How Orwellian traps are laid

On Thursday, April 19th, 2012 in Blogs

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 []
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 07:03 PM
To: Alerte-Info-Alert <>
Subject: Legitimate Charities/Organismes caritatifs
Legitimate Charities

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 []

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.

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  • maemoore

    Brave indeed and deserving of some financial support. I gave Forest Ethics some money because this is the kind of action we need in this country.
    Thanks for your commitment Elizabeth!

  • Ann Gelsheimer

    Advocacy for the environment, or for animal welfare for that matter, is a legitimate activity for a charity as far as I am concerned. I donate to many charities involved in advocacy work such as Amnesty International and it is reasonable to expect that charities set up to protect the environment will educate and advocate as part of their mandate.

    The changes being implimented by the current federal government are extremely concerning to me, from identifying environmentalists and Native Canadians as potential terrorists, to eroding our right to privacy and due process, to preventing charitable organizations from obtaining charitable funding to carry out their mandates of protection and conservation. I hope there is soon a much bigger outcry very soon from individual Canadians as well as from charitable organizations of all kinds. Fear of speaking up is not part of a country that is “strong and free”. Our country deserves much better leadership, one that keeps our land “glorious and free”.

  • bevpeden

    We could spend years playing the same game of negative “info alerts” as the PMO.

    How do we build a better Canada, and a better world, without resorting to these disgusting tactics?

    How do we support our environmental concern groups, and others, who are playing a critical role in saving our world and environment from exploitation, and encourage an environment of stewardship without stooping to the political tactics of this administration?

    It is clear what we are against…but few are providing a vision of what we are for.

    Please give me something positive to work for…I’m tired of always fighting a negative rear guard action.

  • rogerf

    My country too. How long do we have to wait to oust these villains?

  • Jan Steinman

    Thanks for all you do, Elizabeth! Keep the fire on their feet!

  • dave0ferg

    One of the greatest inventions of the British Parliamentary system is the concept of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The idea that one can be opposed to certain government acts and remain loyal to the crown is one of the most important tools to rein in over-zealous governments.

    This may not be so important with a government as honest and transparent as the Harper. But governments do change and under our first-past-the-post electoral system, the socialists or, heaven forbid, the greens could end up in charge of the PMO. The Prime Minister should be more cautious with the presidents he sets.

    Dave Ferguson, Vancouver Island North

  • editextreme

    My first response upon hearing of Forest Ethics split was to donate to the advocacy group. We must all continue to speak up. Courage is foremost among human virtues. It is contagious.

  • rwcornish

    WoW boy do we need to stand together on this one, what does he think he is doing?, does he think we are all dumb or does mr prime minister think there is no more freedom of speech and will, we are better Canadians then that and we will not sit down and take it anymore we are going to fight for our rights…I am with you all the way..

  • Cameron Smith

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I sent the following message to Info-Alert:

    Reading the Info-Alert from the Prime Minister’s Office, it’s difficult to recall a more mealy-mouthed, hypocritical, and craven response toward a legitimate issue. And since it comes from the PMO it must, by definition, represent the stance of the Prime Minister himself. So my comments must also apply to him as well. Consequently, I shall direct them to Mr. Harper. For his information I am retired and write as a private individual. Before retirement I wrote the environmental column for the Toronto Star. I mention this not to add weight to my remarks, but to emphasize that nothing I say should be used to throw a shadow across the Star. I feel it necessary to say this, because the pattern of Mr. Harper’s approach to issues is to slander.

    You, Mr. Prime Minister, have become the greatest recruiting agent for opposition. Your tactics radicalize. The brutal clumsiness with which you limit information, try to intimidate dissenters, twist logic, and even lie, is appalling.

    Forest Ethics is a reputable organization, and always has been. It has achieved remarkable progress in persuading the forest industry to adopt more environmentally responsible practices, and it has won respect across the country for its efforts. To revile it as being deceitful, and calling it a radical organization, is childish in the extreme.

    I have never been a supporter of the Conservative Party, nor of the Reform Party. But I can tell you this. It would have been far better to have Preston Manning as Prime Minister than you. He, at least, had a sense of democracy that is absent in you. I didn’t like his policies, but he was a populist who listened to the people, and was prepared to enter informed debate. You, Mr. Prime Minister, are just the opposite. A sloganeer. An evil-spirited, sanctimonious sniveller unable or unwilling to stand up to dissent in honourable debate. You are, quite simply, deplorable.

    Cameron Smith

  • gsweeney

    I am changing my donation pattern. In future I will only donate to agencies that advocate for something I value or help the needy. The hypocrisy of politicians! Donate to a political party and get a colossal tax break – donate for advocacy in anything else and get no tax break.

  • Mooney

    So when does the Fraser Institute get it’s letter??


    Thanks Ms Liz for your insights. I also find it hard to believe this is Canada. Thanks too, to all those brave enough to stand up and let their voices be heard.

  • Aatos

    I cry for my country; I cry for my countrymen; I cry for Canada. Fear has brought us here and this PMO fosters fear. Yet it is this Prime Minister that we should really fear.

    We have the strength, and the ability to get rid of him, and to bring Canada back to the country that it was, respected in the world, and in our hearts here at home. It is possible, and it is up to us, and only us.

