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Vancouver member meet-up: Bridging the digital divide

We brought together a panel of experts working to address the gaps in the Canadian internet in Vancouver.
By Erica Howes
Communications Specialist

We brought together a panel of experts working to address the gaps in the Canadian internet in Vancouver.

While Canada prides itself on being a tech hub, and there are many success stories, some Canadians are falling behind.

Last year, CIRA released a report called “The gap between us: Perspectives on building a better online Canada.” We learned that addressing the needs of marginalized or underserved groups remains a key issue, because as our society moves online, everyone should be confident in expressing themselves and participating in the digital world.

So what does improving internet infrastructure, access and digital literacy for Canadians actually look like in action?

On May 30, we brought together a panel of experts working to address these internet issues in Vancouver. We had a full house at this member meet-up at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, with every seat taken and standing room only in the back, so clearly it was an important topic for our members.

“Through CIRA’s Community Investment Program, we support initiatives that bring the internet to Canadians, help them get online, and then make the most of their online experiences,” Byron Holland, CIRA’s president and CEO said as he opened the event.   

Holland moderated the panel and encouraged panelists to share their stories of impact, and share how they’ve seen the Canadian internet gaps in real life.  

“The people we see most days cross all boundaries. We have children, seniors, refugees, people struggling with addiction. We have endless streams of people who don’t have access to a telephone, let alone internet,” said Tracey Axelsson from the Vancouver Community Network. She sees the digital divide between the have and have-nots every day in her community.

The event also featured Scott Jamieson from the Vancouver Internet Exchange, Mark Hosak from the BC Civil Liberties Association and Bradley Shende, from Indigenext.

The commonality in these organizations is the connection to CIRA. Our mission is to build a better online Canada and we have worked with all four organizations as funder, supporter, or partner. 


Which projects in Vancouver are addressing the gaps in the Canadian internet?

From the member meet-up panelists, we learned about four innovative internet projects tackling these issues. 

  1. Vancouver Internet Exchange (VANIX)
    This Internet Exchange Point (IXP) is a hub where independent networks can interconnect directly to one another, providing cheaper, faster and more resilient internet to the Vancouver region that stays in Vancouver.
  2. Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook
    The guide, written by BC Civil Liberties Association, is for people crossing the border into Canada or departing for the United States through preclearance areas in Canada. The handbook is also for non-citizens entering Canada who may be subject to searches.
  3. Indigenext
    This Indigenous Accelerator supports Indigenous businesses. Bradley Shende, a partner in the project, also leads digital literacy programming for kids and said “we want to create young leaders in this space who can leap into the future with the tools and entrepreneurial infrastructure we need to equalize the playing field.”
  4. Street messaging system
    Vancouver Community Network developed a custom web app that sends text alerts about shelter, food, health, and jobs and training opportunities to people experiencing poverty, homeless at-risk youth and adults.

What is CIRA’s role in addressing Canada’s digital divide?

CIRA’s Community Investment Program aims to build a better online Canada by funding internet projects led non-profit organizations like Indigenext, Vancouver Community Network and BC Civil Liberties Association.

To date, CIRA has provided $6.7 million to 151 projects across the country. We recently announced our 2019 grant recipients! They range across Canada and include our first ever projects from New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. Explore our full list of projects here.

Become a member

Stay up to date on how CIRA is giving back to Canada’s internet community and be the first to know about member meet-ups happening in your city. Become a member today.

About the author
Erica Howes

Erica works in corporate communications at CIRA. Her background is in writing and community relations in the non-profit sector. She is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program.