Authoritarian new election law to combat fake news
In this recent federal election, a new election law came into place that punishes people who spread fake or misleading penalties with severe punishments, according to the CBC. During the election, and in the foreseeable future, anyone who publishes disinformation online will face up to five years in prison and a fine up to $50,000.
The one crux, however, was that the word “knowingly” was removed from the legislation, meaning that anyone who accidentally posts false information can be charged under Canada’s criminal code.
This applies to any post that disseminates false information about a candidate, a political party, or the leader of a political party. This law will likely be unfeasible to enforce as disinformation is shared so easily on social media.
These laws have been created in response to the incidents of foreign interference that have plagued western democracies over the past few years. In the United States, for example, allegations of Russian interference have taken up large portions of the national political debate.
This new election law has faced criticism for restricting free speech and being a dramatically heavy punishment for what shouldn’t necessarily be a crime.
“We didn’t see high levels of effective disinformation campaigns. We didn’t see evidence of effective bot networks in any of the major platforms. Yet we saw a lot of coverage of these things,” said Derek Ruths, a professor of computer science at McGill University in Montreal to the CBC a few weeks ago, in a story about how disinformation was overblown last election.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says “we are going to see more of the same from this Prime Minister” after his discussion with Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, after Conservative leader Andrew Scheer also met with the PM.
Both men expressed “disappointment” in their individual conversations with Trudeau.
“Today I did not hear a commitment to moving forward with those items” of importance to the people of Saskatchewan,” Moe told reporters afterwards, namely to “put the carbon tax on pause to see if the province can achieve those kind of results, and replicate them if other provinces so choose.”
Scheer went into his meeting declaring that the country “Is more divided than it’s ever been”, then coming out noted “a little disappointed” that he’ll have to wait more than three weeks to face-off against Trudeau in the Commons.
Parliament will reconvene on Dec. 5 for selection of Speaker of the House to be followed by a Throne speech given by the Governor General, in which Trudeau will present his plan for the country that will hold the Commons’ confidence, or not.
After MPs are sworn in, the first order of business is electing a speaker which is open to any member who is not part of cabinet or a party leader. The last time a speaker was elected and a Throne speech given on the same day was in 1984, after Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservatives won the most seats in history.
Following the Oct. 2019 general election, Trudeau’s Liberal Party came up 13 seats shy of a majority with 157, and could be propped up by either the New Democrats’ (24 seats) support, or the Bloc Quebecois (32 seats). Scheer and the Conservatives occupy 121 seats, an overall gain from the previous parliament.
But before a Speaker is elected, Canadians will have a fortnight and a day to ruminate over Trudeau’s cabinet choices for this 43rd Parliament.
With Liberal stalwart Ralph Goodale and Amerjeet Sohi among party casualties in #elxn43, there are important Public Safety and Industry portfolios to fill for Trudeau’s Nov. 20 announcement next Wednesday.
During his brief remarks made after greeting Scheer this morning, Trudeau promised “affordability for Canadians, growth for the middle class and the fight against climate change.” – or as Moe described it, “more of the same”.
Trudeau’s words came off glib compared to Moe’s straightforward ask that Trudeau put “policy in place to get our goods to market…beyond the Trans Mountain pipeline”.
“That is how we create wealth in our province and that is how we ultimately share it with the rest of the nation,” Moe told reporters.
Scheer also said he wants Trudeau to revisit a “national energy corridor” and “demonstrate a roadmap for Trans Mountain to be completed to show western Canadians that there’s going to be progress on that.”
On Nov. 8, Trudeau had individual meetings with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King.
Tech ethicists have been sounding the alarm about deepfakes for some time now, and tech think tank Future Advocacy has decided to show just how possible and damaging this tech can be. They’ve released a fake campaign video that shows the two candidates for the coming U.K. election endorsing each other.
Rationally, we know that Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson would not actually endorse each other for the office they both covet, yet our eyes deceive us when we view a video like this. In the hands of Future Advocacy, the video is revealed to be a fake. But this tech could be used by bad actors to disrupt elections all over the world.
