Thank you, Mr. Chair, for having us.
My name is Faisal Khan Suri. I'm the president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, or AMPAC. I'm joined here by my colleague Mohammed Hussain, who is VP of outreach.
Today's topic of discussion is not only an important one but an absolutely necessary one. With all the events we are seeing in Canada, throughout the world, and especially within Alberta, it definitely warrants our being here, collaborating on this effort and sharing our thoughts. Thank you again to this committee for inviting us and allowing us to share our thoughts.
I'll just give you a snapshot of AMPAC.
We're dedicated to championing civic engagement and anti-racism efforts within the province of Alberta. We focus on advocacy work, implementing strategies around media relations, community bridge-building, education, policy development and cultural sensitivity training.
AMPAC envisions a province where deep equality exists for all Albertans, including Muslims, in a political and social landscape that is respectful and harmonious for people of all faiths and backgrounds.
To get to the gist of things, to state it quite mildly, online hate influences real-life hate. I could be quite blunt about this. Online hate is an enabler, a precursor and a deep contributor to not just real-life hate but also to murder.
We've seen a lot of recent tragedies happen across the world. In January 2017, the Quebec City mosque killer, Alexandre Bissonnette, gunned down six Muslim men in execution style when he came into the mosque with two guns and fired more than 800 rounds. The evidence from Bissonnette's computer showed he repetitively sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators; mass murderers; U.S. President Donald Trump; and the arrival of Muslim immigrants in Quebec.
In October 2018, white nationalist Robert Bowers murdered 11 people and injured seven more at the shooting inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. This was an attack that appeared to have been motivated by anti-Semitism and inspired by his extensive involvement in white supremacy and alt-right online networks.
In March 2019, a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons burst into the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. This white nationalist, in what was a gruesome terrorist attack, was broadcasting live on Facebook and Twitter, and 51 worshippers were killed.
There are so many more examples we could provide that show the accessibility of online hate and how it's affecting the real-life hate we are witnessing today.
I think it's absolutely critical, if not fundamental, to embark on such studies as this and to look a lot further into this issue with a deep thought process in place.
Online hate is a key factor in enforcing hate in all forms—Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, radicalization, violence, extremism and potentially death. This is why we must take immediate action to work on prevention, monitoring and enforcement.
In order to combat online hate, AMPAC has come up with three recommendations. Number one is to employ artificial intelligence on online materials to identify any form of hate speech. Number two is to reopen the Canadian Human Rights Act for a comprehensive review. Number three is to have transparency and accountability for social media platforms.
Allow me to delve a little further into the first recommendation, employing artificial intelligence on online materials to identify any form of hate speech.
Right-wing extremist groups are using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to create and promote their groups, share messages, assemble people and more. The question is, how can we remove their access, block IP addresses or even discover these types of groups? There are some tools being used today, such as text analysis, to combat online hate, but these groups are becoming much smarter, and they're using images such as JPEGs to help deter that monitoring.
While we are happy to see that the new digital charter incorporates elements of an approach that involves industry, we believe that the government must itself fund innovative technological solutions to track online hate and aid in developing artificial intelligence that can combat it.
The AI technology needs to be comprehensive so as to encompass text analysis and languages, and so as cover all forms of social media that are used to facilitate online hate. We believe that there is space in Canada, especially within Alberta, to build that capacity.
Our second recommendation, to reopen the Canadian Human Rights Act for a comprehensive review, is quite near and dear to our hearts.
The moment freedom of speech or freedom of expression puts another group, organization or individual in any form of danger, it can no longer be justified as freedom of speech or expression. This is now freedom of hate, which has no place in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor in any pluralistic society that we live in. It has been far too long since the Canadian Human Rights Act has been revisited.
Keep in mind the following: For the last few years, hate has led to the murder of innocent civilians. Also keep in mind the importance of reviewing how online access and other media have been used to propel such hate and extremist perceptions.
AMPAC recommends not simply revisiting and reviving section 13, but reviewing the Canadian Human Rights Act in its entirety. The review itself needs to consider facts on the rise of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and all other forms of hate. Questions need to be asked in terms of what determines hate and how we can bring enforcement into the picture with respect to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Part of our third recommendation that we talked about is transparency and accountability for social media platforms. While we're pleased with the signing of the digital charter, we think that there is a lot more to be done in terms of regulating social media companies. We recognize that social media platforms have been trying to curtail hate speech through reporting options, but there is a lack of accountability in what follows that reporting, which in turn minimizes any sort of enforcement. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube must be held accountable by government authorities for reporting the data and for any follow-up measures.
We're quite aware of the challenges that such regulations can bring to freedom of expression related to this recommendation, but we believe in a statement that New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave. Her persistence to control the amplification of online hate is not about curbing freedom of expression. I will quote some of her words. She says, “...that right does not include the freedom to broadcast mass murder.” She also says, “This is not about undermining or limiting freedom of speech. It is about these companies and how they operate.”
Working alongside social media companies, holding them accountable, and imposing some form of financial repercussions or other necessary measures are part of this recommendation. We hope to see a requirement for online platforms to be transparent in their reporting come to light with this initiative.
To end, I'll go back to the key factors that are priorities for us: to look at prevention, monitoring and enforcement. Today the recommendations that we've talked about—implementing a comprehensive artificial intelligence tool that spans major social media platforms, implementing language-text-image analysis, reopening the Canadian Human Rights Act for an extensive review, reviving section 13 and holding social media platforms accountable for sharing data—are just the initial steps that we believe can help to curb online hate.
With a 600% increase in the amount of intolerant hate speech in social media posts from November 2015 to November 2016, I can only try to fathom or understand where those statistics are today.
Additionally, with the clear evidence of online hate, including the horrific killing of innocent people, there is absolutely no greater time than the present to action immediate government-legislated change. We cannot allow hate to inflate any further. We most certainly cannot allow any more lives to be taken.
I'd like to end this by echoing the statement of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Canadians expect us to keep them safe, whether it’s in real life or online....”
Thank you so much.