UN Special Rapporteur queries the right to dissent in Canada

Voices-Voix recently released a video by UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai on the narrowing space for dissent in Canada and the need for an assessment of democratic rights.

During an academic visit to Canada in 2013, Mr. Kiai noted with concern what he was hearing about a growing trend of restrictions on civil society organizations and on the rights and freedoms under his responsibility, notably peaceful assembly and association.

During his visit to Montreal and Ottawa, civil society organizations, including international development organizations, women’s rights groups, and unions presented case studies on the systematic defunding of organizations by the government of Canada, surveillance and/or infiltration of progressive organizations and Aboriginal groups, attempts to strip organizations of their charitable status, and efforts by the government, and/or organizations with ties to the Conservative Party of Canada, to vilify and smear individuals and organizations whose policies and programs are not supportive of the government of Canada. Here is some of what he had to say:

I’m hearing a lot from civil society organizations complaining that they feel that their spaces being reduced, that there is much more surveillance of the state… that there’s much more control, and that the state is asking them to be accountable as opposed to the state being accountable to the citizens through civil society and other forms.

But it’s worrying when you hear these kinds of comments and statements coming out,  [even though] it’s very uncoordinated…  the trend is pretty worrying just to hear.

We [also] need to hear the government’s view – whether we agree with it or not is irrelevant – and it’s important to hear that and to make a judgment, an assessment, about what’s going on in Canada. The issue of freedom of assembly and of Association, those two rights, are fundamental to democracy in a very real way.

You judge a society as democratic if there is a respect for freedom of association and of assembly. These are fundamental in the sense that if the government does not respect those rights, if the government puts restrictions on the rights of citizens to associate and to assemble, to protest in whichever way, then you know that the democracy is a bit challenged and that there are questions to be answered about why those restrictions are there.

The people of Canada have all the power. You can and you should protest over things you care about. You have the space, Canadians have the space to protest peacefully on some of these issues. Please come out. This is an important right, do not take it for granted, it is not common in other countries, it is not as common as you think.

I think it is important for people in Canada to organize…  coming from where I do…. It is so important to hold the count state accountable and that is fundamental. No government, no regime, will never cede the space by itself. That is the history of the world from a long time ago. States and governments cede space when they are pressured to do so, and that is fundamental. That’s what human rights is about – it is about limiting the space of the state and allowing people and organizations to be able to move into achieve the goals that they want to achieve.

That is something Canadians should not take for granted.

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Categories: Democracy & Dissent

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