Blackout campaign opposes Harper government’s threats; says budget measures disguise silencing tactics

publication date: May 31, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Environmental charities, their supporters and a growing number of concerned citizens are ramping up their resistance to what they see as the Harper government's attempts to muzzle Canadian charities, particularly those opposed to pipeline development.

The latest protest launched May 7 under the banner BlackOutSpeakOut. Members of the coalition include the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Equiterre and Sierra Club Canada. Sierra Club ED John Bennett hopes that organizations and individuals, as well as a broad range of charities, will join the coalition's website blackout day June 4.

"Our format is symbolic because they're trying to silence us," Bennett said in an interview with Hilborn eNEWS. "We don't believe the blackout itself will do anything other than get attention. The only way we can do this is to demonstrate to the Conservative government that they don't have general public support."

Goal: a million emails

Bennett hopes that awareness raised from the website blackout campaign will trigger a million emails to Parliament and a flood of phone calls. "I want everyone in Canada to call their MP and tell them they don't have the license to silence environmental groups," he said. "This is an attack on the millions of Canadians who support the environmental movement and the millions more who support the charitable sector overall."

Threats escalate

The threats began in January when Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accused "environmental and other radical groups" of using foreign funds to block pipeline projects important to Canada's economy.

The federal budget appears to reflect those concerns. It contains an $8 million allocation for Revenue Canada to investigate charities believed to be spending more than the allowable 10% of their revenues on political action.

"Is it a political act to encourage people to participate in an environmental assessment, understand issues and get involved?" Bennett responds.

Environment Minister Peter Kent chimed in with charges of money laundering by certain unnamed charities (CBC Radio, The House, April 28). He expanded his allegations in an interview on CBC's Power & Politics May 1.

In response to the host's question whether his use of the word "laundering" implied criminal activity, Kent equivocated, "There are allegations - and we have very strong suspicions - that some funds have come into the country improperly to obstruct, not to assist, in the environmental assessment process."

In a letter written to Minister Kent May 3 and distributed through social media channels, Imagine Canada CEO Marcel Lauzière challenged him to provide evidence or retract his comments, pointing out that charities have "a long and proud tradition of advocacy" on public policy issues such as smoke-free workplaces, the Children's Fitness Tax Credit and the Canadian Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Kent's comments, he said, "do a grave disservice to the two million Canadians who work in the charitable and nonprofit sector, the thirteen million who volunteer their time, and to the millions of Canadians who give so generously each year to the organizations and causes in which they believe."

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