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'Black Out, Speak Out': Canadian internet campaign targets 'undemocratic' bill

Published time: May 28, 2012 19:52
Edited time: May 29, 2012 13:50
Photo from blackoutspeakout.ca

Photo from blackoutspeakout.ca

A sweeping omnibus bill introduced last month to the Canadian parliament has been harshly condemned as “undemocratic.” Over 13,000 websites across Canada are planning to protest with a June 4 blackout to highlight their cause.

Bill C-38 – otherwise known as the “Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act” – is a 425-page document that has been described by critics as “a statutory juggernaut.”

What was submitted as a budget bill to the Canadian House of Commons will introduce, amend or repeal nearly 70 federal laws.

With the ruling Conservative Party calling the shots, critics have accused the legislation of tightening the screws on organized labor by way of a provision that would require unions to publicly list all recipients of contracts valued at $5,000 or more.

A line buried deep in the document also ominously states, "The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act is repealed."

The change would eliminate a 1985 law forcing companies bidding on federal contracts to pay “fair wages and overtime.”

Opposition New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin called the proposal a “solution without a problem.”

“The only conclusion I can come up with is that it's a war on labor and the left. It's what the Americans did with the right-to-work states and the end result is $8 or $9 an hour is now the average wage in places like North Carolina," the Canadian Press cites him as saying.

The bill will also overhaul the country’s immigration rules, its temporary foreign workers program and its employment insurance system. In a further blow to the middle class, provisions in the legislation would effectively raise the country’s retirement age from 65 to 67 in a decade's time.

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'Bill C-38 undoes decades of environmental law’

Environmentalists are also up in arms as the bill would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.  It would also jettison red tape for major resource development projects, shorten the list of protected species, and overhaul the country’s Fisheries Act so that the federal government would only regulate the country’s major waterways.

The Green Party of Canada warned that if the bill passed in its current form, it would “undo decades of environmental law," and “profoundly degrade the Canadian government’s ability to defend our environment.”

As the battle of the mega-bill is just getting started, some 13,000 websites across Canada will go “black” next Monday to rally the public against it.

Campaign organizers have called potential supporters to join “a committed group of organizations representing millions of Canadians” as they darken their websites “in defense of nature and society.”

While many websites will go offline, campaign organizers have asked volunteers unable shut down entirely to at least feature a splash page explaining why their site appears black.  

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‘Rise of tyrannical policies’

The bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec, Dennis Drainville, was anything but diplomatic in his condemnation of the bill.

Drainville accused the Harper government of “using every tyrannical tool they can find to ensure that their corporate agenda and ideological policies become the law of the land.”

“In the last 12months I have seen clearly the rise of tyrannical policies and the application of such mind and state control that the people of Canada, unless they soon react, will find themselves not only slaves to  a corporate and political domination they never chose but they will experience the extinguishing of any of the hopes and dreams that they once had for a nation firmly based upon the foundations of compassion, justice and peace.”

“For God’s sake, for all of our sakes, wake up Canada,” the letter concluded.

Writing for the National Post, conservative columnist Mat Gurney called the federal government’s decision to insert a slew of unrelated laws and regulations into a so-called budget bill as “sneaky,”  “undemocratic” and unnecessary “for a majority government.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has claimed the Tory government is not bypassing public oversight by cramming such broad legislative changes into a budget bill. But critics warn that omnibus bills are designed to keep specific changes from being studied at the relevant parliamentary committees.

Growing opposition to the new bill comes on the heels of another controversial act passed earlier this month, which has many in the Canadian province of Quebec up in arms.

Bill 78, an emergency law that lays down strict government regulations for demonstrations numbering more than 50 people, has been condemned as a draconian law that restricts the right of free assembly. The law followed mass protests in Quebec that have been raging for over 100 days, with 2,500 arrests made so far. Students originally took to the streets to protest a massive 75 per cent tuition fee hike, though students are also taking to the streets  to challenge the emergency law.

Student activists in the province of Ontario are also planning a June 5 protest in solidarity with their peers in Quebec. A recently formed Student Solidarity Network in Ontario claims that tuition fees in the province have risen by as much as 71 per cent since 2006.

And a controversial “Internet spying bill” proposed by the current administration has further increased fears the government is trying to chip away at civil liberties.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has attempted to rebrand the bill as an anti-child pornography act, civil liberties groups say the expensive domestic spying program would allow the Canadian government to monitor its citizens’ online activities.

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