The Silencing of Dissent: Harper’s Clampdown on Free Speech

Untitled-1There continues to be a nationwide crackdown on charities who participate in political activism yet there has been virtually no public outcry. It’s not for lack of interest as much as there a lot fewer organizations that are able say something about it.

Charitable organizations have been restricted from spending more than ten percent of their resources on political activities and while this prohibition on charities has been on the books since 1985, it’s only been in recent years that we’ve seen the Harper government use it as a weapon (think: gag order) against charities. It’s not just random charities either, our government takes particular offence to environmental agencies (read: oil), development groups (read: poverty), human rights organizations and charities who receive donations from labour unions. Seem suspicious at all?

With the charities who are closest to the issues now ball-gagged, the government is free to do what it wants without the dissent. Just this month The Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists (TKWFN) – who publicly defend the Endangered Species Act – were flagged by tax auditors about their political activity and warned that they could be in for a tax audit which for a charitable organization is devastating at best. It’s worth noting that TKWFN has an operating budget of about $16K which hardly seems worth all the feathers they are ruffling. It’s no coincidence that this news was delivered to TKWFN days after the environment minister responded to their complaint over government approved chemicals destroying bee colonies.

Other charities who are currently under scrutiny include Pen Canada, Tides Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Canada Without Poverty, United Church of Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives. And this list will continue to grow. Even more horrifying is that many of these audits resulted from complaints lodged by oil company lobbyists about the charities’ political activity (read: corporations having bareback sex with our government).

Not unlike the gag order placed over Canadian scientists, the Harper government is keeping the public in the dark by keeping charities silent on issues that conflict with their interests. It’s important that our charitable organizations are allowed to manage themselves, as they see fit, not how an oil company, pharmaceutical giant or government thinks it should be done. A government should govern the nation and not get involved in the day-to-day operations of how our organizations spend their resources.

Raymond Helkio

Raymond Helkio is an award winning director, freelance journalist and author of several publications. His work focuses on LGBT issues.

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