Skip to Content

Facing Re-Election, Trudeau Government Spars With Unlikely Opponents: Facebook and Google

Justin Trudeau’s government is threatening to crack down on Google, Facebook, and Twitter, saying the tech giants aren’t doing enough to help fight meddling in the lead-up to Canada’s fall election.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould issued the warning Monday after one of the country’s intelligence agencies concluded that foreign cyber interference is “highly likely” in the vote that will decide if Trudeau gets a second mandate.

“There’s a lot left to be desired about how seriously they are taking these issues,” Gould told reporters in Ottawa. While discussions with the American tech firms are ongoing, she said Canada is reviewing how its current laws apply to the companies and what new laws or regulations may be needed, given they haven’t proven themselves able to self-regulate.

“Digital platforms are going to have to accept that they’re going to have to abide by domestic legislation from country to country around the world,” she said, speaking alongside Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan. The government hasn’t seen the firms address the threats to a degree in which “we would be comfortable allowing them to continue in this self-regulatory space,” Gould said.

The threat of regulation comes amid a growing global backlash against the conduct of tech companies in policing harmful content and fighting fake news. It also lands as the U.S. comes to grips with Russian interference in its own election, a situation that Canada’s electronic spy agency—the Communications Security Establishment—uses as a point of comparison heading into the campaign for October’s vote.

“We consider foreign cyber interference of the scale of Russian activity against the 2016 United States presidential election improbable at this time in Canada in 2019,” the intelligence agency said in its latest threat assessment.

While Gould said Facebook has so far been more cooperative than Google or Twitter, she said all of them fall short.

“The platforms feel this is something they should be doing on their own and I don’t have the confidence that they’re disclosing everything with us,” Gould said. She added: “I’m not feeling great about where we are right now.”

Motives for Meddling

CSE, whose chief Shelly Bruce made a rare public appearance alongside the two Trudeau ministers, said “more than one foreign adversary has manipulated social media” to spread false information in a bid to polarize Canadians or undermine the country’s foreign policy. The spy agency also said foreign state-sponsored media have disparaged Canadian ministers and that at least one foreign adversary has amplified critiques of government policy online.

“We judge it highly likely that foreign cyber interference against Canada would resemble the cyber interference campaigns undertaken against other advanced democracies in recent years,” CSE said. It’s likely adversaries will hack websites, steal personal details, and circulate false information to disrupt the election.

“The aim of such activity would be to sow doubt among voters, causing them to question the legitimacy of the election” or even to decline to vote at all, the agency said.