Calgary

Critics say concerns go unheard after Alberta politicians block them on social media

Allison Dakin was one of thousands of Albertans who tuned in to Facebook to watch a big announcement from Premier Jason Kenney. She was kicked off the broadcast — and when she refreshed, she found her comment missing.

Legal expert says whether politicians can block critics is a common question with no precedent in Canada

Allison Dakin says she was muted from commenting during Premier Jason Kenney's Facebook livestream on Saturday. After voicing her concern online, she heard from dozens of others who had also been blocked or muted. (Submitted)

Allison Dakin was one of thousands of Albertans who tuned in to a Facebook livestream on Saturday to watch a big announcement from Premier Jason Kenney.

The premier announced the creation of a panel that would, among other things, study whether or not Alberta should withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and create its own police force.

Dakin wasn't a fan of those suggestions, so she took to her keyboard to weigh in, typing, "I don't want this. I do not want you in control of our CPP and our police force."

She was almost immediately kicked out of the broadcast — and when she refreshed, she found her comment missing and she was unable to post it again. 

Dakin wrote on Twitter that she believed she had been muted from expressing dissenting opinions, and she received dozens of responses saying she wasn't alone. After her Twitter post, she was told by a government spokesperson her account was unmuted from the premier's page and that it shouldn't have been muted in the first place.

Annette Diemert was one of those who responded to Dakin.

I am really angry. Our elected representatives have an obligation to listen.— Annette Diemert

She said she remains blocked from Facebook and Twitter accounts of multiple UCP MLAs — including her own MLA, Grant Hunter — and she can't figure out why.

She recently discovered she was blocked from Hunter's Facebook when she went to look if the associate minister of red tape reduction would be hosting any town halls — and realized she couldn't message him.

CBC News has reached out to Kenney's and Hunter's offices to ask why Albertans were blocked.

So far, just Hunter's office has responded, issuing this statement:

"If a person comments on the Associate Minister's page with offensive or abusive language they may get blocked. If an account was blocked in error, we will correct it."

Diemert says blocking the comments was improper.

"I am really angry. Our elected representatives have an obligation to listen to and represent every Albertan in their constituency, not just the ones that agree with them," she said.

"We don't feel like we're being heard, and it isn't because we're threatening or we're vulgar or anything like that. It's because we raised questions and we'd like our questions answered," Diemert said.

No legal precedent

John Gregory is a retired Ontario lawyer who worked for decades in policy development for the province's Ministry of the Attorney General.

He said as far as he knows, there's been no judicial decision in Canada over whether politicians can legally block critics online.

"Certainly, there is case law in the United States because President Trump is a fanatic Twitter user and he blocked some people and they got a court to rule — at an appellate court of appeal level even — saying you can't do that, because his Twitter feed is a public forum, and you can't keep members of the public out of a public forum. But Canada does not have a public forum doctrine … of the same sort," he said.

The closest Canada has come to a similar decision was last year, when Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson faced a legal challenge by three individuals whom he blocked on Twitter. 

The challenge didn't proceed because Watson publicly conceded that his Twitter is used as part of his duties as mayor. He soon unblocked the three applicants.

One Calgary MP, Michelle Rempel, is so well known for her office's propensity to block unwanted messages online, she's even sparked the #BlockedByRempel hashtag.

Her office's Twitter management policy is posted in a flowchart on her website, outlining the steps that lead to an account being blocked.

Gregory said the right of freedom of speech doesn't mean social media users are owed a platform to speak to anyone, at anytime they'd like. But he did say there could be concern if the block prevents citizens from seeing government communication.

"I think there just isn't law on this and yes, sooner or later somebody will care enough and have the money and the legal help to get a ruling on it," Gregory said.

He added that nobody, not even elected officials, should have to suffer abusive or threatening messages. But both Diemert and Dakin's messages don't fall anywhere near that camp.

Dakin said even though she was unmuted she still has concerns, especially because she doesn't know why her comment was deleted in the first place.

"I have mixed feelings. I'm glad that I was reinstated and so were others. My comments were put back, but I also feel like in the moment during the livestream when all eyes were on, it was made to look like all Albertans agreed and all Albertans were supportive of the new platform and direction," she said. 

"[Kenney] said he was looking for the feedback of Albertans but then Albertans that spoke out against the ideas in this new platform were deleted."

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca.

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