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Canada’s refusal to bid for the Internet Governance Forum 2024: a missed opportunity for the country and global civil society

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays a vital role in shaping the future of the internet, fostering international cooperation, and addressing the various challenges that arise in the digital age. In recent months, many Canadians organizations were having high hopes of hosting the IGF in Montreal in 2024. Led by eQualitie, envisioning it as a chance to showcase the nation’s commitment to an open and inclusive internet, these organizations campaigned tirelessly to convince the Canadian government to bid. However, the news that Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, will be hosting the IGF 2024 came as a disappointment to many.

Montreal as host for IGF 2024

Canada is known for its strong stance on human rights, freedom of expression, and internet governance. It has actively participated in the IGF since its inception in 2006, advocating for an open, secure, and accessible internet. Several dozen Canadian organizations, including civil society groups, academia, and industry players, saw the IGF 2024 as an opportunity to reinforce these principles on a global stage.

The campaign to host the IGF 2024 in Montreal was grounded in the belief that the nation’s values aligned closely with the goals of the forum. Canada’s commitment to digital inclusivity, multistakeholder collaboration, and innovation were touted as strong reasons for choosing the country as the host. Moreover, the project emphasized Canada’s dedication to promoting a free and open internet where human rights are respected and protected.

Missed Opportunities for Canada

Montreal’s proposal for the IGF 2024 represented an opportunity to promote its values and leadership in internet governance. By hosting the event, Canada could have set an example for the world, showcasing its commitment to a free, open, and inclusive internet. Moreover, the IGF provides a platform for nations to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society, industry, and academia, to address the most pressing issues in internet governance. Canada could have used this opportunity to facilitate meaningful discussions and drive concrete actions on topics like digital accessibility, cybersecurity, and the impact of emerging technologies.

Canada’s Struggles with Big Tech and the Online News Act (Bill C-18)

In addition, Canada has been facing challenges in its relationship with big tech companies. The adoption of Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, has sparked significant debate. This legislation requires companies to sign agreements with Canadian media organizations and pay for showing links to news content. While the intent behind the bill is to support the struggling news industry, it has raised concerns about potential impacts on free expression and the open internet.

The IGF 2024 in Canada could have been a unique opportunity for the nation to engage with other governments interested in a similar approach to regulating big tech and supporting the media industry. By hosting the event, Canada could have forged alliances and shared insights with like-minded nations, potentially shaping international discussions on the role of technology companies in supporting journalism and ensuring a diverse and informed public.

Canada’s bid to host the Internet Governance Forum in 2024 was a missed opportunity to showcase its commitment to an open, inclusive, and rights-respecting internet and to connect with governments interested in similar regulatory approaches. While Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, will undoubtedly bring its unique perspective to the event, it also raises concerns about the forum’s ability to maintain its principles of open dialogue and collaboration with civil society. As the IGF 2024 unfolds in Riyadh, the world will be watching closely to see how it navigates the challenges and opportunities of internet governance in the digital age.

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