Unlike the magician who guards his sleight of hand with care, Future Advocacy reveals how the trick was turned. First, they choose the source video, that clip that they would use to as the base image and movement of the person they are going to fake. Then they parse the words the person most uses, and write the script that sounds like what the person would say. After that, the voice is laid in, and aligned with the movements.
Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the Deepfake Report Act, that “would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on the use of deepfake technology that would be required to include an assessment of how both foreign governments and domestic groups are using deepfakes to harm national security.”
The Senate became more concerned about the problem earlier this year when a parody video of Nancy Pelosi was released that made her look drunk. This video was not actually a deep fake, but an actual video slowed down to make her appear sluggish. But it was enough to strike fear into the hearts of legislators.
While the Deepfake Report Act is a step toward trying to understand how the tech is used, what is still needed are the tools on how to detect it. Facebook, ever in the spotlight when it comes to hating on big tech, has dedicated $10 million to the study of deepfakes.
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been researching deep fakes, learning first how to make them, so that they can learn how to detect them. The creation of deep fakes is entirely dependent on computer analysis, and as is the detection of the fakes.
It’s a good bet that while Future Advocacy and the Pentagon are working on both raising awareness and figure out how to combat this problem, respectively, those who would sow the seeds of chaos around the world are working just as hard to make them undetectable.
The very concept of reality is under threat. Libel and defamation laws could punish those who would legit make faked campaign videos such as the one conjured by Future Advocacy. But where does that leave us with regard to those videos that go undetected? Even when a video, as the slurred Pelosi one, was proved to be false, the damage was already done. That clip went viral before anyone even raised a question, probably even before Pelosi saw it herself.
Even more recently, friends of the Royals have floated the theory that the infamous photo of Prince Andrew with his 17-year-old accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre is “doctored” and that “his fingers look too chubby.”
Giuffre responded by saying “This photo has been verified as an original and it’s been since given to the FBI and they’ve never contested that it’s a fake. I know it’s real. He needs to stop with all of these lame excuses. We’re sick of hearing it. This is a real photo. That’s the very first time I met him.”
As illustrated by this recent example, the implications go beyond fooling voters. Allegations of deep-fakery could be used to cover up crimes or in other cases, falsely implicate people in crimes.
If the goal of those who make deepfakes is to create chaos and confusion in the U.S. and the U.K., they are proving that they are already capable of achieving success. We must maintain our vigilance, good humour, and wariness of everything that flickers across our screens. However, this wariness, this inability to trust trusted sources, is the chaos, confusion, and disorder that bad actors have engendered. When we don’t know who to trust, when we can’t believe our own eyes, when every conceivable source of data and information needs to be interrogated, where does that leave us?
In many ways, humans make snap judgements. Perhaps it’s a remnant of a survival instinct, a fight or flight impulse. But thinking on our feet, making quick determinations, is how we get through life. We do not question everything, because there is simply not enough time in the day. If we find that we are unable to trust new sources of information, we may lock down our views, solidify them, and begin to believe that anything that contradicts them is false.
The hardest part, for each individual, in addressing and dealing with this emerging technology, is not knowing what incoming data to trust. This means that when we read or see something that confirms a view we hold dear, we should question it, antagonize it, investigate it. We need to make sure we know why we believe what we believe, and not assume truth just because it feels right (or wrong) to us. As deepfakes threaten our reality in every aspect from education to crime to democracy, we must remain aware of what is being thrown at us. If not, it’s going to knock us over.
Disclosure: Garnett Genuis is the Conservative MP representing Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta.
One of the most important and formative experiences for me on the road to getting into politics was competitive debate—in both high school and university. I would strongly recommend this activity as optimal preparation for anyone considering the same path.
Competitive debaters compete to defend a point of view. They very often will defend a point of view that is not their own.
Every competitive debater is taught early that an essential characteristic of good debate is something called “clash”. Clash is when arguments are made to directly counter the arguments made by the other side—to show that, even on their own terms, the other side’s arguments fail. The alternative to a good debate characterized by clash is a bad debate which resembles two ships passing in the night—essentially, debaters doing their own monologue without much reference to what others are saying.
