda Clarke

Picking up on a global orthodoxy calling for digital government transformation, governments across Canada are now introducing ambitious service reforms and broader changes to the organization and culture of public service institutions. These reforms are primarily justified on the grounds that they are necessary if governments wish to meet the expectations of citizens accustomed to the innovative digital service offerings of the private sector. Yet with digital transformation agendas come notable changes to the ways that public sector data is collected, applied, and shared across the state and amongst private firms. These data governance reforms may prove unacceptable to citizens where they lead to privacy breaches, betray principles of equity, transparency and procedural fairness, and loosen democratic controls over public spaces and services. This chapter presents three cases that illustrate the data governance dilemmas accompanying contemporary digital government reforms. The chapter next outlines a research and policy agenda that will illuminate and help resolve these dilemmas moving forward, with a view to ensuring that digital era public management reforms bolster, rather than erode, Canadians’ already precarious levels of trust in government. 




The Conversation Canada
A Case Study of a Not for Profit Journalism in a Time of Commercial Media Decline 

Dr. Mary-Lynn Young and Dr. Alfred Hermida

This chapter tackles two pressing gaps in the journalism studies literature on the business of news in Canada: analysis of digital born journalism organizations and early implications of not-for-profit journalism. We use a case study approach to assess the launch and growth of The Conversation Canada, a national journalism organization that launched in 2017, and is one of eight affiliates of the global not-for-profit Conversation network of journalism sites. This case study is timely as Canada is seeing a growth in digital born journalism organizations, which are often seen as innovators and saviours compared to legacy media. At the same time, not-for-profit and publicly funded journalism organizations are increasingly considered an antidote to commercial journalism decline. We find The Conversation Canada contributing to journalism and innovating in its reach to traditional and non-elite audiences, its experimentation with not-for-profit democratic organizational models, and its access to non-traditional revenue sources in the form of university membership fees and competitive research funding.




Influencing the Internet
Lobbyists and Interest Groups’ Impact on Digital Rights in Canada

Megan Beretta

This chapter provides a summary of empirical research investigating the relationships and perceptions of Members of Parliament, public policy professionals, and lobbyists engaged with technology files in Canada, and their understanding of digital rights. Findings from 16 qualitative elite interviews with professionals indicate various levels of trust between these actors, and various levels of understanding of technological business models, and technology issues. The chapter examines the potential impacts of the political communication dynamics between actors on the digital rights agenda in Canada. This chapter examines the future of digital rights in Canada and the impacts of the public policy environment on the digital rights agenda by drawing on more recent public policy announcements in Canada, such as the release of the Digital Charter in 2019 and the subsequent federal election.



Rethinking Legal Frameworks for the Digital Context



Consumers First, Digital Citizenry Second
Through the Gateway of Standard-form Contracts

Marina Pavlović

The digital technology and the globalized networked information economy have fundamentally changed the very concept of a consumer, the consumer’s place in the digital society, and the relationship between consumers and other actors, such as governments. By using goods and services, consumers still play the role of passive actors in the market economy. However, in today’s society, not only does our consumption behaviour make us consumers, but virtually all aspects of our daily lives and social interactions are made possible by, and conditional on, being consumers first. To be producers, creators, learners, critical thinkers and citizens, we must be consumers first and click on or sign lengthy standard-form contracts before getting access to goods and services (including government services). Standard-form contracts have become the dominant regulatory mechanism of consumer relationships, and by extension, digital civic participation. This article frames the relationship between consumers and citizens within the growing dependency on standard-form contracts. It identifies the ineffectiveness in the current legal rules governing standard-form contracts and provides a related policy research agenda needed to limit the expansive private ordering of standard-form contracts. 




A Human Rights-Based Approach to Data Protection in Canada

Dr. Teresa Scassa

The rapidly changing digital and data landscape has placed increasing pressure on Canada’s existing data protection frameworks. Individual-oriented, consent-based mechanisms no longer seem adequate or appropriate to address the challenges posed by the ubiquitous and continuous harvesting of massive amounts of data through the Internet of Things, and its use in big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. This paper explores the potential for a shift in paradigm—to a human rights-based approach to data and privacy.




Making Sense of the Canadian Digital Tax Debate

Dr. Michael Geist

Few Canadian digital policy issues have proven as confusing as the ongoing debate over digital taxation. While there is general agreement that a neutral tax policy should apply to the online world, the issue has been muddled by both nomenclature and corporate efforts to use digital tax policy for competitive advantage. With politicians fearing voter backlash over the perception of increased taxes, Canadian digital tax policy has struggled to keep pace, leading to a predominantly hands-off approach. The result is an uneven digital policy playing field that leaves domestic firms disadvantaged and government coffers missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars. This chapter seeks to unpack the digital tax policy debate by examining the various meanings, the core policy choices, and the potential to develop a fair digital policy structure. The chapter begins with a discussion of digital sales taxes, followed by corporate income taxes, and the finally mandated contributions by companies active in the digital economy, including online service providers and Internet access providers.




Online Abuse, Chilling Effects, and Digital Rights 

Dr. Jonathan W. Penney

Online harassment, cyberbullying, hate, and other forms of online abuse pose a significant threat to human rights in Canada. Now, the country is at a crossroads: it will face American pressure to adopt a broad immunity model similar to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or, at long last, take more robust action to address cyberharassment and other online abuse, beyond the piecemeal approach used today. Central to this regulatory debate are concerns and claims about “chilling effects”— that is, the idea that certain regulatory actions may “chill” or deter people from exercising their rights online and in other digital contexts. Such claims have long been raised to oppose measures addressing online abuse, particular speech chill.  In this chapter, I argue that such chilling effect claims advanced to oppose measures taken to curb online harassment and abuse neglect other kinds of chilling effects—how such abuse chills the rights of victims. And, drawing on new empirical research on this point, I argue that such legal interventions—like cyberharassment laws—rather than having a chilling effect, can also have a salutary impact on the speech and engagement of victims whose voices have been typically marginalized.  I will also discuss the important implications these findings have for Canadian law and policy.





Next Steps for a Connected Canada

Dr. Elizabeth Dubois and Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau



Let's connect!


This Canada 150: Conneted Canada conference was supported by a Canada 150 Connection Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada


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