|The Prime Minister gags a scientist.|
‘When you shut down inquiry,’ said Granny Bessa Whitmore of Ottawa, ‘you don't have democracy. We know what happened in the 1930s in Germany, and we don't want that to happen here.’
Bessa lived through the McCarthy era of the Cold War and wants to ensure that this period is not repeated. She spoke for all the Grannies when she said: ‘We must take action now. We cannot be silenced.’
Their signs reinforced their message: ‘Don't be Muzzled. Make Noise!’ ‘Take Action Against Muzzling!’ These words from the song of the Raging Grannies say it plainly: ‘We're demanding free expression. This is unbearable oppression. Harper, you need to learn your lesson. Just let them speak out loud!’
According to the Ottawa Raging Grannies website, the first group to call themselves 'Raging Grannies’ arose in the winter of 1986-87 in Victoria, British Columbia. Several peace activists who were doing street theater began to strategically dress up in outrageous hats and sang satirical songs of protest.
They protested against nuclear submarines, uranium mining, nuclear power, militarism, racism, clear-cut logging, and corporate greed. They were sometimes arrested but never taken to court.
The Raging Grannies franchise spread across Canada and into the United States. Each group changes the words of familiar tunes to suit their particular circumstances.
Ottawa co-organizer Granny Jo Wood says that the present Stephen Harper's Conservative government, elected since 2006, routinely requires political approval before scientists, and civil servants can speak to the media about their scientific findings. ‘Muzzling is being used to shutting down dissent. The press is uninformed. Citizens are uninformed. We have to rise up against it.’ (‘Muzzling’ of federal scientists called a threat to democracy, by Margaret Munro, Postmedia News, February 20, 2013.)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, and Parks Canada have been warned about speaking to the public on identified issues such as climate change, the protection of the polar bear and caribou, and the pipeline. Not all scientists are muzzled, only those whose findings are unwelcome.
In 2012, Margrit Eichler of Science for Peace, pointed out, for instance, the Canada Science and Technology Museum was pressured by the Imperial Oil Foundation, which contributed $600,000, to change their exhibit about the oil sands. ‘They found the language too negative, were uncomfortable with the links between wars and oil, and objected that the exhibit showed changes in the landscape caused by oil mining.’
Dr. Eichler revealed that ‘Canada was a leader in government openness — now we occupy rank 51, behind Angola, Columbia and Niger, in terms of freedom of information.’
The best known example of interfering with scientific integrity of data collection is the abolition of the long census of Statistics Canada, and its replacement with a voluntary survey. With a voluntary survey, it is widely known that the information will deteriorate, especially for poorer groups such as Aboriginal people and disabled people.
Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, was relentless in his pursuit of government transparency. He was relieved of his post on March 22, 2013 (which he held since 2008) because of his persistence to provide independent analysis of government spending to parliamentarians.
A notorious area of secrecy and muzzling by the Conservatives is the military. The Harper government has blindly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has crackdowns on government dissenters and liberal university professors, has wasted almost $1 billion in three days for security and other costs during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, has allegedly been involved in mysterious robocalls, and has blatantly lied about the 65 F-35 fighter jets expected to cost tens of billions of dollars more than the official projections.
The Deptartment of Defence needs to began an urgent conversation with Canadians on what is the role of the military today in Canada. It needs to look at private member's Bill C373 to see how feasible it is today to create a Canadian Department of Peace in Canada. Only then can one ask what planes and ships are needed.
As Ottawa turns its attention to a handful of retired civil servants that are returning to the public service as well-paid instructors at a federal government management school, it is time to scrutinize an exponentially larger group of ‘double-dipping’ taxpayer-funded young retirees. It is very common for members of the military, for example, to retire in their 40s, often with 6-figure salaries, and to return as soon as the following week as a consultant or salaried civilian. Ex-military members then enjoy a decade or two of a generous pension topped up by a secondary salary or consulting fees, all fully funded by taxpayers. It is a long-standing practice but given its massive scale and our current climate of restraint, it is time for it too to be scrutinized and scaled back.
With the Raging Grannies, let's be inspired by their action against muzzling. Let's work for more openness and integrity in government and develop a new era of enlightened and responsible leadership. Write letters to your Members of Parliament. No postage required. Join an on line campaign:
- Science Uncensored
- Democracy Watch
- Lead Now
- Department of Peace Initiative
- Mark Leith, 'The Case for a Dept. of Peace and Conflict Resolution.’ Video.