  • scraggyjack

    Thanks for the analysis of the PMO’s propagandists–spin meisters.. Their characterization of ForestEthics’ efforts to remain an effective advocacy group as those of an illicit charity is a perversion of language and logic.

  • fredmole

    Perhaps this government should follow its’ own directives and stop using taxpayers money to promote and give tax breaks to big business (in this case big oil). Big government and business should NOT be bedding together as they have been ever since the conservatives have been in power. And they have the gall to go after and organization that is trying to preserve the future of our environment (which EVERYONE depends on). Hardly what I would call self interest unlike this government which tells us we must tighten our belts while spending taxpayers money big raises for themselves.

  • rabbitupnorth

    I can’t help but wonder if the Catholic Church will get threatening letters for its political advocacy against same sex marriage, gay-straight alliances in high schools and other homophobic political activities.

  • Lightsource1111

    Thank you for an important excursion through the spindoctoring and sad, gutless tactics of a Canadian governing body and PMO who’s agenda is not in the best interest of Canada. It has become greater than frustrating to be force fed concoctions of quasi truths, innuendo and just plain bully tactics from a body of govt meant to “lead” not deceive. Canadians should not be forced to “have” to act to protect our Constitutional rights against our own government and keep a vigilent eye to ensure the safekeeping of our future. You are correct-this PMO does not belong in Canada.

  • thatchers

    I wish that I had the ability to “share” your blogs to Facebook. I would send it to the general public, but also to my students. We are reading “1984″ right now with one of the focus being, “Do we live in Orwellian times?”

  • alex

    Apparently, charities have received “tremendous financial advantages.” Really? I thought they had trouble staying in the black… They are making charities sound greedy. It’s downright offensive.

  • powederflask

    Thanks you Elizabeth. I do not live in your riding, yet a feel a debt of gratitude that you are there with an eye on these thieves, reporting from the front lines on the looting of our democracy.

  • david

    I also am outraged. I was here in the 1960′s when this suffocating governmental repression would never have been dreamed possible or tolerated. It is true that there a deliberate narrowing of freedoms and increase of control.
    This is a lobster pot situation where young people don’t know that they are getting cooked, not because they are stupid, but because they think this is normal. It is not.
    NGO’s must speak out – they are in the pot also.
    I used to be proud of being Canadian.

  • Dahlia

    I suspect the only reason Canadians ar not rioting in the streets, is that they are confused and turned off. This is a very dangerous state of mind, however, as it lets fascist dictators to take power without no one noticing till their neighbours begin to disappear!
    Still when I say this, people turn to me with “This is Canada, it couldn’t happen here”. Very dangerous!

  • bjwood

    HI Elizabeth,
    I agree with your blog.I am very disappointed that he would stoop so low to pick on charities-perhaps he is running scared.
    It seems strange that contributions to charities receive very little tax advantage and they are not allowed to advocate, whereas contributions to political parties receive a HUGE tax advantage, and they are allowed to advocate. Curiously, charities often advocate for the benefit of local public interest groups whereas some political parties advocate to the benefit of corporations, which are often foreign owned.

  • dkoroma

    That memo is just disgusting!

    These are ordinary Canadians who take time out of their day, many for no money at all, to advocate for their national forests and other environmentally sensitive areas and this is how our leaders brand them?!? As “Radicals”!

    This PM and his cabinet are nothing but a bunch of bullies looking to rubber-stamp any projects their oil-barron supporters tell them to… This is not leadership. This is division and it will be felt for generations if Canadians don’t unite & stand up now to defend what we’ve fought for decades to preserve!

  • Roland Legge

    Hi Elizabeth, thank you for continuing to speak out. I too am deeply disturbed by how the Conservative government continues to silence discent. I am a supporter of Kairos Ecumenical Initiatives and angry at the governments decison that CEDA will no longer fund their important work. I realize that Kairos is among many amazing organizations that the government is deterimined to silence.

  • robsurfer

    You have eloquently expressed my own concerns exactly. How do we stop our glorious PM from dragging Canada down this slippery slope towards a totalitarian state? Please keep up your excellent campaign to defend our rights, democracy and ecosystem.

  • sensato

    Must share these words from the Conservative Gord Brown, MP for Leeds-Grenville, ON, as published in an op-ed last Friday:

    “According to the NDP, the Council of Canadians and their supporters, the environment is something only they understand. It is something that is in constant danger and under constant threat from you and me.

    “In this context they build fear and use that fear to propose taxes such as their misguided carbon tax, which will increase the cost of gasoline, oil, natural gas, electricity as well as everything else. They continue to propose this tax even though it was rejected by Canadians and has failed everywhere else.

    “These are the same people who predicted cataclysmic climate change and the foreseeable end of fossil fuels. Fear-mongering equals strategy for the NDP, the Liberals and their friends at the Council of Canadians.”

  • sensato

    Some other organizations appear to be speaking up:

    Meeting: The State and Health of Democracy in Canada
    Date: Friday, May 11, 2012 – 10:00

    You may already be a member or supporter of the Voices-Voix Coalition or aware of our work. Perhaps you are not aware of Voices-Voix but you are deeply concerned about the state and health of human rights advocacy, democracy and dissent in Canada. If so, we hope you will be able to join us for a meeting on May 11th to discuss these concerns and help craft a strategy for responding to the many ways that democratic principles and human rights institutions and organizations are being undermined and weakened in the country.

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