Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Adam Kingsmith

GET UPDATES FROM Adam Kingsmith
 

The Slow and Painful Death of Freedom in Canada

Posted: 04/29/2013 8:13 am

Less than a generation ago, Canada was a world leader when it came to the fundamental democratic freedoms of assembly, speech and information.

In 1982, Canada adopted the Access to Information Act -- making it one of the first countries to pass legislation recognizing the right of citizens to access information held by government, and as recently as 2002, Canada ranked among the top 5 most open and transparent countries when it came to respect for freedom of the press.

Fast-forward a decade, and we've become a true north suppressed and disparate -- where unregistered civic demonstrations are inhibited and repressed, rebellious Internet activities are scrutinised and supervised, government scientists are hushed and muzzled, and public information is stalled and mired by bureaucratic firewalls.

In the 2013 World Press Freedom Index -- an evaluation done by Reporters Without Borders on the autonomy of a country's media environment, Canada came in at a paltry 20th, putting us behind liberal-democratic powerhouses such as Namibia, Costa Rica, and the Western Hemisphere's new champion of free media -- Jamaica.

BLOG CONTINUES AFTER SLIDESHOW

Loading Slideshow...
  • 10th WORST Country For Press Freedom: Sudan

    Sudanese Minister of Information Kamal Mohammed Obeid unveils in front of journalists the new map of Sudan in Khartoum on July 4, 2011 ahead of the formal independence of the south on July 9. AFP PHOTO/ASHRAF SHAZLY (Photo credit should read ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 9. Cuba

    Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez listens to a question from a journalist outside a Migration Office, on January 14, 2013 in Havana. A law allowing Cubans to travel abroad without special exit visas took effect on the communist-ruled island for the first time in half a century. The measure does away with the exit visas that have kept most Cubans from ever traveling abroad. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 8. Vietnam

    A street newspaper vendor looks at the building of the Hanoi People's Court where two journalists are standing trial for their coverage of a major state corruption scandal on October 15, 2008 in Hanoi. The court sentenced one of them, Nguyen Viet Chien from Thanh Nien daily to two years in prison being found guilty of 'abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state'. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam

  • 7. China

    Police take the details of foreign journalists outside the studio of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Beijing on November 14, 2011. The lawyer for Ai Weiwei Pu Zhiqiang said the tax office in Beijing has refused to accept money the activist needs to pay in order to lodge an appeal against a huge tax bill. AFP PHOTO/Peter PARKS (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 6. Iran

    Jens Koch one of the two German reporters freed by the Iranian authority, is seen at Tehran's Mehrabbad Airport after arriving from Tabriz on February 19, 2011. The German reporters Marcus Hellwig and Koch, who were held by the authorities for interviewing the son and lawyer of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, were freed after the courts commuted their jail terms to 50,000-dollar fines. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE

  • 5. Somalia

    Somali journalists holding up the picture of their colleague arrested, Abdiaziz Abdinor Ibrahim, participate in a meeting for condemning his long term in jail on January, 27, 2013 in Mogadishu. General attorney of Somali nation Abdikadir Mohamed Muse, announced on Saturday that the Somali police investigation on Abdiaziz ended and will be courted. Abdiaziz has been accused of reporting false rape, and giving the women bribery so as to tell lie. Lul Ali Osman, the rape victim told to the journalist she was rapped by five Somali police-dressed men, but the police refused that. AFP PHOTO MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB HAJIABIKAR (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB HAJIABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 4. Syria

    A Syrian man reads the daily state-run newspaper Tishrin in a cafe decorated with portraits of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on April 3, 2011. Syria's former agriculture minister Adel Safar was asked by the president to form a new government, the state-run news agency SANA reported. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO

  • 3. Turkmenistan

    ASHGABAD, TURKMENISTAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (R) sit during their meeting in Ashgabat, 11 May 2007. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov promised closer energy ties on Friday as the Kremlin leader continued a visit challenging European and US influence in the Caspian region. AFP PHOTO / ITAR-TASS POOL / PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 2. North Korea

    Journalists try to get a glimpse of North Korean mourners at a North Korean restaurant watching a telecast of the funeral of the late leader Kim Jong-Il, at the North Korean and Chinese border town of Dandong on December 28, 2011. North Korea is preparing a massive ceremonial farewell to late leader Kim Jong-Il as it strove to strengthen a new personality cult around his youthful son and successor Jong-Un. The secretive state has so far given no details of the December 28 funeral for its 'Dear Leader' of the past 17 years. But analysts say the regime, as it did in 1994 when Kim Jong-Il's own father died, will use the event to shore up loyalty to the new leader and will likely mobilise hundreds of thousands of people. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1. Eritrea

