On February 27 I attended the CIRA-hosted Canadian Internet Forum. This forum is an annual, national event that involved a physical conference site in Ottawa, and a national webcast. The forum’s laudable objective was to solicit from Canadians “their thoughts on the development, deployment and governance of the Internet in Canada.” The day featured two morning panel discussions with a total of 7 speakers. Topics discussed included the controversial Bill C-30 (the online spying bill), digital intellectual property issues, internet security, government regulation of the internet, net neutrality and other issues that are frankly crucial to the evolution of the internet as a space for citizen engagement, creativity, innovation, communication and democratic values.
Jane Tallim, the Co-Executive Director of the Media Awareness Network spoke on the morning’s first panel. She referred to herself as the only non-dude on that (or any other panel). She was right. She was also one of a smattering of non-dudes in the very large audience. On leaving the women’s washroom during the first break, I overheard two women commenting that at least the dramatic underrepresentation of women at the forum meant there were no line ups for the women’s toilets. (Women’s washrooms are a recurrent theme in histories of exclusion and the politics of equality, so the comment was particularly apt). The panelists were also all white, and it is a safe bet to say that most, if not all, were over 40.
What is one to think about an internet forum that is so overwhelmingly white, male and middle-aged? Where is the real diversity of voices we are told that the internet nurtures and supports? This was both a missed opportunity and a sobering statement on internet governance in Canada.
Teresa Scassa is a Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. She is also the Canada Research Chair in Information Law