Canadians speak out for dissent and democracy

May 14, 2016 (Ottawa) – A coalition of Canadian organizations is calling on the federal government to take immediate, concrete action to uphold free expression, protect dissent and strengthen democratic rights in the country.

“The past decade has shown we cannot be complacent in protecting our fundamental rights of free expression and assembly,” said Tim McSorley of the Voices Coalition, which launched the call to action. “While we have been encouraged by some of the government’s recent announcements, much remains to be done to ensure that these rights are protected in the future.”

The Voices Declaration, released today, is already endorsed by 200 individuals and 25 organizations, including Amnesty International Canada (Anglophone & Francophone branches), the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canada Without Poverty, Greenpeace Canada, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring group, Environmental Defense, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, and the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).

It lays out immediate actions the government must take to protect rights and promote a healthy environment for debate, dissent, diversity and democracy in Canada. This includes:

  • Restoring funding to groups who faced partisan attacks under previous governments; including women, racialized people, people with disabilities, LGBTQ communities, Muslim communities, Indigenous communities and people living in poverty;
  • Establishing stronger protection for government whistleblowers;
  • Improving Access to Information laws;
  • Reviewing and repealing national security legislation that violates Charter rights; and
  • Ending the criminalization of Indigenous activists.

The full declaration is available here: http://voices-voix.ca/en/declaration-2016

“We have seen how easy it is for our government to dismiss, vilify, defund and stymie individuals and organizations who simply dare to voice their opposition to government policy,” said Pearl Eliadis, a member of the Voices Strategy Group. Over the past six years, Voices has published more than 120 case studies on instances of government attacks on dissent and debate. “Today, we are coming together to lay out the steps the government must take so this never happens again.”

Today’s release coincides with the Global Day for Citizen Action, organized by the CIVICUS World Alliance and with over 100 other groups organizing events worldwide to promote the protection of civic rights. “Canadians are not alone in this battle to protect fundamental freedoms,” said Julia Sanchez, President-CEO of the Canadian Council on International Cooperation, a member of the Voices Strategy Group and CIVICUS board member.  “The Canadian government is working on improving its respect for human rights internationally, but we need to lead by example. These rights must be robustly respected at home so that the government can vigorously promote them abroad.”

When Voices was founded in 2010, the coalition published an initial declaration, which warned at the time: “Canadian democratic institutions, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders have been weakened, marginalized and silenced,” and that, “The quality and health of democratic life in Canada is under serious threat.”

“The political climate has changed in Canada and we now look to the government to engage with Indigenous peoples organizations, civil society and the public at large to address these concerns,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada and a member of the Voices Strategy Group. “Now is the time to shape the reform agenda needed to ensure key human rights that are at the heart of expressing dissent, accessing information and participating fully in democratic debate are secure and not vulnerable to political change.”

Organizations and the public are being invited to sign on to the declaration and send letters to their MPs by visiting www.voices-voix.ca.

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Contact:

Tim McSorley

514-561-9919