Civil society coalition takes aim at Harper government for stifling dissent

By , on June 18, 2015


Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Intoit / Shutterstock)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Intoit / Shutterstock)

OTTAWA — A report coming out today accused the Harper government of stifling dissent and crushing democracy by punishing civil society groups.

That complaint has been voiced against the Conservatives in the past, but now a 66-page report documents the grievances of groups that it says were denied money by the government or subject to other forms of intimidation.

The report is being released under the banner of Voices-Voix and its signatories include the heads of Amnesty International Canada, Greenpeace Canada and the former head of Oxfam Canada.

The coalition of 200 organizations and 500 individuals accuses the government of taking away funding or otherwise intimidating organizations that it disagrees with.

It accuses the government of muzzling scientists and public servants and portraying First Nations and aboriginal groups as threats to national security.

As a result, the report says, the government is silencing the public policy debate on important issues.

“We have borne witness to hundreds of cases in which individuals, organizations and institutions have been intimidated, defunded, shut down or vilified by the federal government,” the report states.

The report accuses the government of targeting dozens of charities that it deems “too political” for its taste.

It also says the government has undermined the function of Justice Department lawyers by discouraging them from giving important advice to the government.

And it points to the “muzzling” of several government watchdog agencies, citing the sacking of senior leadership at the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

It also accuses the government of undermining the work of the military ombudsman, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, the federal commissioner of the environment and the correctional services investigator.

The report says the government has mounted an attack on “evidence-based” policy-making and cites Statistics Canada, which has undergone an 18 per cent staff reduction and $30 million in budget cuts since 2012.

It also takes the government to task for doing away with the long-form census.

“Canadians deserve a vibrant and dynamic democracy and they are capable of building that together,” the report concludes.

“It is the job of government to support those engaged in this task, not undercut and destroy their striving for a better and more inclusive democracy.”