Савелий Балалайкин (balalajkin) wrote,
Савелий Балалайкин

В Канаде та же хрень - законодательное наступление на свободу слова под соусом защиты чувств любимых меньшинств


PEN International, the association mandated to support freedom of expression for writers, recently held its 81st annual congress in Quebec City. Every year the organization sums up the prevailing state of freedom of speech in the country in which the congress is held. Thus, this year the country under scrutiny was Canada.

According to a 20-page report released Tuesday and published under the aegis of its president, John Ralston Saul, the organization is concerned about “the erosion of the right to express oneself freely” in Canada. Amongst other criticisms, the report cites a breakdown in the right to demonstrate freely, as for example in the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto and in the 2012 Quebec student protests, the “gagging” of communications by civil servants with regard to climate change, the “sprawling surveillance programs” Canada shares with the Nationals Security Agency in the U.S. and our government’s lack of transparency, referencing a 1982 access to information law, at the time considered revolutionary but today “en retard,” with Canada occupying 59th place of 102 countries with similar provisions.

It is troubling that Pen International did not single out Bill 59 for denunciation at its congress

The report is problematic for two reasons. While PEN International’s criticisms of the Harper government may be entirely legitimate, release of the report just days before a federal election does not make for good optics regarding PEN International’s — or its president’s — political neutrality, which should, of course, be a sine qua non in an organization of this kind. Saul wrote: “It is for Canadian citizens to decide if they think that the limitations to their freedom of expression are acceptable or not. And if they think, and I hope that they think, that they are unacceptable, then they will act (in consequence).” It would take some effort not to infer that Saul hopes the report will help to defeat the Harper government. This is an inappropriate use of his authority.

The second problem with the report is what has been left unsaid. The report completely ignores what is arguably the gravest threat to freedom of expression in Canada today, a threat that was being played out literally in front of PEN Internationals delegates’ noses in Quebec City during their congress: namely, Bill 59, now in progress toward passage into law.

Quebec’s Bill 59 would assign fresh powers to the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) to combat hate speech, in particular speech considered Islamophobic, by censoring discourse that allegedly promotes “fear of the other” on the Internet. Ominously, the bill would allow the QHRC to pursue websites that in its estimation criticize aspects of Islam or Islamism that might be deemed offensive to any individual.

For example, a scrupulously annotated website such as pointdebascule.ca, which exists solely to expose individuals and groups linked to the financial or moral support of terrorism, and whose work is helpful to CSIS, could be shut down under this law and its director punished with outrageous fines. A columnist who wrote about culturally driven motives of honour and shame resulting in violence against girls and women might also be sued; even if what he or she wrote was “true” and “in the public interest,” which normally protects writers from defamation lawsuits, that would be no defence under Bill 59.

It is troubling that Pen International did not single out Bill 59 for denunciation at its congress, clearly no oversight since Saul makes no mention of it in his July letter, and there is no mention of it on PEN Quebec’s website. Beside Bill 59, PEN International’s other criticisms pale to insignificance. Sadly, political partisanship and willed indifference to elephants in one’s own living room have cast a shadow on PEN International’s latest report.


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