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Canadian Websites Go Dark for 'Black Out Speak Out Day'

Common Dreams staff

Today is "Black Out Speak Out Day" in Canada -- a national day of protest against Canada's conservative government's attack on non-profits including labor, environment, immigration, and students. Over 18,000 Canadians and more than 500 organizations have blacked out their websites Monday — a symbolic protest of what they see as the government's effort to "silence" environmental voices across the country.

“Today, hundreds of organizations and individuals — representing millions of citizens — are speaking out in support of two core Canadian values: the protection of nature and democratic discussion,” stated scientist and activist David Suzuki, in a news release on the day of action events.

“These values are the foundation of the peace, order and good government that define our nation, yet they are threatened by the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, C-38.”


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The CBC reports:

"This government attempts to shut down and intimidate its critics," Liberal Leader Bob Rae said at a morning press conference to draw attention to the campaign. "And we all have to stand up and speak out."

“Today, hundreds of organizations and individuals — representing millions of citizens — are speaking out in support of two core Canadian values: the protection of nature and democratic discussion. These values are the foundation of the peace, order and good government that define our nation, yet they are threatened by the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, C-38.”
-David Suzuki
The "Black Out, Speak Out" campaign calls on Canadians to raise their voices against proposed changes to environmental laws included in Bill C-38, the government's budget implementation bill. Environmental groups say the changes will weaken environmental laws.

The campaign website also includes darkened Facebook avatars and Twitter "twibbons" for profile pictures to encourage individual Canadians to support the campaign.

In an interview with CBC News on Sunday, Gideon Forman, the executive director for the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment — one of a dozen environmental groups leading the online campaign — said "the Conservative government's attack on democracy and the environment is unprecedented."

"We are of the opinion that in order to protect the environment there has to be a very robust public debate in energy projects and other controversial projects with big environmental impact, and the Conservative government is trying to kill that public participation and that's very worrisome," said Forman, whose group represents over 5,000 doctors and concerned citizens.

"It's worrisome for the environment, it's also terribly worrisome for our democracy." [...]

The Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May are also part of the online campaign, as is the Bloc Québécois.

"We are proud to stand in solidarity with Canada's environmental community," read a statement issued by May late on Sunday.

"There has been a recent chill due to smear campaigns. When environmental groups are demonized as 'radical' or 'against Canada,' we stand with them," the Green Party leader said. "If protecting nature, wilderness and our kids' future means our own government can attack us as 'radical,' then all Canadians must be radical."

May is working with the Liberals on an attempt to introduce over 200 amendments to the budget bill when it returns to the House of Commons at report stage, a parliamentary tactic that threatens to tie up proceedings with more than 50 hours of consecutive votes.

"We're always open to improvements, but if people are wanting to gut the legislative change we're not going to be impressed by that," Oliver told reporters Monday morning.

"When people talk about lack of free speech and lack of democracy... this is over-the-top rhetoric that is not substantiated by the facts," he said. "We're willing to have a rational argument but it's got to be fact-based."

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Here are the top five reasons to Speak Out:

  1. Charities are being targeted. The government is adding $8 million in new funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities like environmental groups in spite of the fact they have simply exercised their legal right to advocate for things like laws to fight global warming. This will have a chilling effect on democratic debate. What's more, under these new laws, citizen groups will likely be shut out of environmental reviews of big projects like oil pipelines. Key government agencies with expertise will also have less input. Well-funded backroom lobbyists and political operatives will have greater influence.
  2. Canadians' participation in Parliament is being disrespected. Instead of following the established process for making sweeping changes, which allows for thorough public debate, these changes are being shoehorned into a massive budget law. This drastically reduces the amount of consultation on a whole variety of topics. These changes will have serious consequences for all Canadians and our voices are not being heard.
  3. Nature is being put at serious risk. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is being replaced with a totally new law. Under it, Ottawa will play a much smaller role in protecting people from harmful projects, while retaining the right to basically rubber-stamp big projects that powerful oil interests want. And the new weaker rules are being applied to review processes that are already underway–so projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tankers and pipeline project could get an easier ride.
  4. Too much power is in the hands of too few. The National Energy Board will no longer be able to say "no" to oil pipeline projects that are not in the public interest. Politicians in Cabinet will be able to overrule the expert energy regulator if powerful oil interests don't like its decision. Permits that allow the destruction of habitat for fish and threatened or endangered species will now be issued behind closed doors without public scrutiny, if they are required at all.
  5. Trusted advisers to government that provide high-quality analysis for balanced policy are being ignored. The 2012 budget eliminates the funding for the last remaining government advisory body – the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy (NRTEE). The NRTEE provides analysis and advice on how to meet our international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas pollution. Many lakes, rivers and streams that provide habitat to fish will be at greater risk of destruction because of changes to the Fisheries Act contained within the budget implementation bill. Healthy fish habitat is important for fish and for the people and businesses that depend on them.

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