Brian Stewart, one of Canada’s most respected journalists, has written a condemnation of the Harper government’s campaign against Canadian human rights and foreign aid NGOs. For decades, these NGOs have received funding from both Liberal and Conservative governments and depend on this government funding to survive. Harper, however, has been less accommodating than his predecessors. For some time now, the Harper government has been “de-funding” groups that dare to criticize the government. The government, of course, claims that this de-funding has nothing to do with political differences, but because the NGOs failed to focus on the three priorities of foreign aid: children and youth; food security; and sustainable growth. But as Stewart points out, “it was just last fall when the auditor general complained that Canada’s foreign policy priorities, or “themes,” have been reshuffled five times in the last 10 years, producing an astonishing 12 different themes in all.” If the government can’t decide what it’s foreign aid priorities should be, then maybe they should let NGOs decide for them. But, of course, this has nothing to do with what areas of international development NGOs are deciding to focus on, it has to do with this government’s unwillingness to put up with critical debate. As Stewart ominously states, “I wonder how we will be able to judge anything in this field in the future with any confidence if independent voices are silenced and independent information dries up out of fear of government retaliation.”

Advertisements

There’s still no public inquiry into what happened at the Toronto G20 summity, but if you read between the lines of this article from the CBC, it looks as though the likelihood of one is ratcheting up. Conservative MP and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Dean Del Mastro stated “I think it’s very important that reasonable people in Ottawa, reasonable politicians of all parties allow those groups to do their work, and if they still have questions, that would be the appropriate time to conduct an inquiry at committee.” The “groups” Del Mastro is referring to are an internal probe and external review by the Toronto Police Services Board and an investigation by the Ontario ombudsman into police powers during the G20. None of these investigations hold the same power as a public inquiry would, but the fact that Del Mastro is refusing to rule out such an inquiry is a sign that, for all their foot dragging, the government is feeling the pressure for an such inquiry. Though it’s slow in coming, it’s clear that progress is being made. It was just this past Monday that the the Conservatives filibustered an attempt by opposition MPs (who, combined, hold a majority in the House of Commons) to force the government into holding a public inquiry. At that time, Del Mastro was accusing the NDP of aligning itself with anarchist groups, but with his newfound unwillingness to rule out a public inquiry, the likelihood of such an inquiry seems greater than it has been since the G20 fiasco ended. But that requires continued pressure on the government not just from opposition MPs, but from the public itself. Rallies are being held nationwide this Saturday to demand a public inquiry. In Toronto, the rally will be held on the south lawn of Queen’s Park at 1:30.