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Declaration of the Voices-Voix Coalition
Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights. It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights. The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled.
Organizations that disagree with the Government’s positions and/or engage in advocacy have had their mandates criticised and their funding threatened, reduced or discontinued. In many cases these organizations have a long history of service to the public, such as KAIROS, MATCH International, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Alternatives, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Climate Action Network, the National Association of Women and the Law and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. The Court Challenges Program, which funded many human-rights cases, has had its mandate drastically reduced. The Women’s Program at Status of Women Canada now effectively excludes many women’s groups that conduct research and work to advance women’s equality and participation in society.
Individuals have been personally sanctioned in response to their efforts to defend democratic and human rights principles. Linda Keen, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and three managers from the highly respected organization Rights and Democracy have all been summarily dismissed. Peter Tinsley, Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, was not renewed in his position. Diplomat Richard Colvin was intimidated and derided for his parliamentary testimony about the torture of Afghan detainees handed over by the Canadian military. Partisan appointments to the board of directors of Rights and Democracy resulted in the resignation of internationally renowned board members and have thrown the organization into crisis.
Further, an unprecedented level of secrecy now shrouds a long list of government activities and decisions, making it increasingly difficult for the public to hold the government accountable across a range of fundamentally important issues. Robert Marleau, the Federal Information Commissioner, has reported that access to information regarding government action has been restricted. Diplomats, leaders of governmental agencies, public officials, senior military officers, and scientists at Environment Canada are being pressured to obey a law of silence and censored from communicating to the Canadian public.
The Government has eroded freedom of the press by exercising central control of the information available to journalists. It abused the right to prorogue Parliament in order to avoid serious allegations that the Canadian military has been complicit in the torture of Afghan detainees.
The Government has taken positions domestically and within such key international bodies as the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council that undermine essential human rights, environmental and other global principles. The government’s actions have set back or weakened crucial international human rights initiatives such as global protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples, a worldwide moratorium on executions, more effective protection of human rights in the Middle East, protection against torture, the rights of gays and lesbians, the rights of women, and the rights of children. Among many distressing examples, since the Supreme Court of Canada found that Canada is responsible for continuing violations of Omar Khadr’s human rights, the government’s response has been grossly inadequate and a source of shame on the world stage.
In this context, Canadian democratic institutions, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders have been weakened, marginalized and silenced. Their capacity to monitor and safeguard the respect for democracy, free speech, and other rights is in jeopardy. The quality and health of democratic life in Canada is under serious threat.
United, we call upon the Government of Canada to:
1. Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression
- Cease to deliberately target those who speak out against government policies with the use of smear campaigns, dismissal from employment, funding cuts, blatant and subtle threats, regulations designed to obfuscate and prevent public debate, and other acts of bad faith.
- Commit to parliamentary hearings that address widespread concerns about the loss of democratic space in Canada.
2. Act in accordance with Canada’s democratic traditions and values
- Actively promote and support political diversity and public debate, instead of avoiding it.
- Recognize and respect the vital role, expertise, and necessary independence of civil society organizations.
3. Be transparent
- Demonstrate full respect for and accountability to the Parliament of Canada and the Canadian People.
- Allow complete access for Canadians to information regarding public policy decisions.
- Base funding decisions for government and civil society organizations on fair standards and democratic principles, instead of partisan agendas.