The Internet has become a powerful tool for expression. It gives individuals the potential to send messages worldwide, and opens up new avenues for debate and dialogue. The Internet does not respect national boundaries and attempts to regulate content online, by governments, corporations or individuals, are fraught with challenges.
The Internet is a vital part of a modern democracy and its commitment to free expression. The anonymity that the Internet can provide can also allow marginalized or traditionally silenced groups and individuals a chance to be heard. The legal regulation of the Internet is a modern challenge and CCLA is watching closely to ensure freedom of expression and personal privacy are preserved as this area continues to develop.
While Canada has enjoyed a relatively open Internet to date, restrictions on freedom of expression online can take different forms. There are general laws restricting free expression that apply online, like hate speech, obscenity and defamation legislation. The Canadian government’s attempts to address online criminal activity have sometimes threatened free expression, anonymity and personal privacy, with efforts to engage in surveillance or monitoring of the internet posing a significant threat.
Internet privacy and the right to free expression online are closely linked, and we work to protect and promote both of these important values.
In May 2012, the Alberta Court of Appeal decided that the University of Calgary had overstepped their authority by punishing two of its undergrad students for criticizing one of their professors on Facebook.
The two students, the Pridgen brothers, were studying at the University when they joined a public Facebook group created by one of their classmates. The group was made up of ten students who could post comments, two of which were posted by the Pridgens. When the professor was informed of the group’s existence by her colleagues, she made a complaint to the Faculty Dean, who then found the students guilty of non-academic misconduct and imposed a punishment that included 24 months of probation, a letter of apology, and more.
We argued, and the court agreed, that the University had infringed the Pridgens’ right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Charter. Limitations to rights and freedoms should be rare, justified, reasonable, and based on significant consideration. In this case, the court agreed that the Dean and the University had failed to consider the Pridgens’ freedom of expression and thus the punishment was invalid.
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