The Conservative government's continued attack on Canadian charities is premeditated and chilling. Over the past two years they have cut funding, publicly slandered or intimidated those in civil society who have dared to speak out against them.
It started with the government quietly cutting funding to vocal organizations like KAIROS, Development and Peace, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Canadian Centre for International Cooperation, Rights and Democracy and the Canadian Council on Social Development and others. Now the attack is more overt with Conservative ministers and senators publicly slandering those who disagree with them, accusing respected charities of "influence peddling" and "money laundering," and labelling them as "foreign radicals."
It is all part of a disturbing larger agenda to silence dissent, and delegitimize anyone who has opinions contrary to Conservative ideology. Those that are specifically attacked by the Conservative government are either shut down or marginalized. Those that aren't attacked directly learn very quickly that silence is golden. It is causing a chill in Canadian civil society.
Buried in the Conservatives' omnibus budget bill are changes to the Income Tax Act, amending the rules on how charities can engage in public policy advocacy and when their charitable status can be reviewed. Ordinarily an amendment which provides "guidance" would be a welcome clarification of the law. However, now everyone is wondering what kind of impact this may have: if they speak out against Conservative ideas, will they catch the unwelcome attention of government auditors?
The consequences of this chill are enormous. Civil society is not only about dissenting views, but also about alternative points of view - which are the real life blood of a democracy. Alternative voices make the powerful question themselves, but when the powerful controls the executive branch and the legislative branch of the government as they do in Canada, the only voices left to ask these questions are in civil society.
On June 4, the Liberal party darkened our website in support of the Speak Out/Black Out Campaign opposing these changes. Conservatives like MP Ed Komarnicki need to know it is highly inappropriate for the government to muzzle charities and civil society. The organizations that are being silenced are ones that millions of Canadians have supported for years, and up until now organizations that Canadian governments of all political stripes have worked with to better the lives of those in our communities and abroad.
Development of effective public policy is difficult at the best of times, but when a government intentionally demonizes those who try to speak for the poor and disadvantaged both at home and abroad, we are all impoverished.
MP Robert Peterson,
Senator, Liberal Party of Canada