Workshop on Civil Society: Dissent, Democracy, and the Law

“Civil Society: Dissent, Democracy, & the Law” was a one-day workshop hosted by the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism of the Faculty of Law (CHRLP) at  McGill University on October 23, 2013. 

The workshop aimed to create a forum and an opportunity for civil society leaders, practitioners, and members of the academy to discuss, theorize and strategize new and emerging challenges to civil society in Canada and to understand these challenges in a global context. Participants examined emerging norms with respect to an enabling environment and its connection to fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. It also attempted to address these challenges using norms, including through policy and regulatory reform.

The workshop was convened by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Voices-Voix coalition (Voices). The workshop co-chairs were Pearl Eliadis, human rights lawyer, CHRLP member and a member of the Voices Strategy Group, and Julia Sanchez, President-CEO of CCIC and a member of the Voices Strategy Group. The organizers gratefully acknowledge the support of the CHRLP, the Aisenstadt Equality and Community Initiative, and the Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy.

The report examines connections between the recent experiences of those working in Canadian CSOs and the broader societal contexts to help develop responses to the challenges facing civil society in Canada. To do so, the report is divided into three sections:

Part I: “Advocacy and Dissent: Setting the Normative Context,” outlines the international legal, political, and policy context in which Canadian civil society operates. 

Part II: “Articulating the Problem for Advocacy and Dissent in Canada,” captures some of the experiences of CSO leaders in a changing governance environment. This includes a synthesis of significant concerns facing civil society. 

Part III: “Strategic Idea Generation and Action to Support Advocacy and Dissent in Canada,” summarizes participants’ discussions in response to three questions:

  • How do we rate Canada with respect to an “enabling environment”?
  • How might we rethink the charity model for regulating civil society? 
  • How might we reconceptualize the relationship between civil society and the state? 

The conclusion summarizes concrete strategies for action.  

To read the entire report, click on the link below [PDF].

Published: Nov. 21, 2014