Canada: Canadian Developments In AI And Technology: Ethical Considerations For Innovators

Last Updated: August 6 2018
Article by CyberLex Blog, Carole J. Piovesan, Ana Badour, Shane Lamond and Paulina Bogdanova

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2018

The ethics of transformative technologies is becoming an important focus. Canadian researchers, developers and early-adopters can now look to a series of documents and initiatives at home to guide regulatory and ethical decision-making, especially around the ethics of data use. The regulatory landscape with regards to data and privacy is under consideration.

In March 2018, CyberLex published a five-part blog series on a recent report tabled by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics entitled "Towards Privacy by Design: Review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act".

Earlier this month, CyberLex published a blog post in which we discussed some of the major trends in ethics and AI in Europe and the UK.

Concentration on ethics is not unique to Canada, however. France, the UK, and the European Commission have all recently invested in AI ethics, galvanizing a global discussion about the ethical guardrails around transformative technologies.

Tech for Good Declaration (or the Toronto Declaration)

In May 2018, technology leaders from around the world convened for the True North Conference in Waterloo, Ontario, bringing together private and public sector representatives, academia, and startups in the tech space to produce Tech for Good: A Declaration by the Canadian Tech Community, known as the Tech for Good Declaration or the Toronto Declaration.

The Tech for Good Declaration has been billed as a living document to create ongoing dialogue between all Canadians. It invites people to contribute by providing their contact details and any suggestions. The Tech for Good Declaration proposes a set of guiding principles which organisations and individuals can follow in order to create and use technology for the good of humanity and the planet. The principles include building trust and respect for a stakeholder's data, transparency, leaving no one behind, inclusivity, and collaborative governance. The Tech for Good Declaration also offers to continue the discussion by seeking answers to questions on a broad range of topics. There is a focus on managing data respectfully and on obtaining informed consent from individuals using technology. Ethics is explicitly referred to as forming part of members' ethos. Adopters of the Tech for Good Declaration commit to consider the broader social contexts of their products and services in all development and use of technology.

Montreal Declaration

Another source of guidance is the Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence: a participatory process (the "Montreal Declaration"). Revealed in November 2017 by the Université de Montréal, the Montreal Declaration aims to spark public discourse and encourage a perception that the development of AI should be accessible and ultimately beneficial to all.

Currently in its first phase, the Montréal Declaration is seeking input from the community on seven identified values: well-being, autonomy, justice, privacy, knowledge, democracy, and responsibility. The privacy value is particularly focused on the use of personal data and asks the community to answer questions such as who owns data and how personal privacy can be respected. The Montreal Declaration proposes that the development of AI should offer guarantees respecting personal privacy and allow people to access their personal data as well as the kinds of data that any algorithm might use.

NRCC Advisory Statement

Canadian researchers specifically can also look to the Advisory Statement on Human Ethics in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Research (the "Advisory Statement") prepared by the National Research Council Canada ("NRCC"). The NRCC is the primary national research and technology organisation of the Government of Canada in science, technology, research and development. The Advisory Statement reflects the NRCC's ongoing concern for the respect of human dignity in all research using human participants and provides ethical guidance on data use and obtaining consent from participants in the context of deep learning and artificial intelligence. The Advisory Statement emphasises:

  • The protection of privacy and personal information;
  • Ensuring discrete and authentic consent of human participants in research and/or their data; and
  • Preserving human and legal rights with a particular emphasis on preserving basic human rights and legal recourse in the event of research-related harm, and the rights of Indigenous People, children, and other vulnerable individuals.

Annex B: G7 Innovation Ministers' Statement on Artificial Intelligence

As evidence of international and domestic commitment to ethics at the heart of technology and AI, G7 leaders are expected to discuss national approaches to AI at the upcoming meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec. The G7 Innovation Ministers have already committed to Annex B: G7 Innovation Ministers' Statement on Artificial Intelligence, which is emphasising a human-centric AI by, amongst other things, researching the ethical considerations of AI and its development.


The pace of technological innovation in AI has increased tremendously in the last five years. The publications noted in this article indicate that amid rapid developments, several organizations have paused to reflect upon the broader ethical implications of AI. These publications seem aimed to prompt dialogue between actors in the private and public sectors, academia, and the community at large. In doing so, they promote Canada's role as a hub of AI research, development, and entrepreneurship by encouraging collaboration and a thoughtful approach to innovation.

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