Petition for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Human Rights in Canada

We have endorsed this important petition (link). You may wish to consider signing on behalf of individuals or groups.

"Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights.  It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights.  The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled.

Organizations that disagree with the Government’s positions and/or engage in advocacy have had their mandates criticised and their funding threatened, reduced or discontinued.  In many cases these organizations have a long history of service to the public, such as KAIROS, MATCH International, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Alternatives, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Climate Action Network, the National Association of Women and the Law and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.  The Court Challenges Program, which funded many human-rights cases, has had its mandate drastically reduced. The Women’s Program at Status of Women Canada now effectively excludes many women’s groups that conduct research and work to advance women’s equality and participation in society.

Individuals have been personally sanctioned in response to their efforts to defend democratic and human rights principles.  Linda Keen, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and three managers from the highly respected organization Rights and Democracy have all been summarily dismissed.  Peter Tinsley, Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, was not renewed in his position. Diplomat Richard Colvin was intimidated and derided for his parliamentary testimony about the torture of Afghan detainees handed over by the Canadian military. Partisan appointments to the board of directors of Rights and Democracy resulted in the resignation of internationally renowned board members and have thrown the organization into crisis.

Further, an unprecedented level of secrecy now shrouds a long list of government activities and decisions, making it increasingly difficult for the public to hold the government accountable across a range of fundamentally important issues.  Robert Marleau, the Federal Information Commissioner, has reported that access to information regarding government action has been restricted.  Diplomats, leaders of governmental agencies, public officials, senior military officers, and scientists at Environment Canada are being pressured to obey a law of silence and censored from communicating to the Canadian public.

The Government has eroded freedom of the press by exercising central control of the information available to journalists.  It abused the right to prorogue Parliament in order to avoid serious allegations that the Canadian military has been complicit in the torture of Afghan detainees.

The Government has taken positions domestically and within such key international bodies as the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council that undermine essential human rights, environmental and other global principles.  The government’s actions have set back or weakened crucial international human rights initiatives such as global protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples, a worldwide moratorium on executions, more effective protection of human rights in the Middle East, protection against torture, the rights of gays and lesbians, the rights of women,  and the rights of children.  Among many distressing examples, since the Supreme Court of Canada found that Canada is responsible for continuing violations of Omar Khadr’s human rights, the government’s response has been grossly inadequate and a source of shame on the world stage.

In this context, Canadian democratic institutions, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders have been weakened, marginalized and silenced. Their capacity to monitor and safeguard the respect for democracy, free speech, and other rights is in jeopardy. The quality and health of democratic life in Canada is under serious threat.

United, we call upon the Government of Canada to:
1. Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Therefore,
  • Cease to deliberately target those who speak out against government policies with the use of smear campaigns, dismissal from employment, funding cuts, blatant and subtle threats, regulations designed to obfuscate and prevent public debate, and other acts of bad faith.
  • Commit to parliamentary hearings in the Fall of 2010 that address widespread concerns about the loss of democratic space in Canada.
2. Act in accordance with Canada’s democratic traditions and values. Therefore,
  • Actively promote and support political diversity and public debate, instead of avoiding it.
  • Recognize and respect the vital role, expertise, and necessary independence of civil society organizations.
3. Be transparent. Therefore,
  • Demonstrate full respect for and accountability to the Parliament of Canada and the Canadian People.
  • Allow complete access for Canadians to information regarding public policy decisions.
  • Base funding decisions for government and civil society organizations on fair standards and democratic principles, instead of partisan agendas.


U of T Plans to Amalgamate its Languages and Literatures - Torontoist

U of T Plans to School its Languages and Literatures
Last Monday, as the University of Toronto re-opened in the wake of the G20, departments and centres across its Faculty of Arts and Science returned to the bureaucratic version of the relationship death knell "we need to talk". They learned that if a recommendation being made by the faculty’s Strategic Planning Committee went through, departments across the humanities would be dissolved within the year, with a lucky few to be resurrected, franken-style, under the monolithic umbrella of a single "School of Languages and Literatures."

The proposed School of L&L would amalgamate the current departments of East Asian Studies, Italian Studies, Germanic Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Spanish and Portuguese. The Centre of Comparative Literature, which currently offers MA and PhD programs, would be embedded in the school and redefined as a collaborative program, unable to grant degrees independently. The Centre for Ethics and The Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, a research centre and graduate collaborative program respectively, would be abandoned entirely.

None of this is a done deal, though it is being presented that way by those who have brought the recommendation forward. In September, the Faculty of Arts and Science plans to hold a series of town hall meetings, consulting with faculty, students, and other stakeholders. Then, according to the faculty's timeline, the departments affected will figure out how to dissolve and amalgamate themselves by December so that their proposal can be hustled up the U of T bureaucratic ladder by July 2011...

The Centre for Comparative Literature arguably stands to suffer the most from this proposal, losing its degree programs entirely. The centre, established over forty years ago by Northrop Frye, offers a unique program that "enables the kind of research that is genuinely comparative or interdisciplinary, research that does not fit neatly into any of the traditional disciplines," says Neil ten Kortenaar, the centre's chair. Comp lit students and faculty are adamant that a collaborative degree—like a minor, but at the graduate level—is an empty, conciliatory gesture on the Strategic Planning Committee's part...

Oversights like these are illogical at best. Many students whose departments are being incorporated worry that the School of Languages and Literatures intends to focus on language to the exclusion of literature, that this is part of an overall movement away from critical and theoretical thinking in favour of more pragmatic interests within the humanities. Some are concerned that the School of L&L is being created as a place to groom diplomatic, internationally relevant skills such as translation rather than as one for cutting-edge scholarship.

Gertler says this is "completely false. It is far too premature to judge what the school will focus on." Still, the fact remains that the proposed School of Languages and Literatures—coupled with the outright axing of the Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Diaspora Studies —will have a profound effect on the study of humanities at the University of Toronto. Far from promoting diversity, the School of L&L risks homogenizing the way that languages and literature are studied, making it difficult for students and faculty alike to meaningfully pursue scholarship that falls outside very narrowly defined categories.



Discovery Has No Roadmap - the role of the Humanities

Nice post by Julia on BlogUT - and a heads-up about a funding cut across the pond...

The humanities, far more than the sciences, are unpredictable. There are no set experimental steps that will take you to a set outcome, and the impact of research is nearly impossible to measure. So it’s all too easy to write the humanities off as useless, or a waste of money. The thing is, as important as our gadgets may be, society and social change are what define our lives and the way we live them – and neither of those things can function without the products of work in the humanities. That is why cuts in humanities funding, like King’s College London’s recent decision to scrap the UK’s only Chair in Paleography, are atrocious. That is why we owe it to ourselves to create the best possible environment for study and research in the humanities. That is why the humanities matter.