PEN Canada was once thought of (at least by some) as an elite organization of older and established Toronto writers dedicated exclusively to helping fellow scribblers imprisoned in faraway places. This, of course, was a caricature. If there was ever any truth to it, there is no longer. PEN Canada today is a vibrant national organization with a growing and increasingly younger membership. It takes a deep interest in freedom of expression issues at home, while still respecting PEN’s traditional international mandate.
This modern identity is reflected in the composition of PEN Canada’s board and committees. Our new bylaw requires that at least two directors come from each of western and eastern Canada. Our present board of 15 has representatives from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec (two) and Nova Scotia. The active and important Canadian Issues Committee (formerly National Affairs) has members from British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
We increasingly emphasize domestic freedom of expression issues. For example, the Canadian Issues Committee has launched a “Know Your Rights” campaign intended to increase awareness amongst all Canadians of our constitutionally guaranteed rights of free expression. Many of you may have noticed over the past summer our very public stance on Canada Revenue Agency audits of charities for political activity (although admittedly there was some self-interest at play, as we are one of the charities being audited). These are harbingers of work to come.
We are now focused on membership. PEN Canada needs more members, and from across the country. The best way to achieve financial stability and independence is through a broad fee-paying membership (however modest the fees), rather than reliance on large grants from foundations and corporations. A coast-to-coast membership will give us the national voice and platform we need. And we are in search of younger members. After all, the best way to build for PEN Canada’s future is to win the commitment of those with many years ahead of them.
President, PEN Canada