This is an important month for PEN Canada. ‘Non-Speak Week,’ a string of events and exchanges exploring the state of freedom of expression here in Canada, marks our first major National Affairs campaign in some time. The campaign has its roots in conversations among not only the board and staff, but also PEN members who’ve made their concerns known to us. Simply, starting about a year ago, we began to note a local chill settling over that most fundamental of freedoms.
We’ve identified multiple sources for the chill, but the common thread, it seems to us, has been efforts by different levels of government to curb, control, obfuscate, and sometimes even simply suspend the rights of Canadians using methods soft and hard, confrontational and backroom, frank and disingenuous. “Non-Speak, Non-Transparency, Non-Accountability,” was how one PEN board member described the current climate.
Confident governments require no protection from their critics. Quite the opposite: they should welcome passionate dissent, and consider it the contributions of loyal, concerned citizens who are sharing the same civic space
To better understand our age, and to be better positioned to offer the kinds of critiques and observations that PEN Canada should make, we’ll be examining freedom of expression via seven urgent issues, including digital freedom, access to information, libel, the chill on charities, and the silencing of scientists. We’ll be using two public events in Toronto, a week-long series of pieces in the Huffington Post, including a short story by novelist Pasha Malla, online videos, and various platforms on our website to explore, assert, question and, when necessary, make demands.
Non-Speak Week may be primarily an awareness-raising campaign, and an applied exercise in doing what writers do best – argue and persuade — but it is born of strong principles. These are easy to express. Namely, confident governments require no protection from their critics. Quite the opposite: they should welcome passionate dissent, and consider it the contributions of loyal, concerned citizens who are sharing the same civic space. Likewise, even in a country as progressive and stable as Canada, freedom of expression isn’t a given. Always, it must be re-asserted and re-clarified, declared over and over to be the freedom that makes all others possible.
Non-Speak Week Details
Monday October 15th – Freedom of Expression Online, Perspectives from Canada and the World
PEN Canada and the Citizen Lab examine freedom of expression and censorship in the online world. How are writers, journalists, and bloggers navigating online spaces? How are governments responding to these changes? Where does Canada sit among its peers in maintaining a free market for ideas and opinion?
Wednesday October 17th – Sci-lenced: Government scientists and the media in Canada
PEN Canada and the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) will consider the federal government’s recent actions to prevent government scientists from speaking to the media. What are the implications for science and society when information isn’t shared openly?
(updated daily throughout the week)