Debate in the Canadian Parliament has come to be characterized by the near complete absence of meaningful clash. MPs deliver prepared speeches one after the other that cast arguments on their own terms and play to their own social media following. It is extremely rare that an MP would use his or her speech to deconstruct the arguments of a previous speaker.
Clash is essential in good political conversations, though, because a neutral listener has a hard time weighing out who is right and who is wrong if meaningful refutation and deconstruction of arguments does not take place. If we are to be what Edmund Burke thought Parliament should be—the “deliberative assembly of one nation”, then we must talk to one another and about one another’s arguments.
In the same speech, Burke told voters in 1774: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”
It is very important for all members of the newly constituted 43rd parliament to reflect on the importance of clash and on Burke’s advice. If we are going to work together, then we must first be able to talk together, and disagree substantively, while seeking to persuade each other to change our perspectives. People who cannot argue together well will generally struggle to work together well. We must also denominate our conversations in terms of the common good, not the narrow particular interests of one group over another.
There are a few reasons why this will be particularly difficult in the 43rd parliament. The third largest political party exists explicitly to advance the interests of one region of the country over the interests of the rest of the country. The Bloc cannot be expected to seek to advance the national interest of a nation that they seek to break apart. Though less explicitly, the governing party has and will likely continue to pursue a strategy of ignoring the development needs of western Canada. When parties run regional instead of national campaigns, they are talking past some parts of the country they think they can ignore, and only talking to parts of the country that they think they need.
It has always been interesting to me that Justin Trudeau briefly did competitive debating as a student as well. However, he stopped competing early on, noting: “I discovered I had a serious limitation for either a debater or a lawyer. I wasn’t able to argue for something I didn’t passionately believe in.” Unfortunately, an inability to dig into, understand and defend views that are not yours is not just a limitation for a debater or a lawyer—it is also a limitation for a parliamentarian and for a leader. In the privacy of one’s own mind or as an intellectual exercise, one should be able to defend things that one does not believe in order to understand and argue against those same things later. A nation as diverse as Canada particularly needs leaders who are capable of understanding and responding to different modes of thought than their own.
I hope that we will be able to raise the quality of clash in upcoming parliamentary debates, but I worry that there are a variety of cultural factors, as well as institutional ones, that are working against us. We live in an age of social media filtering, where people easily get only the information that confirms their pre-existing biases. But more broadly, our culture has for a long time lacked a common understanding of what constitutes the common good—and so we generally treat political opinions as if they were expressions of individual emotive preferences as opposed to substantive deductions about facts. There are no short-term solutions to these problems but treating opinions as opinions instead of as feelings would be a good start.
For Conservatives, we can take some pride in the fact that our support grew across the country, and that we tried to speak in terms of national ideals and projects. Inevitably those ideals and projects were more popular in some places than in others. In this new Parliament, Conservatives must maintain a truly national orientation. I will defend the interests of my own riding, but I will seek to do so in terms that are persuasive to people in other regions and in other parties. Pursuing an idea of separatism in the west, which will never come to fruition, is not a good way to be persuasive to people in other regions. It is especially dangerous in an environment where our primary complaint is the land-locking of our resources.
I am not particularly optimistic about the amount of meaningful clash that will be on display in the next Parliament, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised.
During a meeting in Ottawa, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister gave some “friendly advice” to Justin Trudeau. Pallister told Trudeau that there was growing frustration in western Canada has towards Ottawa, according to the CBC.
In their meeting, the two leaders discussed a range of issues that came up during the election campaign. This included climate change and indigenous issues, as well as western alienation. Speaking to the CBC, Pallister stated that “there’s some great frustration with the lack of progress, not just on pipelines, but on other things.”
After the election, a deep frustration with Ottawa turned quickly into a separatist movement. This was blamed on the Liberal party, who due to a series of policy decisions, did not pick up a single seat in Alberta. Parts of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have also been vocal in their frustration with Trudeau’s government.
Pallister was critical of Trudeau’s carbon tax and other policies designed to hinder the Canadian oil and gas sector. This has been a deeply contentious topic in the prairies, especially due to the recession that was triggered as a result of Trudeau’s pipeline bungle.
Unlike the Saskatchewan and Alberta premiers, Pallister has not threatened to rip up the equalization agreement.