Voices-Voix: Letter to Prime Minister Harper
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
By fax: 613-941-6900
July 24, 2013
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to you on behalf of Voices-Voix, a coalition of more than 200 national and local civil society organizations across the country. We are seriously concerned about recent reports that your office had instructed government officials to compile “friend and enemy stakeholder” lists as part of the process of preparing briefing materials for new members of Cabinet.
Prime Minister, we are in particular deeply troubled about the use of the term “enemy”; seemingly to describe individuals or organizations with views critical of or in opposition to government policies and initiatives. We call on you, as a matter of urgency, to make it clear that any such lists already compiled will not be used, no further lists will be prepared and that there is no place for such terminology in describing how the government perceives its critics. Instead, it is vital that Canadians hear unequivocally and personally from you, acknowledging that your government accepts and welcomes opposition and disagreement as an essential dimension to developing strong public policy and maintaining a vibrant democracy.
Voices-Voix came together in 2010, reflective of growing concern that the space for civil society dissent and advocacy with respect to a range of critical social and public policy matters in Canada - including women’s equality, the environment and other human rights issues - has become significantly constrained, both directly and indirectly, through a variety of government decisions and actions in recent years.
We have researched and documented numerous instances of individuals and groups suffering serious financial, organizational and professional consequences because they have disagreed with the government. We have also sought to engage with government, parliamentarians and the public with an eye to building deeper understanding of the crucial importance of ensuring that individuals, communities and organizations reflective of diverse and critical views are able to participate in public debates and discourse without fear of repercussion and with government support when necessary.
Given Voices-Voix’ focus on shoring up and bolstering the space for civil society advocacy and dissent in Canada, the news of the “enemy stakeholder” list is obviously of very serious concern. At a time when many organizations and individuals are already nervous about publicly expressing disagreement with the government, additional hesitation that they may be labelled an “enemy” for doing so will inevitably increase that level of trepidation. That in turn has very real implications for fundamental rights protected under international human rights law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. This is of course worrying when it comes to the discussion and debate that is needed regarding the particular environmental, human rights and other issues that may be at stake; it is worrying more widely as well though with respect to the state of democracy in Canada. Plain and simple, in a healthy democracy government does not publicly talk of its critics and detractors as enemies.
Prime Minister, civil society organizations across the country are waiting to see you demonstrate and assert the urgent leadership that is needed in the wake of the revelation of this intention to prepare enemy stakeholder lists; leadership that affirms and appreciates the work we do. As such, we call on you to:
- Make public any “enemy stakeholder” lists that may already have been compiled, confirm that such lists will not be used by the government, and make an unequivocal commitment to prepare no other such lists.
- State publicly that the government acknowledges and unequivocally welcomes the essential role of civil society in Canada across a range of activities, including service delivery, research and advocacy.
- Proactively seek regular opportunities to clearly state that the government does not see civil society groups that may be critical of government policies or initiatives as enemies, but rather as important partners in developing and delivering sound public policy and programs.
- Convene a multi-sector government/civil society roundtable process tasked with identifying measures that would strengthen the independence and better support the work of civil society groups in Canada.
The news that some members of government view civil society critics as enemies has become a source of considerable worry and consternation. It can now serve as an opportunity for the government to renew that relationship, so as to bolster the many essential contributions that civil society groups make to both developing better understanding and addressing pressing social needs locally and nationally right across the country.
Representatives of the Voices-Voix Coalition would welcome an opportunity to meet with you and/or other government representatives to discuss our concerns and recommendations further. A meeting can be arranged by contacting the Voices-Voix Coordinator Aurore Fauret by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 514 770 4950.
On behalf of the Voices-Voix Coalition Steering Committee
Amnesty International Canada
Amnistie International Canada francophone
Canada Without Poverty Advocacy Network
Barrister and Solicitor
Lecturer, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Research Network on Dissent, Democracy and the Law
Canadian Council for International Cooperation