If we silence dissent we silence democracy
By Hon. John McKay, M.P.
Sep 7, 2012
Recently, I participated in a lively debate on the subject of faith and politics, publishing an article with my thoughts on the topic. Given the widespread response, I decided to share it with a number of faith publications who I thought might be interested in passing it on to their readers. While it was picked up by several groups, I was stunned by one response from the editor of one Canadian faith Magazine:
Very well-done, John. … I’ll keep it in the (queue) for right now as I have just received an official “reminder” from Canada Revenue that our charitable status may be in jeopardy because of too much “political advocacy” on the part of our publication, citing six different editorials and articles as evidence. Needless to say we are chaffing at this heavy hand of the Harper government and consider it a “chill” on speech.
(Name withheld for obvious reasons)
When I subsequently spoke with the editor, he told me that he had phoned Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), to ask which six articles were “offensive”. After a few days, and much searching, the CRA official was eventually able to find the impugned articles. If it was not so serious, the exchange would have had all the elements of a Monty Python sketch.
If this was an isolated incident, it could potentially be ignored. However, in the context of Mr. Harper’s intimidation tactics against those who voice dissent, it should be of concern. This is a government that defunded Rights & Democracy, KAIROS, the Canadian Council on International Cooperation (CCIC), the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Development and Peace, the Canadian Council on Social Development, and other agencies that had the courage to espouse positions contrary to those of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The groups listed above which the government has taken to silencing aren’t fringe groups. They aren’t far left or far right, nor do their views differ from most of their peers in their community. The members of these groups are your neighbours, your friends, or even yourself. They aren’t stepping out of line, they aren’t breaking the law, they are simply expressing an opinion – a right that Canadians have had since our country was founded. However, given the recent actions of the Conservative government, it’s not a stretch to wonder how much this right applies today.
Mr. Harper was eerily accurate when he said: “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” If no one is left to speak out – if everyone succumbs to the “chill” – this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Martin Niemöller wrote:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
We can’t continue to sit idly by while our peers are being silenced. Canadians have a right to have their opinions heard, and they have a right to dissent. Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy and if we silence dissent we silence democracy. That’s not a Canada I want to recognize.
Hon. John McKay M.P.