Green Party leader’s voice rings loudest against Bill C-51 in flood of online chatter

Laura Beaulne-Stuebing
Politics Contributor
Green Party leader’s voice rings loudest against Bill C-51 in flood of online chatter

Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s online voice rose above the fray and fracas of Twitter noise protesting the Conservative government’s anti-terror legislation this weekend.

According to an analysis of social media activity centered around Bill C-51 from March 11 to March 15, May’s Twitter account was the most tweeted individual account on March 14 during cross-country protests against the government’s controversial anti-terror legislation.

One of her posted messages about the rally in Toronto, held in Nathan Phillips Square, was retweeted 458 times — the most tweeted message in that time span— according to an analysis done by Full Duplex, a public affairs and research company based in Ottawa.

Saturday’s cross-country rallies saw thousands come out to protest the Conservative government’s anti-terror bill. The Green Party leader was joined at Nathan Phillips Square by Toronto 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.

Full Duplex’s analysis included sites Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook, and delved a little deeper into Twitter activity. According to the analysis, Bill C-51 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.

The company’s founder Mark Blevis noted on Full Duplex’s website that for C-51 mentions, “the overall volume of online activity is high and the messaging concerns are consistent” on Twitter.

“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.

Between March 11 and 15, 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 116 YouTube channels and that there were 5,585 public mentions of the bill on Facebook.

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 on March 14 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 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 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 amendments, unexpectedly, making the bill much more palatable, and to Bill C-30, the so-called Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act that was eventually scrapped because of major public backlash.