On February 25th, 2017, activists gathering in communities across Canada to let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know that the public is closely watching forthcoming reforms to national security laws like Bill C-51. Click here to find an event near you.
rabble.ca's Activist Toolkit interviewed the executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Tom Henheffer, one or the main organizers of this event, to find out more about the fight for civil liberties and this event. Join the day of action and keep paying attention because, now more than ever, we need to protect and expand our civil liberties in Canada.
Activist Toolkit: Why are you organizing Febuary 25th day of action?
Tom Henheffer: We're organizing the event for a number of reasons. Bill C-51 is still on the books, nearly a dozen reporters in various provinces have
been spied on by the government and police agencies, Canada is still the
only industrialized nation without meaningful oversight of its spy
agencies, and Vice reporter Ben Makuch is facing jail time simply for
doing his job.
Press freedom in Canada has eroded terribly over the past fifteen years, and we're holding this rally to change that. It's a crucial time in Canada, as there's a number of pieces of legislation (Senator Claude Carignan's Bill S-231 also known as the Press Shield Law, potential amendments to
our national security framework, a promise to reform the Access to Information Act in 2018) coming down the pipe that could fix many of the problems in our democracy. But there are many elements within government fighting against these changes, and we want them to know Canadians won't stand for the continued erosion of their rights.
We're also calling for action on mass surveillance and asking the government to pass a specific shield law which would protect whistleblowers and journalists. In recent Quebec cases we learned that journalists were routinely surveilled.
Activist Toolkit: Could you delve into the erosion of civil liberties under the past 15 years a little more?
Tom Henheffer: Bill C-51, the cyberbully bill and bill C-44 did a number of things to curtail press freedom. They massively expanded the powers of our spy agencies to violate the constitution and spy on Canadians. They made constitutionally protected speech that is crucial for informed public debate illegal. They destroyed jurisprudence by reversing the purpose of the courts—instead of their first job being to uphold the constitution. Bill C-51 allowed them to preauthorize, in secret, violations of Canadians rights. They also made it a potential terrorism offence to protest in certain instances. Finally, the Harper government allowed the further erosion of both whistleblower protection and the public's right to know (by refusing to fix our crumbling access to information system), problems that the current federal government has yet to address.
Activist Toolkit: So again, what are the asks? What should the Liberal government be doing to restore and enhance press freedom?
Tom Henheffer: They must repeal bill C-51, pass a meaningful press shield law, reform our access to information system according to the information commissioner's recommendations, and adopt effective protection for whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors. These are all simple, legislative fixes that can be adopted quickly and will massively decrease Canada's democratic deficit.
Now that consultations are over the government simply needs to introduce legislation. Our sources say this is coming in the next few months, but there's no guaruntee it will lead to meaningful change. If it doesn't, Canadians will once again have to take to the street, write their representatives, and support organizations like CJFE and the CCLA as we still have a charter challenge filed against bill C-51 and will fight it at the supreme court if necessary.
Activist Toolkit: Who are some of the allies you are working with to organize against Bill-C-51?
Almost every civil liberties group in Canada is working with us,
including Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Citizens for Public Justice, OpenMedia, Democracy Watch, National Council of Canadian Muslims, The Centre for Free Expression, BC Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International Canada, Reporters Without Borders, Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, Association des Journalistes Indépendants du Québec, rabble.ca, Vice and a wealth of others.
To get involved in the We're Watching you protests, see the map and list below to find a community action near you or send an email to arrange to host one.
Create a large eye shape between two large banners which say "Trudeau: We're Watching You". Take a picture, post it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with the #ProtectPressFreedom. Your message will be clearly delivered to Canadian politicians through this action. Also join CPJE's lobbying initiative and online action.