Why All the Secrecy?

July 30th, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” He meant that openness and transparency are fundamental elements of a true democracy. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on the strength of our democracy and the rights which are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Recent events have brought rights and democracy in Canada into question.

Background – In 2005, the heads of state of Canada, U.S.A. and Mexico launched the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) with the goal of enhancing security and increasing prosperity in North America. Hard to argue against a safer and more prosperous North America, you would think. Except that the leaders take no advice from their peoples’ elected representatives. Instead, they receive input only from representatives of North America’s corporate elite on ways to achieve continental economic integration. The top politicians of the three North American countries have been meeting privately with members of corporate industry to discuss a wide variety of topics, including energy, health, immigration and cross-border trade.

Until recently, a lack of publicity meant the meetings of the SPP have gone largely unnoticed by the general public. But earlier this month the SPP came into the light when the Council of Canadians, a concerned group of left-leaning progressive citizens, was denied a permit to hold a public forum near the site of an upcoming SPP meeting, which will be held in Canada in August 2007.

The Council paid a $100 deposit to rent the community centre in Papineauville, Quebec, about six kilometers from the site of the SPP meeting. The proposed public forum had been scheduled to take place a few days before the upcoming meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The Council of Canadians was informed that Canadian police and the US Army (you read that right!) would not allow the rental of the community centre because of security concerns.

The last time I checked, Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights assured the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, thought and expression to all Canadians. The Council of Canadians, which refuses donations from government and corporations, has worked for over 20 years to peacefully promote its policies on fair trade, clean water, energy security, public health care, and other issues of social and economic concern to Canadians. They are an integral part to a healthy democracy, giving a voice to a side of debate that is not promoted by government or business. The Council speaks for many Canadians when it voices concerns about the establishment of a North American security perimeter and a continental resource pact. In refusing to allow the Council to meet in Papineauville, the authorities are sending a message that suppresses the fundamental rights of Canadians.

It bothers me that the North American heads of state are discussing the future of Canada and its sovereignty in secret. The elected leaders have an obligation to make their dialogue public. On its website, the SPP says it is acting with the best interests of North Americans at heart. But the real question is whose interests are being served? Who is speaking for the interests of ordinary Canadians? And while I applaud efforts to increase quality of life and prosperity in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.A, such changes should not come at the expense of democracy and open debate. As Canadians, we don’t like it when our government does things behind closed doors.

Hopefully, further media attention will cast “sunlight” onto meetings of the SPP so that all citizens can be informed and have their voices heard. In future blogs, I hope to further discuss the SPP and its impact on Canada.

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