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The Now-Wired North: Governing in Connected Canada

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Canada is a huge country, and with that size comes the major task of getting the populace connected. What is the Canadian government doing to get its population connected, and how is it handling its now-wired status?

The Canadian Government has been doing a fairly good job of getting its population online. According to Internet live stats, Canada has an internet penetration of 88.5 percent, among the highest rates in the world. This is because  Canada’s population is low but tends to be clustered in a few areas, making connecting those areas easier.

In a world where courts in Vancouver can contract Fort Lauderdale court reporters, ensuring access to the internet is more important than ever for governments and their citizens. However, though internet penetration is high in Canada, connecting that last 11.5 percent of the population will probably be difficult. It is a manifestation of the so-called “last mile” problem. It may be easy to run a fiber-optic cable from Halifax to the center of a town 50 miles away. But getting the internet from the town center to all of the houses in a 10-block radius is a more difficult task. To take a real example from the same province, Nova Scotia’s government recently announced that they would be spending $120 million on internet access in rural communities, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Service. Though that is a hefty price tag, the expansion will still take 10 years, and still won’t cover the entire province. The high-price/low-coverage conundrum is especially germane to Canadian First Nations communities, which are often rural and don’t have the resources of other, richer provinces.

Groups such as The Internet Society have suggested building community networks, owned and operated by local communities rather than for-profit providers, as a means to overcome the so-called “digital divide.” Canada’s House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology recently released a report called “Broadband Connectivity in Rural Canada: Overcoming the Digital Divide.” Although the report makes a similar call for supporting small and community-based providers, the Canadian government has yet to make a decisive move to support smaller providers in rural provinces since that report was issued.

That said, Canadian provinces are leading the way when it comes to recognizing contemporary issues such as cyber-bullying. Nova Scotia’s Cyber Safety Act, which was written to “address and prevent cyber-bullying,” lays out specific punishments and fines for those who engage in cyber-bullying. Going a step beyond the strictly punitive, the Cyber Safety Act also lays out steps to encourage schools to “cooperate with Government departments and agencies to promote and encourage safe and respectful electronic communications.”

Part of these changes coincide with how Canadian law as a whole recognizes psychological injuries. In a recent case brought before the Canadian Supreme court, a client of Preszler Law, one of several law firms Halifax, was awarded compensation for psychological injuries after a car accident. The effect of the case in the courts has been to encourage judges to recognize individuals who had suffered psychological injuries in accidents just as they would recognize individuals who had suffered physical injuries. The claimants may be eligible for financial compensation as if they were physically hurt. In other words, Canadian internet law and governance is changing in response to a more connected world, but the world is also changing in response to the laws. Government and society are symbiotic. Neither has complete power over the other, but each respond to the other’s trends.