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Groundswell of Citizen Action for Nature and Democracy

13 June, 2012

If you tried to access our website on June 4th you would have found a dark site, with an invitation to join us and over 500 organisations from across Canada in the Black Out Speak Out/Silence, On Parle campaign.

It was just over one month ago, on May 7, that West Coast Environmental Law and 11 other Canadian environmental groups launched the Black Out Speak Out/Silence, On Parle campaign. We set out to coordinate a call for action that would unite groups and individuals from all sectors and backgrounds in the face of the unprecedented attack on nature and democracy embodied in the federal omnibus budget bill – Bill C-38 –currently before Parliament.

Bill C-38 aims to weaken Canada’s most important environmental laws and silence Canadians who want to defend them. The changes weaken protection for fish and species at risk; gut environmental review processes; increase politicization of environmental decisions; and limit the participation of citizens in decisions to approve resource development that affect our families and communities. In a time of austerity, it sets aside millions for the policing of Canadian charities, in an effort to weaken their important voice in the development of public policy.

Instead of using the usual process for sweeping changes, which allows for thorough debate, these changes are being shoehorned into a 452-page budget bill.

Our call to defend nature and democracy was taken up across the country, and on June 4th, the Black Out Speak Out day of action, over 550 organisations, representing millions of citizens, darkened our websites in a symbolic show of unity, while tens of thousands of Canadians tweeted, blogged, signed petitions and wrote their decision-makers. Media events were held coast to coast, including a Vancouver event emceed by myself on behalf of West Coast Environmental Law, which included:

  • renowned scientist and elder Dr. David Suzuki,
  • the Honourable John Fraser, former Conservative MP, Cabinet minister and speaker of the House of Commons,
  • Lorene Oikawa, Vice-President BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, and
  • Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

In a political context where the gutting of our environmental laws is justified by the federal government as contributing to “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity” it is particularly worth noting the strong stand taken against Bill C-38 (the bill that bears that name) by workers across Canada, including those in the energy sector. Labour organisations participating in Black Out Speak Out include:

  • Alberta Federation of Labour
  • BC Federation of Labour
  • BC Nurses Union
  • Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions
  • Canadian Union of Public Employees
  • BC Government and Service Employees’ Union
  • Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada
  • National Union of Public and General Employees
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • United Steelworkers
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Also engaging in the day of action were human rights giant Amnesty International, churches from four different denominations, approximately 80 businesses from across the country and cultural icons like Margaret Atwood and Bruce Cockburn. And standing alongside non-governmental organisations, businesses, churches and unions were four federal political parties, the Assembly of First Nations and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

This groundswell reflects the deep anger and concern that Canadians feel about the direction our government is heading. We are at a profound moment in our nation’s history. For those who hold dear this vast and beautiful land and the democracy that binds us together, silence is not an option. 

June 4th was the start of a sustained initiative that will see an increasingly broad range of charities and groups from the business, public and not-for-profit sectors join in this protest and reaffirm our shared commitment to the core Canadian values of protecting nature and democracy.

The future of our land, water and climate is at risk. And so are the voices of Canadians. Please join us in a concerted push to raise our voices before Bill C-38 is passed by Parliament.

Please help us do so as soon as possible – Bill C-38 could be voted on in the House as early as this Friday June 15th, 2012.

By Jessica Clogg, Executive Director and Senior Counsel