Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, everyone, for your intriguing testimony on this issue. I'm going to ask you about a couple of things that haven't been talked about here yet, but I'm thinking that this is extremely germane now and is a modern problem that we have. I know that it was brought up in terms of the rise of nationalism with Hinduism. I guess it's for all of you.
I want to start with you, Ms. Kuo. Can you talk a bit about how social media is contributing to how those narratives are set up? On the misinformation campaigns and mob violence, is there something there that we should be contemplating as a government? It is something that we're thinking about here in our country and in our legislative environment in terms of where social media fits in. I'd just like to understand how social media is actually a factor in these phenomena.
Could we start with you, Ms. Kuo? Then I'll give everyone chance to comment in my time allocation. Go ahead.
Lily Kuo
View Lily Kuo Profile
Lily Kuo
2019-06-18 13:03
In the case of China, social media has been pretty tightly controlled but it is used as a platform for some of these churches. I mentioned that the Rain still holds their services and they still put out daily scripture and sermons. In the case of China, social media is usually in the hands of the people but it is highly censored, and it can also be used as evidence against people. Comments that people make in a WeChat group—WeChat is the messaging platform that a lot of people use—or posts can be used against them later on in court hearings, in their trials.
In terms of misinformation that goes around, in the last year there's been a big drive to talk about foreign forces by government media, state-owned media, to kind of give the public a sense that they're under siege. The enemy is foreign forces that are interfering in China, and we need to be wary of religion being used as a guise for those foreign forces. There's a lot of information or misinformation in that way.
Mindy Michels
View Mindy Michels Profile
Mindy Michels
2019-06-18 13:05
I can speak to that briefly. In the religious freedom cases that I know of—and I'm sure there are cases that this has been a part of, and I can get information on those for you if you want—we do work broadly across a whole suite. This particular fund is within a larger suite of emergency funds working on human rights across the board.
With regard to what you're identifying—the use of social media, governments targeting people based on their social media posts, and surveillance—one of the things we look at quite frequently is making sure that our communications are not going to be under surveillance. Doing that is quite challenging since the mechanisms that governments are using in order to surveil communication are evolving and adapting. Even as encryption evolves and adapts, so does the capacity to crack that encryption.
One of the things we've done, particularly on the protecting belief fund, is to try to make sure we're training the people we work with to be able to use more secure modes of communication. Quite often people in these situations don't necessarily have awareness of or access to ways to protect themselves from this type of surveillance even within the communications that we have with them, so we're quite aware of that.
Floyd Brobbel
View Floyd Brobbel Profile
Floyd Brobbel
2019-06-18 13:06
That's a great question. I don't have a clear answer for you, but I think you've given me something to ask. When we're in the field, we often deal with Christians who are quite rural and who don't have the technology or the wherewithal to use social media, so this is not an area where we really gain a lot of information. Certainly within our circles, within our work with the Religious Liberty Partnership and with other groups, I think this would be an intriguing question to put forward and to get more information on, so I thank you for that.
Anna Lee Stangl
View Anna Lee Stangl Profile
Anna Lee Stangl
2019-06-18 13:07
I think social media is a double-edged sword. We've seen a lot of really positive benefits from it in terms of groups being able to mobilize, share information and even meet online. In Cuba, it's been a real lifeline for human rights defenders and religious groups there.
On the converse side, we see examples like the one I gave from India, where two Hindu nationalists attacked two Christian men. Not only did they do it, but they filmed it and put it on social media, where they were clearly identifiable and there were no repercussion from that. We've seen many other cases like that in the past year or past couple of years, involving attacks not just on Christians but also on Muslims. I think there you see this issue with the rule of law going hand in hand with abuse of social media, and, in the case of the Indian government, with not cracking down even though it should be something that could be used as evidence since it's pretty easy to follow up.
Definitely social media has also been used to organize not just positive, peaceful demonstrations but also violent acts, so it's something to watch. Again, I don't know if I have the answer either—I'm not a tech expert—but I think you've brought up a very good point and it is something to be aware of.
View David Anderson Profile
CPC (SK)
Ms. Stangl, you mentioned the social media issue a little earlier, and I think Ms. Hardcastle brought that up as well. I'd like to talk to you about that, because I'm wondering if there's a way that this can be used well. When people have a video of others or themselves beating somebody down, isn't that something we can use to name and shame—I don't know if you want call it that—or to raise the issue and to begin to profile it? Is there anybody who's doing that effectively? Should we be trying to do that?
I would ask Ms. Kuo to respond to that, too, as a journalist. Is there a way in which we can use these kinds of social media contacts, the videos and those kinds of things, to actually highlight the issue and to name and shame—if you want to call it that—the Indian government into doing something on these...? Can that be done effectively?
Anna Lee Stangl
View Anna Lee Stangl Profile
Anna Lee Stangl
2019-06-18 13:33
Again, I think it's a complex issue. You have the example of India, where the perpetrators uploaded and exposed it and were not ashamed at all. In fact, they were very proud, and that possibly has galvanized others to participate as well.
