Author Margaret Atwood and more than 200 of her fellow writers and artists are launching a renewed push to repeal Bill C-51 just 20 days before Canada’s federal election.
In an open letter published in Macleans on Sept. 29, the signatories warned that the anti-terror law endangers freedom of speech and expression, potentially restricting and criminalizing Canadian creative arts.
“This bill was rammed through Parliament by the Harper Conservative government, despite a huge public outcry and without due consultation. As many experts have pointed out, this bill allows the government to silence dissenting voices without oversight or accountability. It criminalizes ‘advocating or promoting the commission of terrorist offences in general’, which because of this vague wording, could be interpreted in some very stupid ways. In effect, it gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like,” states the letter.
Atwood and her fellow authors and artists asked if they were ‘promoting terrorism,’ if for example they wrote a spy novel about an assassination plot, painted a mural of the Syrian Civil War, or made an environment-themed film, for example.
“Creativity, expression, opinion, and art are not the same as terrorist propaganda. Through its ‘chill’ effect, C-51 undermines one of the chief freedoms of a democratic society: the right of every Canadian to free speech and free expression, including free artistic expression,” states the letter.
The letter’s signatories also warned that C-51 was an invitation to intellectual property theft, owing to its lack of oversight and accountability, whose access to Canadians’ personal information placed every citizen at risk of government blackmail.
“This election we will be voting to protect our artistry, our rights, and our freedoms: we will be voting for the repeal of C-51. We hope you will join us in ensuring that all Canadians are no longer subject to the chilling effects of C-51 and targeted by government censorship. We can defend against terrorists in much better ways than this.”
Joining Atwood are fellow authors such as Cory Doctorow, Thomas King, Judy Rebick, and Antonia Zerbisias; musicians including Dan Mangan, Hot Hot Heat, Hannah Epperson, and Raffi; and film-makers Mark Achbar, Paul Haggis (two-time Oscar-winning director of Million Dollar Baby fame), and Brett Gaylor, among other signatories.
Bill C-51, also known as the Anti-terrorism Act 2015, allows greater sharing of personal data between federal government agencies, gives intelligence agents to ‘disrupt’ suspicious online activities, authorizes police to preventively arrest terror suspects or restrict their movements, and lets Canada’s public safety minister add people to a no-fly list.
The bill was passed into law on June 18 after a contentious House of Commons and Senate vote, despite widespread protests and a Canada-wide petition at KillC51.ca calling for C-51's repeal, which has now been signed by over 298,500 people.
So far, the NDP are the only major political party that is promising to repeal the law if they are elected on Oct. 19.
"Bill C-51 is a real threat to our rights and freedoms. Once again, these are the false choices of Mr. Harper. Do you want security or freedom? The same way when he says do you want a good economy or protection for the environment? It's not a matter of choosing between one and the other. Both can be dealt with," said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair at the Sept. 28 Munk Debate in Toronto.