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Canadian artists fear C-51’s chill on expression

A group of Canadian artists say they’ll cast ballots on Oct. 19 for whomever will repeal bill C-51, the controversial law that dramatically increased the power of Canada’s spy agencies.


 
People protest on Parliament Hill during a day of action against Bill C-51, the government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation, Saturday, April 18, 2015 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

People protest on Parliament Hill during a day of action against Bill C-51, the government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation, Saturday, April 18, 2015 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

A group of  Canadian artists say they’ll cast ballots on Oct. 19 for whomever will repeal Bill C-51, the controversial law that dramatically increased the power of Canada’s spy agencies.

In an open letter provided to Maclean’s, author Margaret Atwood, singer-songwriter Dan Mangan, filmmaker Don McKellar and writer Thomas King set out their concerns with C-51 on behalf of 220 Canadian artists. C-51 became law last June.

“This bill was rammed through Parliament by the Harper Conservative government, despite a huge public outcry and without due consultation,” they wrote. “This bill allows the government to silence dissenting voices without oversight or accountability. It criminalizes ‘advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general,’ which, because of this vague wording, could be interpreted in some very stupid ways. In effect, it gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like.”

          Related: Read the artists’ letter

The Liberals voted in favour of C-51 and said they would amend it if elected; the NDP tried to amend the bill but failed, and voted against it. The Green party also voted against the bill. All three parties have said they would repeal the bill, or parts of it, if they win on Oct. 19.

The letter was provided to Maclean’s by Open Media, an organization that advocates for issues such as privacy, open Internet and digital rights.

The artists list creative forms of expression they fear could be considered the promotion of terrorism, including writing a novel about an assassination plot, recording a song questioning the government’s agenda or producing a documentary on security threats in Canada.

           Related: Everything you need to know about C-51

In the past, the Conservatives have accused anti-pipeline protesters of being radicals and have listed “eco-extremists” as a threat to Canada.

“This election, we will be voting to protect our artistry, our rights and our freedoms: We will be voting for the repeal of C-51,” the artists wrote. “We hope you will join us in ensuring that all Canadians are no longer subject to the chilling effects of C-51 and targeted by government censorship.”

Some of the higher-profile artists who signed the letter aren’t likely able to vote in the election: Author and activist Cory Doctorow and filmmaker Paul Haggis, for example, are expatriates who have lived outside Canada too long to be allowed to cast ballots.

CAMBRIDGE, MA - MAY 01:  Canadian Author Margaret Atwood receives the 2014 Harvard Arts Medal at Harvard University on May 1, 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  (Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Margaret Atwood receives the 2014 Harvard Arts Medal at Harvard University on May 1, 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Paul Marotta/Getty Images)


 

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