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Twitter trolls stoked debates about immigrants and pipelines in Canada, data show





Twitter trolls linked to suspected foreign influence campaigns stoked controversy over pipelines and immigration in Canada, according to a CBC/Radio-Canada analysis of 9.6 million tweets from accounts since deleted.

Roughly 21,600 tweets from those troll accounts directly targeted Canadians — many of them with messages critical of Canadian pipeline projects and tweets that highlighted divisions over Canada’s policies on immigration and refugees.

The troll accounts, which have since been deleted by Twitter, are suspected of having originated in Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Since 2013, 245 of these accounts retweeted messages from Canadian activists, politicians and media reports about various pipeline issues, from potential environmental impacts to grassroots movements against the projects.

Most of those pipeline tweets were sent on Jan. 24, 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to greenlight the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. Tweets mentioning those pipelines were retweeted some 9,420 times across Canada and the United States.

Although these inauthentic accounts and their tweets are no longer on Twitter, the social media company published them on Feb. 3 as part of its campaign to be more transparent and to combat foreign interference in elections worldwide.

Last year, CBC reported that Russian trolls appeared to be trying to sow division among Canadians by tweeting provocative statements on hot-button issues like refugees and immigration. This new trove of tweets shows a continued campaign originating in different countries.

The 30 most frequent words in 21,600 troll tweets directed at Canadians. The larger the size of the word in the image above, the more often it was used. (Made with

Iranian tweets well-versed in pipeline debate

The trolls appeared well-versed in Canadian debates about pipelines, quoting and retweeting prominent figures. The account of Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema, for instance, was the eighth-most retweeted by trolls. Hudema has been highly critical of Canadian pipeline projects and oilsands developments. The trolls retweeted him 53 times.

CBC News was the account that saw the most troll retweets.

The most retweeted accounts by trolls in Canada


Number of retweets

















Twitter suspended 2,617 accounts that it believes originated in Iran, but it did not link them definitively to the Iranian government. Twitter says it deleted the accounts for participating in “an attempted influence campaign we identified as potentially located within Iran.”

According to scholar and Middle East expert Sami Aoun, Iran has a strategic interest in seeing Canadian and American pipeline projects fail. The regime also has a history of using the internet to spread propaganda, he added.

“The Iranians are trying to short-circuit American sanctions by selling their oil in Asia. To keep a certain advantage in China and India, they might be trying to prevent Canada from developing pipelines that could give the country better access to those markets,” said Aoun, director of the Middle East and North Africa Observatory at Université du Québec à Montréal.

Some of these inauthentic accounts may have had few followers, but their behaviour might indicate that they were trying to shape activist narratives on Twitter, said Kate Starbird, assistant professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington.

Starbird studied online discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016, when it became apparent that Russian troll accounts had managed to infiltrate both sides of the debate and play them against each other.

“Their goal is to integrate into a politically active community, amplify and reflect that behavior back at them and slowly try to shape that behaviour towards things that they’re interested in,” she said. “Not all accounts are going to be successful, but every once in a while, they are.”

Even if the accounts deleted by Twitter generated few retweets in return, they still could have posed an eventual threat, Starbird said. Although researchers had come across some evidence of online meddling years ago, they didn’t realize their importance until the 2016 U.S. election.

“They were probably always important. We just weren’t noticing what’s going on”, she said.

Canadian government tight-lipped on foreign influence campaigns

Alarms were raised last year over troll campaigns to influence Canadians and Americans on pipeline issues. More than 9,000 posts on various social media platforms linked to Russian political meddling were identified by a U.S. House of Representatives review.

This trove of deleted tweets came to light barely a week after the Liberal government put in place a series of measures to counteract foreign influence campaigns targeting Canadian elections.

In anticipation of the October federal election, Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould announced on Jan. 30 the creation of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, made up of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC). The group will be tasked with monitoring foreign influence threats online.

“While social media and digital platforms create forums that allow Canadians to engage in a dialogue about important issues, they also have a record of being manipulated to spread disinformation, create confusion and exploit existing societal tensions,” said Amy Butcher, a spokesperson for Gould. “We expect [social media] companies to take concrete actions to combat manipulation.”

Last year, the CSE produced an overview of potential cyber threats to the Canadian democratic process. It included bot networks and social media influence campaigns by foreign powers in its list of threats.

Reached for comment about this latest trove of tweets, a CSE spokesperson said it “cannot comment on specific threat actors, their activities or any of CSE’s operational work.”

Starbird puts the threat of online political meddling bluntly: “I assume that if you’re a person on this planet and you spend time online, you’re going to come across influence operations that are happening right now,” she said.

Russian trolls boosted immigration fears

Alongside the possible Iranian influence campaign, a slew of inauthentic Russian accounts also tried to target Canadians with messages stoking immigration fears and conspiracy theories.

Many of these tweets reacted to major news events, such as the Quebec City mosque shooting and the travel ban on Muslim countries enacted by Donald Trump.

The chart below shows the daily volume of troll tweets by topic. The peaks coincide with major events.

(CBC News Graphics)

In most cases, the same tweet — often copied from a non-troll account — was amplified across the troll network. These tweets, for example, were sent out repeatedly on the dates indicated:

Sept 9, 2015: Now Is the Time for Blame: #Alyan & the Myth of a ‘Generous’ #Canada! #RefugeesCrisis #Refugees

Jan. 28, 2017: Canada Wants to Take Unvetted Muslim “Refugees” Detained at U.S. Airports

July 15, 2017: Globalist Trudeau Demands Americans Dump Borders and “America First” Slogan

Suspected automated Russian accounts also retweeted messages from at least 24 different seemingly Canadian accounts promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. This baseless conspiracy theory claims that a high-ranking member of President Trump’s administration — known only as ‘Q’ — is secretly leaking information on the anonymous 8chan message board.

‘Q’ insisted in October 2017 that former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had been extradited and would soon face a military tribunal. ‘Q’ also claims that Trump is on the cusp of triggering ‘The Storm’ — a far-reaching takeover of the U.S. government to expel “deep state” enemies of the administration. After some 2,600 ‘Q’ posts, none of its predictions have materialized.

Some examples of tweets promoting the conspiracy:

Jan 16, 2018: RT @safety_canada7: #QAnon #TheStorm #FollowTheWhiteRabbit

April 24th, 2018: RT @Awakentothyself: #QAnon #FakeNews #SaveOntario #TreasonousTrudeau Look how corrupt our government is.

May 27th, 2018: RT @breezing_in: #MakeItRain #QAnon #HumanTrafficking #TrudeauMustGo #TrudeauForTreason #SaveCanada #Cdnpoli


CBC downloaded and analyzed 9.6 million tweets released by Twitter on this page.

To isolate tweets targeting Canadians, the CBC searched the tweets for 67 keywords, including the names of public figures (Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, Ezra Levant), places (Toronto, Alberta) and organizations (Kinder Morgan, CBC, NDP), as well as popular hashtags like #cdnpoli, #onpoli, and #polqc.

These do not necessarily include all the tweets about Canada, while some U.S.-specific tweets may have been included in the search.

The code used to analyze the tweets can be found on GitHub.


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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa





Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa





In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan





As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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