MM: When did you join PEN Canada?
CR: I joined PEN Canada in the 1980s. I am a former director and a current member of the advisory board.
MM: What prompted you to join?
CR: I was very involved in the civil liberties movement as a student in the 1970s, and I saw firsthand how freedom of expression was inextricably connected to democracy and a pluralistic society. I joined PEN Canada because I believe that writers who are free to write are indispensable in keeping politicians accountable, and in creating free and fair societies.
MM: Why is the organization important to you?
CR: Censorship is the hallmark of dictatorships, not democracies. PEN Canada is tireless in its efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. It is necessary to protect writers and to foster an environment allowing writers to fulfill their artistic and political roles. Writers in prison are a focus for this issue, one that ordinary people respond to easily.
MM: What is the greatest threat to freedom of expression facing writers today?
CR: Governments, even democratic governments, are increasingly turning to censorship to regulate citizens, artists and activists. Such regimes are antithetical to artistic freedom and to free expression. Like many industries, the arts, including writers, often rely on government funds. Governments may abuse this power and threaten funding cuts when writers and others do not produce messages which are in line with the government agenda. The Harper government, for example, is punishing organizations for daring to demand environmental safety and accountability of profits for the foreign corporations who own and operate the Alberta Tar Sands. It is intentional and carefully planned. Good people must fight it.
MM: What would you tell a writer thinking of becoming a member of PEN Canada?
CR: I am thinking of my daughter, Emma Ruby-Sachs, who wrote The Water Man’s Daughter, published in 2011. PEN Canada affords writers the opportunity to act together to safeguard the freedoms necessary for thought and expression. It is an excellent forum through which to work in concert towards a common goal, and I recommend that all writers join in this very important and significant work.
Clayton Ruby is a lawyer specializing in constitutional and criminal law and civil rights. He is a Member of the Order of Canada.