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      Defend Our Human and Democratic Rights: Oppose Bill C-51!

      By Thomas Davies

      What do Canadian Mennonite, the Afghan Association of Ontario, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, First Nations Child and Caring Society and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation all have in common? They are all organizations on a list compiled by the coalition, “Voices/Voix” that details, “more than 100 cases of individuals, organizations and public service institutions that have been muzzled, defunded, shut down or subjected to vilification” by the Conservative government of Canada.

      They are also currently in the process of documenting a dozen more cases. Given the Harper Conservative government’s recent imposition of Bill C-51, more popularly known as the “Secret Police Bill”, its clear that the coalition could be very busy in the coming years if things continue down the same path. It's also clear that Bill C-51 is not just an isolated and misguided law, but part of an overall effort by the Conservative government to criminalize opposition to its policies as it continues to prioritize war, occupation, austerity program and corporate profits at the expense of healthcare, education and the overall living standards of poor and working people in Canada.

      Bill C-51 – Opposition Continues

      “An Open Letter from Artists Against Bill C-51” , which was spearheaded by prominent author Margaret Atwood and signed by more than 200 well known artists, summarizes Bill C-51 this way, “This bill was rammed through Parliament by the Harper Conservative government, despite a huge public outcry and without due consultation. As many experts have pointed out, this bill allows the government to silence dissenting voices without oversight or accountability. It criminalizes ‘advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general,’ which, because of this vague wording, could be interpreted in some very stupid ways. In effect, it gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like.”

      Every monthly issue of Fire This Time since Bill C-51 was introduced on January 30, 2015 has contained an article detailing both the abuses and broader implications of Bill C-51, as well as the growing movement opposing it backed by a consensus among virtually every major legal, human rights and civil liberties organization which looked at the Bill. Eight months and over 15,000 words later and there has never been a shortage of material!

      Bill C-24 – Another Prong of the Attack on Our Rights

      The Conservative government has continued to say it wont abuse the vast new powers it has granted itself with Bill C-51, but there is nothing to substantiate this claim. They also passed Bill C-24 last year, which gave them the ability to revoke the Canadian citizenship of anyone convicted of terrorism who has the possibility of dual citizenship. They have wasted no time in starting the process of revoking the citizenship of 10 people. This includes Canadian- born Saad Gaya, who they claim can be deported to Pakistan despite not being a citizen of that country - because his parents emigrated from there more than 30 years ago!

      Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor, made a simple observation, “Either you believe in the rule of law in this country, or you don’t. One Canadian citizen committing the same crime should be treated the same as any other citizen, not subject to a different sort of justice if they had a parent or grandparent born someplace else.’’

      BC Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Patterson also commented, “There are now millions of Canadians whose rights are worth less than others’, whose rights can be taken away more easily than others. The only distinction between them and others is where their families came from. That is the very definition of inequality. It bakes discrimination into the law; it’s the very opposite of people being equal before the law.” The BCCLA and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) are launching a formal constitutional challenge of the law on the grounds that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      Separately, Bill C-51 and Bill C-24 are dangerous enough, but together they blow the door wide open to abuse. Think about it. The Conservative government has just made the definition of terrorism so vague and so broad that basically anyone could be targeted by it, and now millions more people face the possibility of deportation if targeted in this way!

      Pattern of Abuse The Voice/Voix coalition has been so effective in documenting government abuses, that it has now been accused of “supporting a terrorist organization” by Stephen Blaney, the same Minister of Public Safety, who introduced Bill C-51. Spending time on their website (www.voices-voix.ca) one gets a sense of how consistent and ongoing the Canadian governments efforts to dismantle freedom of speech and construct walls of fear in Canada. The categories of the website include the tactics the government uses:
      Charitable status attacked/revoked, Defunding, Fired or forced resignation, Harassment/Privacy violation, Information Withholding, Interference with independent institutions, Surveillance, Vilification/Smearing As well as the general categories of organizations and individuals targeted: Aboriginal peoples, Academia, Environment, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Immigrants and Refugees, International Development, Labour movement, Military and Veterans, National security, Palestinian Human Rights, Think tanks, Watchdogs, Women, Youth.
      The onslaught has been comprehensive!

      In 2012, David Suzuki, well established scientist and activist resigned from the organization bearing his name after the government began targeting non-profit organizations, especially environmental organizations critical of new resource extractions projects, for engaging in “political activity”. They were all threatened that their charitable status would be revoked. The Conservatives also allocated an 8 million dollar increase to supervision of charities. Mr Suzuki released a statement at the time which said, “I want to speak freely without fear that my words will be deemed too political, and harm the organization of which I am so proud. I am keenly aware that some governments, industries and special interest groups are working hard to silence us...This bullying demonstrates how important it is to speak out.”

      When someone as well known as David Suzuki is forced to resign from his own organization, you know things are getting bad! Even worse is the fact that this doesn’t seem to have stopped the targeting of the foundation, which has now been audited 3 times at a cost of approximately $100,000 per audit. “There’s been a huge chill across the environmental sector because of the threat. The cost of a single audit is huge, and for a lot of organizations it’s almost crippling,” Suzuki said in a recent interview.