    File picture of a woman walking near a monument erected in memory of the martyrs of the Ethiopia-Eritrea's war that started in 1998 and lasted four years, in the disputed Horn of Africa border town of Badme between Ethiopia and Eritrea on November 5, 2008. Tensions remain high in this border zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea after the withdrawal of UN peace keepers in charge of monitoring the border. The village was the starting point of the two and a half year war between the two countries in May 1998 that left at least 80.000 dead. AFP PHOTO/Stringer/FILES

  • 10th BEST Country For Press Freedom: Sweden

    Swedish artist Lars Vilks (Facing Camera) speaks to journalists after apperaring on the TV4 morning news show in Stockholm on March 10, 2010. Leading Swedish newspapers on March 10, 2010 published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog by a caricaturist who was the target of an assassination plot by Muslims arrested in Ireland. AFP PHOTO/SCANPIX/BERTIL ERICSON (Photo credit should read BERTIL ERICSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 9. Iceland

    Prime Minister and leader of the Social-Democrats party Johanna Sigurdardottir (L and on screen) answers journalists question during a press conference in Reykjavik on April 25, 2009. Iceland's general election got underway Saturday seven months after the country's economic collapse, with voters expected to snub the party seen as responsible for the crisis in favour of the interim leftist government. Public opinion polls have suggested a comfortable victory for the pro-EU Social Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, and its junior coalition partner the Left Green Movement. AFP PHOTO OLIVIER MORIN. (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 8. New Zealand

    French flanker Julien Bonnaire answers journalists questions upon his arrival at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle international airport at Roissy-en-France, on October 26, 2011 after flying from New Zealand where France was beaten in the Rugby World Cup final by All Blacks. The end of the Rugby World Cup has turned sour for beaten finalists France after they were fined for breaching protocols and police were called to an incident involving players and photographers. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 7. Liechtenstein

    Spain's midfielder Fernando Llorente (R) and defender Javier Martinez (2R) talk to journalists after a training session on September 5, 2011, on the eve of the Euro2012 qualifying football match against Liechtenstein at Las Gaunas stadium, in Logrono. AFP PHOTO/ RAFA RIVAS (Photo credit should read RAFA RIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 6. Denmark

    Jaume Bartomeu (C), head of Andorran government, answers journalists' questions on November 8, 2009 in the Massana valley in northwest Andorra, where two more workers died overnight after a bridge under construction in the Pyrenees principalty of Andorra collapsed, bringing the death toll to five. Police are investigating to determine the causes of the accident at the bridge that was to link the tunnel to a road leading to two nearby villages. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG (Photo credit should read RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 5. Andorra

    Jaume Bartomeu (C), head of Andorran government, answers journalists' questions on November 8, 2009 in the Massana valley in northwest Andorra, where two more workers died overnight after a bridge under construction in the Pyrenees principalty of Andorra collapsed, bringing the death toll to five. Police are investigating to determine the causes of the accident at the bridge that was to link the tunnel to a road leading to two nearby villages. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG (Photo credit should read RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 4. Luxembourg

    British Foreign Minister David Miliband (C) speaks to journalists on June 16, 2008 before a General Affairs Council meeting at EU headquarters in Luxembourg. EU foreign ministers admitted on June 16 that they had no quick-fix solution after Irish voters plunged the bloc into crisis by rejecting its reforming Lisbon Treaty. Irish voters, the only ones in Europe obliged to hold a referendum, delivered a resounding 'no' to the European Union's reform treaty by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent on June 12, plunging the 27-member bloc into a new period of institutional uncertainty. AFP PHOTO/JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 3. Norway

    The chairman of the Labor Youth of Norway, Eskil Pedersen, speaks to reporters on June 22, 2012 outside the courtroom in Oslo on the last day of the trial of Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. His defense is trying to prove that Breivik's killing of 77 people in twin attacks in July 2011 was not an act of insanity. Even though there is no chance Breivik will be set free, his lawyers must formally make the request since their client has pleaded not guilty, despite having confessed to carrying out the murderous twin attacks on July 22, 2011, when he first bombed a government building in Oslo, killing eight people, before going on a shooting rampage on Utoeya island, northwest of the capital, where the ruling Labor Party's youth wing was hosting a summer camp. Sixty-nine people died on the island, most of them teens. Breivik, 33, has confessed to the twin attacks but has refused to plead guilty, insisting they were 'cruel but necessary' to stop the Labor Party's 'multicultural experiment' and the 'Muslim invasion' of Norway and Europe. AFP PHOTO / Stian Lysberg Solum (Photo credit should read Stian Lysberg Solum/AFP/GettyImages)

