When I heard that ForestEthics, a group targeted in a Prime Minister’s Office memorandum as an “adversary” of the PMO agenda, had decided to split its activities so as to make advocacy a separate arm, I thought “how brave.” The fact that PMO senior staff had pressured the group’s main funder, Tides Canada, to stop supporting the conservation work of ForestEthics, (verified by the memo obtained through Access to Information), would, in itself, have been a shocking scandal even a decade ago. Now, it barely caused a murmur in a nation seemingly losing our sense of outrage in the face of suppression of dissent -- like the proverbial warming frog in a toxic political stew.
It is increasingly clear that the chilling effect of the bully-boy tactic of threatening all non-government groups and all charities with as yet unspecified “new sanctions” (promised at p, 205 of the 2012 budget) is working to silence critics. Where I would expect a phalanx of Executive Directors of the country’s major national conservation and environmental groups blasting back with one voice at the unravelling of decades of environmental protections, there has been a fairly small roar from only the bravest. This is not intended as any criticism of my former colleagues. When you don’t know what the new rules will be, when you have an obligation to your organization to stay in the black and when money is scarce and threats abundant, it is hard to know how to respond.
Then there is ForestEthics. Valerie Langer – she of the Kennedy Lake blockade, putting herself in a precarious position chained to a log suspended out over open space, then rallying thousands to the burnt over clear-cuts of Clayoquot Sound over the summer of 1993 to halt the logging of the ancient coastal temperate rainforest, and she, my dear friend of many years – stood up bravely. Valerie has been working with ForestEthics for years. Far from the civil disobedience of the early 1990s, she and Forest Ethics had pioneered in market based campaigns, tackling catalogue giant Victoria’s Secret and developing a local economy through toy building with Heiltsuk First Nation.
ForestEthics had found ways to find consensus with the forest industry at the board room tables. ForestEthics is too effective for the Harper regime. Clayton Ruby has agreed to head up ForestEthics Advocacy – a new organization that will not seek any charitable dollars for its work. Ruby declared “what we need now is more advocacy for the environment, not less advocacy for the environment. We need more speech, not less speech.”
The announcement was barely made before the spin doctors of the Prime Minister’s Office issued the following “Info Alert”:
From: Alerte-Info-Alert [mailto:Alerte-Info-Alert@pmo-cpm.gc.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 07:03 PM
To: Alerte-Info-Alert <Alerte-Info-Alert@pmo-cpm.gc.ca>
Subject: Legitimate Charities/Organismes caritatifs
Canadian law has long restricted the generous tax advantages associated with charitable status to organizations that focus their energies on charitable activities – not politics. Unfortunately, some organizations have been using taxpayers’ generosity for their own political purposes.
In Economic Action Plan 2012, our Government announced that charities would be required to be more transparent and more accountable to Canadians when it comes to their activities.
But this was all too much for at least one radical organization who today announced the creation of a stand-alone group devoted entirely to political advocacy.
ForestEthics may be the first radical group to admit that their activities, for which they have collected tremendous financial advantages at the expense of Canadian taxpayers, were not charitable at all.
After all, legitimate organizations carrying out legitimate charitable activities would have no reason to do anything differently. From: Alerte-Info-Alert [mailto:Alerte-Info-Alert@pmo-cpm.gc.ca]
Right you are. Only those with something to fear would be willing to stop being afraid. Only people with something to hide will object to the warrant-less access to their email address and phone numbers and ISP information. Right, only someone who is doing wrong will object to mandatory minimum sentences or pre-emptive arrest.
And when a conservation group, unsure how to speak in this Brave New World where the 10% legal advocacy by charities leads to endless harassment with threats of loss of charitable status, decides to voluntarily relinquish its charitable status, it will stand condemned by the PMO.
This is my country. The actions of this PMO belong in some other county. Maybe one described by George Orwell where an “Info Alert” could be a tool of propaganda and smear. This PMO spends more on “information officers” than any previous PMO. Talk about abuse of taxpayers’ dollars; this bunch spends $10 million/year in shadowy political operatives and “Info Alerts.” This PMO does not belong in Canada.