New report says federal government “dismantling democracy”

16 June 2015 (Ottawa) — In a hard-hitting report that documents federal government tactics that undermine Canadian democracy, a coalition of citizens’ groups calls for a fundamental shift in actions and attitudes to promote healthy debate, dissent and diversity.

Voices, a volunteer-led coalition of more than 200 citizens’ groups, has developed more than 110 case studies that ‘connect the dots’, showing a pattern of actions by the federal government to silence critics, stifle debate, diminish knowledge, and dodge accountability.

“Increasingly over the past several years we’ve seen a fundamental shift in tone and tactics on the part of the federal government,” said Mary Eberts, human rights lawyer and law professor. “Rather than encourage diverse views and welcome discussion as the best way to develop good public policy, the government has consistently moved to shut down debate and discredit alternative views.”

In its report entitled “Dismantling Democracy: Stifling debate and dissent in Canada”, Voices documents the abuse of parliamentary rules, the intimidation of public servants, and the defunding and intimidation of organizations that hold views at odds with the government.

“From cutting funds for Charter challenges by equality-seeking groups to sidelining and even firing watchdogs to violating the privacy of First Nations advocates, the government has shown contempt for human rights and human rights defenders,” said Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada.

According to Robert Fox, a member of the Voices Steering Committee, “Rather than creating a climate that promotes rights for all, the government has used national security, economic interests and austerity to trample the rights of the most vulnerable and those organizations that work to protect them.”

The report documents where the federal government has gutted the capacity of its own departments and independent agencies to offer information and analysis needed to make sound policy choices. From scuttling the long-form census, to muzzling scientists, to cutting funding for evidence-based advocacy, the report argues that the government has pursued a deliberate strategy to repress alternative views.

“On all the hot-button issues — women’s rights, climate change, First Nations sovereignty, national security — the government has moved to undercut individuals and organizations that hold views different from its own,” says Michel Lambert of the international co-operation organization Alternatives. “First they defund them, then they characterize them as dangerous extremists, and then they move to cut them off from other means of support. As a result, fearful of losing their funding or their charitable status, many organizations have been intimidated into silence.”

Voices is calling on Canadians to press politicians for clear commitments to uphold rights, promote healthy dialogue and strengthen democracy.

“The other political parties say they would not do what the government is doing, but we are concerned that the current state of affairs could become the new normal,” said Joanna Kerr of Greenpeace Canada. “So we are looking for a strong commitment from all parties and all candidates that they will undo these wrongs and restore inclusive, healthy debate, informed by science and evidence, and respectful of the rights of all Canadians. The future of Canada’s democracy is at stake.”

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The report “Dismantling Democracy: Stifling debate and dissent in Canada” can be found at http://voices-voix.ca/dismantlingdemocracy. The individual case studies can also be found at http://voices-voix.ca.

For further information and to arrange interviews with spokespersons for Voices-Voix, contact Tim McSorley at 514-561-9919 or communications@voices-voix.ca