      The War at Home and Abroad are Always Linked There has been no major war, occupation or threat since September 11, 2001 that Canada has not participated in. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Ukraine and Syria...the list keeps growing. The occupation of Afghanistan cost the lives of 158 soldiers and over 18 billion dollars between 2001 and 2012. Now the government is estimating that its military exploits in Iraq and Syria will cost over half a billion dollars by next year.

      While the costs of war skyrocket, try this experiment: Try and find even one teacher, nurse, doctor, social worker - anyone on the frontlines of providing healthcare, education and social services in Canada – who would tell you that they aren’t facing constant cutbacks. Find even one who would say that they are provided the resources they need to able to provide the quality of work they are capable of, and the quality of care required to build a healthy, dignified and educated society. In fact, try and find anyone in Canada who would tell you that healthcare and education are better now than 2001. They have been gutted! Meanwhile, Canada is among the worst countries in the developed world in terms of the widening income gap between the super rich and the rest of society, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). They also went further, “The point of the whole commentary is that it is not just about income [inequality]... It is about income, yes, but it is about health, education, job opportunities. It’s really about inequalities, plural, ” said OECD Secretary- General Angel Gurria.

      Trying to Divert and Divide

      With one hand the Conservative government slashes social programs and attacks poor and working people, and with the other points in the other direction and distract us. They constantly associate Muslims with terrorism and impending threats against Canada. 3 people have died from terrorist attacks in Canada in the last 20 years, and they sound the red alarm and start referring to supposed “jahadi terrorist tentacles” encircling the country. They have recently proposed a new hotline for people to call in and report “Barbaric Cultural Practices” and defend women and children, but purposely ignored years of calls for an independent investigation into over 1200 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. A women is killed on average every six days in Canada by a current or former spouse or boyfriend, yet the Conservative government closed 12 out of 16 Status of Women Offices and mandated that the organization could not fund the work of organizations when it relates to advocacy, lobbying or general research on women’s rights issues. So who is really the threat to women’s rights in Canada?

      We are the Majority – Let’s Act Like It!

      It’s important to take some time and get past the hysteria and the headlines of the Conservative government and get back to the basics. Life is getting worse for the majority of people living in Canada. This is not because we are being attacked by Muslim extremists and not because we deserve to be sick or unemployed. It is getting worse because the Harper Conservative government is taking our tax dollars and pumping them into missile purchases and tax breaks for the super wealthy, while cutting everything else necessary to maintain a healthy society. It is getting worse because the Conservative government does not represent the interests of the vast majority of people living in Canada. They are fully aware of this, but want to make sure we remain divided and unable to organize to defend our rights and lives against their attacks. Bill C-51, and every other anti-human measure taken to limit our rights before that, are meant to create fear, division and weakness. The good news is that they wouldn’t be focusing so much on taking away our rights if they weren’t afraid of what happens when we use them. We need to continue to build on the impressive organizing against Bill C-51 so far, with the knowledge that when we work together we can defend and extend the rights of all poor and working people.
      We are the majority, let’s act like it!

      Over 200 Canadian Artists Sign Open Letter Opposing Bill C-51

      September 29, 2015

      Dear Party Leaders,
      We are Canadian artists. We have been blessed to be part of a country that does not send poets to gulags, that does not behead people for saying things a government considers critical of it, and that does not murder dissidents and journalists wholesale.

      But we know that totalitarian and repressive regimes always try to shut down artists, along with any other independent voices. We are alert to the possibilities: we, and all who wish a free and open society, must strongly oppose such tendencies when they arise.

      Bill C-51 directly attacks the creative arts and free expression in this country.

      This bill was rammed through Parliament by the Harper Conservative government, despite a huge public outcry and without due consultation. As many experts have pointed out, this bill allows the government to silence dissenting voices without oversight or accountability. It criminalizes “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general,” which, because of this vague wording, could be interpreted in some very stupid ways. In effect, it gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like.

      Is it promoting terrorism if we:
      •write a spy novel about an assassination plot?
      •record a song questioning our government’s agenda?
      •paint a mural about the conflict in Syria?>
      •produce a documentary on security threats in Canada?
      •put on an art show critical of the oil sands?
      •make a film with an environmental theme?

      Creativity, expression, opinion, and art are not the same as terrorist propaganda. Through its “chill” effect, C-51 undermines one of the chief freedoms of a democratic society: the right of every Canadian to free speech and free expression, including free artistic expression.

      In addition, Bill C-51, because of the lack of oversight and accountability, is an invitation to intellectual property theft. All creative classes, including entrepreneurs and digital creators, are threatened by it. And every citizen is subject to blackmail, due to unlimited, unaccountable access to personal information.

      We agree with the almost 300,000 Canadians who have called on the government to scrap this reckless, dangerous and ineffective legislation through the petition at http://KillC51.ca.

      This election we will be voting to protect our artistry, our rights, and our freedoms: we will be voting for the repeal of C-51. We hope you will join us in ensuring that all Canadians are no longer subject to the chilling effects of C-51 and targeted by government censorship. We can defend against terrorists in much better ways than this.

      Margaret Atwood, Author and more than 200 artists in Canada.

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