PEN Canada, a national organisation of writers, has announced a new initiative to counter “efforts by different levels of government to curb, control, obfuscate, and sometimes even suspend the basic rights of Canadians”.
Charlie Foran, president of PEN-Canada, explained this “renewed interest in national affairs” when he addressed members of last June’s General Annual Meeting, during which the organisation’s annual report was also presented. Mr. Foran reminded his audience that “no dimension of PEN Canada’s mandate is nearer to its very core than freedom of expression and censorship”.
And this dimension now covers Canada with darkening clouds. Said Mr. Foran: “Over the past year, we’ve grown concerned about a deepening chill on that most fundamental of our freedoms as writers and, more importantly, as citizens.” Multiple sources for this chill have been identified by his organisation, and although they are not entirely sure why it is happening, “we sure know that it is, and we are alarmed”.
Mr. Foran and PEN’s national affairs chair, Philip Slayton, outlined some of the causes of this chill: the clampdown by the Conservative government on discussion of scientific research; threats to the charitable status of organizations; and the adoption of Bill 78 by the Liberal government in Québec. “We’re going to make this changing climate for freedom of expression in Canada our primary policy concern”, said Charlie Foran.
This changing climate was recently explained by a PEN’s board member as “non-speak, non-transparency and non-accountability” on the part of our governments, federal and provincial. From that came the theme “non-speak” for the week-long campaign of October 11 to 17, during which time public events, statements, op-ed articles and others will take place every single day.
But the situation is such that, according to PEN Canada, “simply to note scathing and blunt attempts at censorship, or respond blisteringly to attacks on freedom of speech, will not be enough”. That's why the organisation intends to be much more vigilant, alert, and to use Non-Speak Week to make bold declarations “on what we know to be true”.
Mr. Miki Andrejevic, Coordinator of PEN for Western Canada, confirmed to Digital Journal that several meetings are in the works to identify activities, content, and volunteers for the upcoming campaign. More details should be available soon on PEN's website. But one thing is certain, PEN Canada intends to remind Canadian authorities that “confident governments require no protection from their critics” and that “quite to the opposite, they should welcome comments and observations as the contributions of loyal, concerned citizens”.
Associated with PEN International, PEN Canada is a non-partisan, national organisation of writers.