Opinion

SCIENCE MATTERS: Speak out for environment, democracy

Canada would be a different place without our 80,000 registered charities dedicated to everything from health to economic policy to the environment.

We’d be much poorer without the two million employees and millions of volunteers who devote their time to causes that strengthen our nation.

Recent efforts by the federal government and its backers in media and industry front groups like Ethical Oil to demonize and silence legitimate organizations ignore the important role charities play in Canada.

That’s why environmental and other organizations are joining with Canadians from all walks of life for Black Out Speak Out (blackoutspeakout.ca or silenceonparle.ca en français), launched on May 7 with ads in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, and Ottawa’s Hill Times and culminating in a website blackout June 4.

Canadians understand the value of charitable organizations. Close to 85 per cent of us over 15 years of age (22.2 million people) donate to charities every year. Often, it’s to help people in other parts of the world.

According to Charity Village, Canadians gave $20 million to the Canadian Red Cross, CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, UNICEF Canada, and World Vision within four days of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. For supporting worthy causes, Canadians are entitled to a small tax break.

Canadians also know that our spectacular natural environment is crucial to our national identity, health, and survival, and that we can’t always count on governments and industry to look out for its interests.

And so they give their time, money, and voices to organizations working on a range of conservation issues from habitat and species protection to clean energy and global warming. The David Suzuki Foundation relies on Canadians for close to 94 per cent of its funding.

Canadians also expect transparency and results, which is why our funding and spending information is public. With the help of many Canadians, and along with friends and allies, we’ve enjoyed many successes.

We’ve increased demand and supply for sustainable seafood, fought for habitat protection for animals such as killer whales, and ensured that invaluable areas like the Great Bear Rainforest and the northern boreal forest get increased protection. Perhaps more importantly, we’ve facilitated opportunities for Canadians to engage in important discussions about conservation of the air, water, land, and biodiversity on which we all depend.

It’s why we’re astounded by the increasing efforts to stifle so many people and organizations that devote countless hours to the often thankless and less-than-lucrative tasks of ensuring that Canada remains a stellar example of an open and democratic country with strong social values and a clean and healthy environment.

If we are committed to these ideals then it follows we should also value freedom of speech and opportunities for a range of viewpoints on matters of national interest.

It’s fair to place limits on the extent and types of work organizations with charitable status can do. It’s fair to ask questions about donations and what, if any, influence they may have on activities.

But it is unacceptable to try to silence people with smear tactics designed to discredit them and deny their funding.

If our leaders want to pin all their hopes and our future on a twinned pipeline through Alberta and B.C. to ship raw tar sands bitumen to China, then Canadians at least deserve a proper conversation about it.

We’ve seen recent signs of hope, with the Alberta government calling for a national energy strategy, for example, and with people in the media and elsewhere questioning the wisdom of employing an omnibus budget act to gut environmental laws and attack charitable organizations.

With continued suppression of those who speak out about the environment and women’s and human rights, along with muzzling of government scientists and cuts to government scientific and environmental programs and departments, it’s clear we’re facing a growing campaign, in part backed by industrial interests, to silence opposition.

We expect and deserve better. Silence is not an option. We’re asking all Canadians to help preserve two core national values: nature and democracy.

www.davidsuzuki.org

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