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Updated: Fri, 07/12/2024 - 12:16

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Alerte de McGill. Le campus du centre-ville restera partiellement fermé jusqu’au lundi 15 juillet, en soirée. Complément d’information : Direction de la protection et de la prévention

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Can Canadian Democracy Survive Big Tech?

MARCH 31, 2021, 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. EDT

A recent spate of high-profile incidents, including the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, have brought to light the threats to democracy posed by our digital landscape.

The rise of mis- and dis-information, the deepening of political polarization, and the amplification of extremist content and incitements to violence, have spurred governments around the world to explore legislative action to regulate online platforms and the internet more broadly.

Canada is certainly not exempt from the harms inflicted by the digital ecosystem. But should our government intervene? Or is addressing those harms a job best left to the market and civil society?

What are some possible approaches or frameworks, and how can we ensure that freedoms are protected? What is at risk in outsourcing the governance of key democratic processes to a handful of largely U.S. based companies?

Moderated by Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy Director, and Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications at the Max Bell School, Taylor Owen, this event will bring The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin (P.C., C.C.), former Chief Justice of Canada, in conversation with leading Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne to discuss whether the government should regulate the internet. This event is hosted by the Max Bell Foundation and the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University.


Taylor Owen

Taylor Owen

Director, Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy, Max Bell School of Public Policy

"The core challenge facing governments such as Australia’s and Canada’s is that no single state has enough power (save perhaps the United States) to really take on Big Tech. What is needed is not a litany of national approaches, each of which can be fought and picked apart by local lobbyists, but a global one."


Taylor Owen is the Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications, the founding director of The Center for Media, Technology and Democracy, and an Associate Professor in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. He is the host of the Big Tech podcast, a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, a Fellow at the Public Policy Forum, and sits on the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). He was previously an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia and the Research Director of Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism. His Doctorate is from the University of Oxford and he has been a Trudeau and Banting scholar, an Action Canada Fellow and received the 2016 Public Policy Forum Emerging Leader award. He is the author of Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press, 2015) and the co-editor of The World Won’t Wait: Why Canada Needs to Rethink its Foreign Policies (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State (Columbia University Press, 2016). His forthcoming book with Emily Bell will be published by Yale University Press in 2021. His work focuses on the intersection of media, technology, and public policy and can be found at and on Twitter.



Beverly McLachlin

The Right Hon. Beverley McLachlin

Former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada

"The internet revolution has been a great force for the flourishing of free speech and expression, which is not only a basic human right but an essential element of democratic governance. But unchecked, the internet can also be used to transmit abusive and violent expression in powerfully new and destructive ways. The law has long imposed limits on harmful speech. But these limits have proved ineffective in regulating harmful online speech. Canada, like other countries, is now struggling with the issue of how we can retain the vibrant energy the internet brings to free expression and democratic discussion, while curbing its use to promote hate, bullying, pornography, and collective disinformation calculated to undermine our democratic institutions. Finding the proper balance between free expression online and curbing the harms it can promote is critical to maintaining human rights and democracy."


Beverley McLachlin grew up in rural southern Alberta and went on to earn a B.A. (Hon.), M.A (Philosophy) and LL.B (law) at the University of Alberta. She practiced as a litigation lawyer in Edmonton and later Vancouver, and taught as an Associate Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law at UBC. She was appointed to the County Court of Vancouver in 1981, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia later that year, and to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia in 1986. She became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1988. In 1989 she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where she served as a Justice until January 7, 2000, when she was appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Ms. McLachlin served in the position until December, 2017, making her the longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Since retiring from the Supreme Court, Ms. McLachlin has been active in promoting access to justice and other justice-related endeavours. She also is engaged in arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution, and is a member of the Singapore International Commercial Court and the Supreme Court of Hong Kong. She is a co-author of The Law of Canadian Architecture and Engineering, and has written a fiction book (Full Disclosure) and a Memoir (Truth be Told).

Beverley McLachlin is a Companion of the Order of Canada and a Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur de France. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees.



Andrew Coyne

Andrew Coyne

Columnist, The Globe and Mail

"Why haven’t social media companies been able to fill the gatekeeper role? If there were many of them, perhaps they could. But given the quasi-monopoly Facebook and Twitter currently enjoy, they take on some of the attributes of the state, making their attempts at editing look like censorship. Hence, their initial reluctance to intervene, and hence the blowback when at last they did. Perhaps this is the best reason to break up Big Tech: to give us back our choice of gatekeepers."


Andrew Coyne is a columnist for The Globe and Mail. Raised in Winnipeg, Mr. Coyne is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics‎. He has worked previously for The National Post, Maclean’s and Southam News, contributing as well to a wide range of other publications in Canada and abroad, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Walrus. He is also a weekly panelist on CBC’s The National.



Tickets to this event are $50, with special pricing options available for early registrants, charities, and students. All proceeds will be donated to CIVIX, a national charity with a mission to make Canadian democracy more inclusive and resilient by equipping school-aged youth with the skills and knowledge necessary for active and informed citizenship.

The Max Bell School is committed to making our events accessible. This event will feature auto-live captioning. Please contact the School at [at] to request disability accommodations. All enquiries will be treated confidentially. Advance notice might be necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.

The cover of Beverley McLachlin's book "Truth be Told"


The first 100 registrants will receive a copy of Beverley McLachlin's book Truth be Told, which offers an intimate and revealing look at her life, from her childhood in the Alberta foothills to her career on the Supreme Court, where she helped to shape the social and moral fabric of Canada.







6:00 p.m.     

Panel Discussion and Q & A Session with the Speakers

6:55 p.m.

Breakout Rooms

Attendees will be split into breakout rooms to discuss and address the question: Should the Canadian government regulate the internet?

7:10 p.m.

Closing Remarks

If you would like to submit a question to our panelists in advance, please send your question to the following email address: [at]

General ticket - $50

Early Bird - $35

Students & Charities - $20


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