Citizens’ assemblies: are they the future of democracy?

When Fauzia Bajwa, a retired software developer who lives in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec, received an invitation to participate in something called a citizens’ assembly, her first impulse was to write the letter off as junk mail. It’s a common reaction: most recipients of such a mailing never bother to respond. Then Bajwa looked at it again. The sender was listed as the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression, a non-profit organization that compiles opinion reports to submit to the Canadian government.

Though the mailing’s language was vague – the assembly would be on the subject of so-called “online harms” – Bajwa’s curiosity was piqued. After all, she’d just read a book about online surveillance, and at the time was waking up to a news cycle that seemed to revolve around the tweets of a certain president of the United States.

“I found it quite concerning that people were using what I initially considered to be a very good and useful tool” – the internet – “to put out lies and fake information, so I was already thinking about these issues,” she says. She went online and signed up.

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