Canadian journalist Rupa Subramanya has a message for Congress amid increasing allegations that the U.S. government has been censoring speech online: Don’t be like Canada.
“What is happening in Canada is a gradual suffocation of free expression. It is draped in a cloak of niceness, inclusivity, and justice, but it is regressive, authoritarian, and illiberal,” the Free Press reporter told members of the House Judiciary Committee’s Weaponization of the Federal Government panel at a Nov. 30 hearing on government censorship.
“I came here today not simply to warn you about what lies ahead, but to plead with you to do something about it. Now is not the time to be polite. Now is the time to defend loudly the liberties and rights that have given us the greatest freedoms in human history.”
Ms. Subramanya noted that Canadians have earned a reputation for their politeness. But that “niceness,” she contended, is what ultimately made them vulnerable to the authoritarian policies that she says are now undermining “the foundations of our liberal democracy.”
‘The World Is Watching’As a journalist, Ms. Subramanya said she had effectively been censored by Canada’s recently passed Online News Act, a law that requires social media platforms to pay Canadian news organizations to display links to their content.
While the law was allegedly designed to help support Canadian media, Ms. Subramanya said it has had the opposite effect, with social media platforms such as Facebook simply choosing to bar links to Canadian news stories rather than pay the necessary fees.
She said that while that change might be a drop in the bucket for more established journalists like herself, for those who rely on social media to generate income, it’s been devastating.
Other troubling policies she cited include the preferential treatment of criminals with “the right skin color,” unequal treatment of peaceful demonstrators depending on what they’re protesting, and the “de-banking”—or abrupt closure of the bank accounts—of individuals with disfavored political views.
“De-banking has been one of the Trudeau government’s weapons of choice,” she said. “Since 2018, it has frozen the accounts of more than 800 Canadians who did things that it didn’t approve of, including those of 280 who took part in the truckers’ protest [against COVID-19 vaccine mandates], which the government regarded as illegitimate.”
Meanwhile, the rights of pro-Palestinian protesters, Ms. Subramanya said, have been vigorously defended by the Canadian government amid allegations of anti-Semitism.
“Think about that,” she said. “Vaccine skepticism? Not OK. Peddling medieval blood libel legends about Jews? OK.
“I’m all for protecting free speech—I’m from The Free Press. I just want that protection applied fairly.”
1 Step AwayThanking Ms. Subramanya for her testimony, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) contended that the United States is even closer to adopting Canada’s policies than some might think.
“We are but one step away from defunding, here in the United States, bank accounts,” he said. “This administration has returned, so you understand, in the United States, to making sure that people selling products or involved in activities that they don’t want, fail to have access. And that is another form of censorship that, I’m sorry it’s gone so far in Canada; but trust me, it’s underway in this country.”
That notion was supported by the testimony of journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi, who gained acclaim amid their coverage of the so-called Twitter Files, which revealed evidence that federal agencies had pressured social media companies to censor content on their platforms.
Touching on the report on Nov. 30, Mr. Shellenberger said the collective evidence showed that the CTIL worked with social media platforms in 2019 and 2020 to “censor and turn sophisticated psychological operations and disinformation tactics developed abroad against the American people.”
Noting that the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency appeared to have been at the center of much of the government’s online censorship activities, the journalist urged Congress to abolish the agency and all others that have been involved in censoring the American people.
“Short of taking those steps, I would encourage significant guardrails and oversight to prevent such censorship from happening again,” he said.
As evidence, the congressman shared an April 2021 email from Rob Flaherty, then-digital strategy director at the White House, asking Google about “ways the White House (and our COVID experts) can partner” with Google to “crack down on vaccine misinformation” on the platform.
Other internal emails at Google clarified that the White House was primarily interested in “what we’re seeing that is NOT coming down” with a goal to “prevent anything from potentially spiraling out of control.”
Referencing those revelations at the hearing, Mr. Jordan announced that the committee had subpoenaed Mr. Flaherty and Andy Slavitt, former White House COVID-19 response senior adviser, to get to the bottom of what transpired.
“We have sent subpoenas to those two individuals and hope that we will have them in front of our committee real soon,” Mr. Jordan said.