Black Out, Speak Out

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SYC and Sierra Club Canada staff on Parliament Hill today for the Black Out Speak Out event

Today is Black Out Speak Out (Silence on parle) day in Canada, and the Sierra Youth Coalition website is down for the day. This isn’t due to technical difficulties (even if it does look like a site maintenance page right now), this was done to help make a statement.

The Black Out Speak Out campaign is modelled after the stop SOPA and PIPA campaign that took place earlier this year. In January, websites around the world went offline to show solidarity with those that would be affected by legislation in the United States that was seen by many to be interfering with freedom of speech. Right now in Canada, we are dealing with some similar issues. Instead of dealing with the supposed prevention of online piracy, the bill we are protesting against, Bill C-38 (the budget implementation act for 2012), proposes the systematic dismantling of fundamental environmental legislation in Canada. It cuts money from government departments that help protect the environment and simultaneously increases the amount of money available to audit charities to ensure “compliance.” Several very public statements by prominent Cabinet Ministers, MPs and Senators imply that these funds will be directed almost exclusively towards auditing environmental groups.

On the surface, these look like different things. The underlying issues, however, are pretty much the same. SOPA and PIPA were proposed legislation that made sweeping changes with limited consultation, they threatened to undermine public participation and consultation in government, they threatened the strength of civil society, and they threatened freedom of speech. Bill C-38 is doing the exact same thing. The Bill has stepped beyond the normal bounds of a budget bill into issues that are unrelated and not even mentioned in the budget documents. It is not merely proposing changes to things like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the Fisheries Act – it is completely repealing the CEAA and removing habitat protection from the Fisheries Act. The legislation they have proposed has been put forward with almost no public or expert consultation. Any consultation that has happened was allowed – begrudgingly – only after prolonged outcry from the Opposition and experts. And as for threatening the strength of civil society and freedom of speech – in this case, they are the same thing. The rhetoric being spouted by certain members of the Government has already put a chill in the environmental sector. They have publicly called us terrorists, money-launderers, and tools of “foreign interests” with no evidence to back up their claims (because, I can assure you, there is no such evidence). While our finances are publicly available, we have them reviewed by a third party on an annual basis, and we declare our funders much more readily than many other charitable sectors, the Government claims we need to be watched like hawks. Taking a position on things like the Northern Gateway Pipeline review has been characterized by the government as political and partisan (something charities are not supposed to be). But when did expressing an opinion on a private development become a partisan political issue? When did raising legitimate environmental concerns go from being advocacy, which charities are allowed to do, to being activism, which they are not? All this serves to make environmental groups afraid to speak out on environmental issues. And preventing environmental organizations from expressing legitimate concerns over environmental impacts amounts to eliminating freedom of speech.

This is why we are participating in Black Out Speak Out. It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to protect nature and democracy. Visit blackoutspeakout.ca to add your name to the petition. And when you’ve done that, consider visiting syc-cjs.org/become-member to add your voice to ours so we can Speak Out together. Just wait until June 5th when the site is up and running again!

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