Elections watchdog says it should be illegal to spread misinformation about voting | CBC News

Canada’s chief electoral officer has issued a report calling for legislative changes to make it illegal to spread disinformation about elections and voting.

Stéphane Perrault’s report on the last two elections calls for an amendment to the Canada Elections Act to make it illegal to spread information that disrupts an election or undermines its legitimacy.

Specifically, Perrault wants legislative changes to “prohibit a person or entity, including foreign persons and entities, from knowingly making false statements about the voting process, including about voting and counting procedures, in order to disrupt the conduct of the election or to undermine the legitimacy of the election or its results.”

The report is not calling for the policing of policy messages from candidates or parties. It says action must be taken now because the continued spread of disinformation could “jeopardize trust in the entire electoral system on which democracies rest.”

The report also calls on online platforms to publish policies that explain how they will address the spread of disinformation “that inaccurately depicts election-related procedures during the election period.”

The report also calls for stronger transparency in political messages from parties, candidates and third parties.

The report argues that there are drawbacks to regulating only those messages defined as advertising when social media and other online platforms are able to spread political messages that do not meet that definition.

Controlling disinformation

Perrault said he wants the rule that requires ads by political actors to identify who authorized the message to be simplified and extended to text messages, YouTube videos and other social media messages that may now be spread anonymously.

The report calls for all political messages to disclose their authors and tell voters how they can get more information about those behind the messages.

The report said websites operated by political entities — such as political parties, candidates and third parties — would be more transparent if they were required to link to a searchable registry of paid digital communications.

Extending writ period

In order to ensure that foreign entities are not funding third-party advertisers in an election, Perrault’s report says that any third party that claims to be self-funded should prove that it gets no more than 10 per cent of its funding from donations.

The report also calls for the regulation of “issue-based” communications that do not name a party or candidate but “can reasonably be seen as having the purpose of promoting or opposing a party or candidate during the election and pre-election periods.”

The report also calls for a number of other changes, including:

  • Allowing candidates to register earlier to permit Elections Canada to better manage its communications regulations.
  • Enhancing the protection of voters’ personal information by granting them the right to opt out of receiving electoral communications.
  • Extending the minimum number of days in a non-fixed election from 36 to 44 days to allow Elections Canada to reduce the number of late ballots.
  • Allowing voters to register for a special ballot 45 days before voting day.
  • Permitting special ballots to be marked with just a political party name rather than a candidate name.
  • Requiring the head of Elections Canada to recommend an election date that does not interfere with religious or cultural days of significance.

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