We are encouraging people on the ground to be citizen-journalists when they can and to record events when they see them and try to report on them, but it always brings in the question of the victims as well, and their consent, and that can often be a tricky thing to get. I would say that it can be a very useful tool if the victims in the video are in agreement with its use.
Lily Kuo
View Lily Kuo Profile
Lily Kuo
2019-06-18 13:34
A lot of activists in China—or regular citizens who might be speaking out about something—also use western platforms. They use Twitter, mainly, but now we're seeing those accounts taken down and those people being detained for using Twitter inappropriately—or whatever the justification is. I don't know if there's something that western governments can do to highlight those cases when that happens.
The other thing would be that I think the Canadian embassy is pretty active on social media platforms in China, and they've done some things to highlight certain anniversaries and certain cases. I think that's a positive thing.
View Peter Fragiskatos Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. This is my final question then.
You talked about social media and about particular images and particular narratives that are circulating on social media. I know you didn't get into it, but I'm going to guess you mean WhatsApp and Twitter, and perhaps we can think of other examples. Here in Canada, in fact, we've had a whole debate, and recently a committee of parliamentarians based in Canada but from various countries convened to talk about what democracies can do to look at social media. As MPs, we continue to urge—and I know the government has said this as well—social media organizations to recognize their responsibilities to combat false information, fake news, the real fake news, and not the fake news that some say exists, which is actually true.
Can you go into that?
View Peter Fragiskatos Profile
Lib. (ON)
You've talked about the Roma as being particular victims, victimized within, especially populist rhetoric these days that builds upon historical narratives that have always targeted the Roma. When you talk about advocacy, are your organization and others like it asking Facebook, Twitter and those who run WhatsApp to get serious about policing the sorts of activities that happen on their platforms?
Dafina Savic
View Dafina Savic Profile
Dafina Savic
2019-06-11 13:33
I guess there are three answers to your question.
First, I mentioned before that we work in strong collaboration with other groups that have been victims of genocide. Recently, in April, in the context of Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, we were here to ask the Canadian government to adopt a policy on the prevention of online hate. We all know that genocide begins with words, and one of the main triggers is actually the legitimization of hate speech, especially on social media. You mentioned Twitter. I mentioned what happened in France, which was actually purely the result of the promotion of fake news on Twitter, which led to attacks on Roma settlements. Most people were hospitalized simply because of the spread of a rumour. There's a medieval stereotype in which Roma were believed to actually steal children. Based on the spread of that, hate against Roma was promoted. Of course, we are addressing it.
I think that in the Americas the issue, as I mentioned before, is that we actually have to fight to get people to stop using the word “gypsy” as being synonymous with “nomad” or “free-spirited”. The level of dehumanization is very strong. In Europe, we have many—
I see that my time's up.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
NDP (ON)
Ms. Savic, I'd actually like you to continue to elaborate on that, because I have to be honest with you that if we're going to educate people and be candid and be respectful of Roma, I want to understand more about using terminology like “gypsy” and what we can do on social media.
Go ahead.
Dafina Savic
View Dafina Savic Profile
Dafina Savic
2019-06-11 13:35
I won't give you their historical background, because it is quite long. I'll just give you an understanding of why the terminology is derogatory. Of course, as in many situations, the use of the G-word is often debated.
The root of the word “gypsy” comes from the Greek word athinganos, which means “untouchable”. This term was imposed on Roma when they first arrived in Europe. Because they had darker skin, they were falsely believed to be Egyptian. “Egypt” became “gyp”. When you say you're being gypped, it's synonymous with theft. The very identity of Roma is associated with theft or robbery. We have American TV shows like Gypsy. It has nothing to do with Roma, but it has to do with misbehaving, I guess, or theft and robbery. There's a restaurant that just opened in Montreal, and it's called Gypsy. We contacted them and said that was derogatory. They said they thought it was “free-spirited” and so it was okay.
In terms of the level of understanding, convincing people to use the right terminology is difficult. We made a recommendation to the United Nations to adopt a resolution to officially condemn the use of the word for their purposes. The challenge that comes with that, similar to the use of the N-word, is that some Roma will identify themselves with the term, as it's been like that for centuries. It's about reclaiming the term. So a lot of layers of complexity lie with that.
As for what concretely can be done, definitely there's social media. I think Facebook especially has been under a lot of scrutiny. In the case of Myanmar, for example, there's the responsibility of social media in allowing hate speech. Definitely there are concrete things that can be done. I think the first thing is to start to condemn globally the use of such terminology when we see it. It is very difficult, given the scope of the human rights violations of Roma, to address terminology. In the Americas, I would say it's one of the root causes of the dehumanization of Roma and the perception of Roma as not being a group of people but rather as a social behaviour. This in fact is one of the reasons that the human rights violations against Roma continue to be justified today.
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
NDP (ON)
That's really interesting. I was just signalling, because I think the members of Parliament who are from the Montreal area need to have this explained to them. Even a best-case scenario would have the restaurant change its name, but you understand a small business person's perspective; they put a lot of investment into the name. They can also use social media to talk about what they're embracing and what they're denouncing. They can do that.
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