Bill C-51 criticism has strong online presence: analysis

LauraBeaulne
Canada Politics

Saturday’s cross-country rallies that saw thousands protest the Conservative government’s anti-terror bill picked up more consistent online activity than other recent controversial issues in Canadian politics, such as the Idle No More movement and the Senate scandal, according to an analysis of web and social media activity.

Full Duplex, a digital public affairs and research company based in Ottawa, took a look at the prevalence of online mentions of the contentious Bill C-51 — which sparked a national day of action in well over 50 cities across Canada on March 14 — between March 11 and March 15.

The analysis included sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook, and delved a little deeper into Twitter activity.

Full Duplex founder Mark Blevis noted on the company’s website that when connecting key terms in the “online chatter” the analysis shows a dominance of strong and medium-grade connections on Twitter, suggesting “the overall volume of online activity is high and the messaging concerns are consistent.” 

“Our analysis of online conversations during the Idle No More and Occupy movements, and political issues including the Senate Scandal and Rob Ford’s cascading scandals during his term as mayor showed more fractured chatter,” he wrote.

According to Full Duplex, there were 103,915 tweets sent from 52,993 individual Twitter accounts, mentioning Bill C-51 as well as 3,134 mentions on Tumblr. The analysis notes that 117 C-51-related videos were published onto 117 YouTube channels and that there were 5,585 public mentions of the bill on Facebook between March 11 and 15.

The highest volume of activity took place on March 14, as would be expected. On that day, 54,764 tweets were sent out into the online Twitter void by 24,678 accounts.

The national day of action to protest Bill C-51 was a result of the efforts of many activists on the ground in various cities, but co-ordinated with the help of LeadNow and OpenMedia.

Critics of the bill — which was tabled in the House of Commons in January, after attacks on two Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa in October — say C-51 goes too far in giving Canada’s spy agency CSIS and police authorities expanded powers, and that it infringes upon privacy rights.

The Conservative government, however, insists the bill and its measures are necessary for keeping Canadians safe from terrorist threats.

The office of the minister of public safety, Steve Blaney, sent out a statement to media on Saturday in response to the cross-country protests.

“We reject the argument that every time we talk about security, our freedoms are threatened. Canadians understand that their freedom and security go hand in hand. Canadians expect us to protect both, and there are safeguards in this legislation to do exactly that,” the statement reads.

The most popular tweet on March 14 belonged to Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who attended the protest held in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, along with NDP MPs Peggy Nash, Rathika Sitsabaiesan and Andrew Cash. May was one of two party leaders attending Saturday’s rallies; NDP leader Tom Mulcair joined the action in Montreal.

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The exact number of how many Canadians turned out on March 14 is unclear. Media reports put the Toronto protest at 1,500 to 2,000 and a couple hundred in many of the other cities where protests took place.

Critics of C-51 range from those who want the bill completely scrapped to those — including law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach who have been providing steady analysis of C-51 since it was introduced in the House of Commons — who want the legislation amended to, they say, make it legally and constitutionally sound.

The House of Commons is currently studying C-51 at committee. The government doesn’t seem willing to budge on potential amendments, but a similar story could be told about last year’s Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, to which the government announced unexpected amendments making the bill much more palatable, and to Bill C-30, the so-called Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act that was eventually scrapped due to major public backlash.