  • 2. Netherlands

    Journalists film as International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo gives a press conference at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, on January 24, 2012 one day after the ICC ruled that Kenya's deputy prime minister and another presidential hopeful are among four suspects who should be tried over deadly post-poll unrest four years ago. Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki appealed for calm in the east African country amid fears the Hague-based court's anxiously awaited confirmation of charges hearing could revive ethnic and political tensions. AFP PHOTO / ANP - MARCEL ANTONISSE netherlands out - belgium out (Photo credit should read MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 1. Finland

    Journalists taste a 200-year-old champagne, on November 17, 2010 in Mariehamn. Finnish officials pop the cork of a 200-year-old bottle of champagne, after 70 bottles of what is believed to be the world's oldest bubbly were discovered on July 2010 in a shipwreck, at a depth of fifty meters, southeast of Mariehamn, on the southwestern Finnnish Aaland Islands of the Baltic Sea. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)


So what the devil is going on?

According to page 8 of the report, this uneasy drop "was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called 'Maple Spring' student movement and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists' sources and Internet users' personal data, in particular, from the C-30 bill on cyber-crime."

Yet perhaps more distressing than the consistent during Quebec's Maple Spring has been the abrupt confiscation of the right of citizens in the province to spontaneously demonstrate and protest in public spaces -- seen recently at the totalitarian debacle known as the Anti-Police Brutality Protest, where over 250 people were arrested for failing to register with authorities before assembling.

Passed last May by the National Assembly of Quebec in the midst of the student upheaval, Bill 78 requires organisers of assemblies involving 50 or more people to register the details of any demonstration with the police at least eight hours before it begins. Anyone who does not comply with the law faces a fine from $1000 up to $125,000 depending on his or her involvement and leadership in the protest.

Not to be outdone by Quebec's anti-demonstration legislation however, the federal government decided to continue the trend with Bill C-309 -- criminalising the act of covering one's face during any sort of display of civil disobedience. And as opposed to the customary fine, the bill carries with it a penalty of up to five years in prison.

But don't worry -- it's for our protection.

Speaking of our "protection," Bill C-30, or the Lawful Access Act -- proposed by the Harper government in February of last year, attempted to grant authorities the power to monitor and track the digital activities of all Canadians in real-time.

This internationally-condemned Orwellian "cyber-crime legislation" planned to force service providers to log and surrender browsing information about their customers upon government request as well as permit the remote access to any personal computer in the country -- all without the need of any sort of warrant.

And while Bill C-30 has been tabled for the time being, Bill C-12 -- which similarly authorises the warrantless acquisition of customer information from ISPs, email hosts, and social media sites on a voluntary basis, looks poised to creep in and achieve many of Bill C-30's initial objectives by reducing the need for warrants, and gradually circumnavigating safeguards that protect our personal information online.

Of course we've all had the rhetoric jammed down our throats -- these adjustments to a citizen's right to public assembly, defiant anonymity, and digital privacy are the necessary sacrifices we must be willing to make in order to shelter ourselves from half-heartedly articulated illusory threats such as "terrorism" or "extremism".

But the undemocratic stifling doesn't stop here either. Even our taxpayer-funded government scientists -- the last line of defense against ignorance and uncritical thinking, are increasingly coerced into suppressing unwelcome findings.

According to a report by researchers at the University of Victoria titled Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, "the federal government has recently made concerted efforts to prevent the media - and through them, the general public - from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the public debate on issues of significant national concern."

When Canadian scientists are permitted by their handlers to speak to journalists or international colleagues, they are forced to regurgitate pre-approved party findings that rest neatly within the confines of official government policies -- regardless of what the yields of their research and expert opinions may actually be telling them.

What's even more concerning is that in a recent study by the Center for Law and Democracy -- which classifies the strength and effectiveness of access to information laws in 93 countries, Canada ranked an utterly humiliating 55th, thanks in large part to the bureaucratic red tape that smothers requests for access to public records.

So perhaps it is time for us Canadians to wake up and smell the suppression -- no longer are censorships solely the purview of tin-pot dictators in far away regimes.

These seemingly gradual erosions to the freedoms of assembly, expression and information in Canada are all very real -- just last week, Parliament actually struck down a bill claiming that "public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making."

And I have the sinking suspicion that whichever party is in power, these rights will continue to decompose unless the citizenry is willing to vocalise this as a major election issue. After all, even in democracy new governments seldom willingly return rights and freedoms back to the people once in office -- power can be just too enticing.

One day it's the right to spontaneously demonstrate, next it's the right to wear a mask well doing so, then Internet privacy, scientific inquiry, public records, and so on as the vice compressing freedom and civil disobedience slowly tightens on us all.

But then again, this is Canada. That sort of thing could never happen here, right?

 

Follow Adam Kingsmith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/akingsmith

FOLLOW CANADA