Since 2020, In Defence of Democracy has convened a diverse audience that extends across sectors, disciplines, professions and generations to consider a pressing question of our era: How do we inspire renewed civic purpose in Canada?
On Thursday, November 9th, 2023 more than 300 attendees gathered for the third annual In Defence of Democracy live event which was held at Toronto’s historic Winter Garden Theatre. Governor General Mary Simon provided written greetings for the event which featured veteran news anchor and renowned Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme and Nahlah Ayed, host of CBC Radio’s IDEAS discussing the importance of safeguarding democracy in an era of misinformation and increasingly concentrated media ownership.
The event later aired as an episode on CBC Radio’s IDEAS. LaFlamme and Samara Centre CEO, Sabreena Delhon also made a pre-event appearance on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.
Read written greetings from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada
Listen to the 2023 In Defence of Democracy IDEAS episode featuring Lisa LaFlamme in conversation with Nahlah Ayed
The evening began with welcoming remarks from Delhon who highlighted recent research findings from Online Abuse in Local Democracies: The SAMbot Municipal Report. She also announced the creation of the Samara Centre for Democracy Future Fund which will fortify the organization’s efforts to realize a resilient democracy with an engaged public and responsive institutions.
Samara Centre Board Member Zain Velji introduced the evening’s speaker and host. In speaking about LaFlamme, Velji pointed to some of the esteemed journalist’s career highlights including covering global conflict and domestic politics, serving as chief anchor and senior editor of CTV National News for almost 12 years, and becoming Canada’s first female anchor of a national nightly newscast in 2011. Velji remarked on Ayed’s own illustrious journalism career path which included serving as a CBC reporter, first in the Middle East where she covered the region’s many conflicts and later based in London where she covered major stories such as Russia’s annexation from Crimea, and the Brexit vote.
Journalism's Role in Protecting Democracy
Drawing on her more than 35-year journalism career, LaFlamme shared how her perspective covering national and international news events has shaped her perspective on the importance of the press and its direct role in preserving democracy. She described working in regions where democracy is precarious and seeing first-hand what happens when a free press is stifled. LaFlamme and Ayed also addressed the shifting media landscape in Canada, the rise of misinformation, how social media influences news consumption, and how major layoffs in Canada’s journalism industry are having a detrimental impact on local news coverage.
Online Abuse in Canadian Elections
The conversation turned to the issue of democratic backsliding and the rapid and multifaceted way technology is shaping our democracy. Ayed pointed to the Samara Centre’s SAMbot project which measures online abuse received by candidates in Canadian Elections. She cited troubling findings from the 2021 federal election where over 475,000 abusive tweets were sent to tracked candidates with much of this content containing threats or profanity. She and LaFlamme discussed the impact of online toxicity and online abuse on political recruitment, political civility and democracy overall.
The evening concluded with LaFlamme taking pre-submitted questions from the audience and the Samara Centre’s wider community. LaFlamme was asked about her opinions on a range of topics from youth civic engagement to the shift toward authoritarianism that is occurring in countries around the world. The conversation came to a close on an uplifting note, as Ayed and LaFlamme discussed democratic innovations that are igniting public interest in democracy. Here the Samara Centre’s chart-topping Humans of the House podcast was referenced. The show is based on exit interviews with former Members of Parliament and provides listeners with an intimate look into the lived experiences of MPs.
Thanks to our Sponsors and Partners
We are grateful to those who have made this year’s In Defence of Democracy program possible and support our mission to strengthen Canadian democracy. Thank you to our sponsors and partners: Stikeman Elliot, Bennett Jones, the Donner Foundation, Nextdoor, Baylis Medical, Massey Henry and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Faculty of Arts, Ontario Heritage Trust and CBC Radio’s IDEAS.