Why we are suing the Prime Minister’s Office
One would think it unfathomable in Canada that the heart of our democratic government – the Prime Minister’s Office – would use the bullying tactics of undemocratic regimes to silence dissenters, but it has.
Our organization, a mainstream Canadian NGO has worked tirelessly to protect civil liberties for over a decade, was recently smeared by the PMO as being affiliated with a banned terrorist group. Why? Because we dared to exercise our right to criticize Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to take someone on his trip to the Middle East who praised individuals widely recognized as anti-Muslim activists.
Rather than respond to the legitimate concerns in our open letter to the prime minister, the PMO’s communications director dismissively stated that we have “documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.”
Excuse us? Since when does government publicly accuse Canadians of criminal affiliations without a shred of evidence? Wait – don’t answer that question.
Among the vast portfolio of advocacy work we’ve done over the years, including standing up for Canadians like Maher Arar, we’ve seen first-hand how leaping to false conclusions can have devastating effects on people’s lives.
When Arar heard we’d been targeted by the PMO, he issued a statement of support saying: “As a Canadian who was wrongly labeled a terrorist by journalists and by some politicians, I find the comments made by the Prime Minister’s Office with respect to the National Council of Canadian Muslims extremely disturbing … I personally know how it feels to live with such stigma on a daily basis. As put nicely in the words of Justice Dennis O’Connor ‘labels, even unfair and inaccurate ones, have a tendency to stick.’”
We’ve received public support denouncing the PMO’s actions from Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian and British Columbia Civil Liberties Associations, and the Canadian Association of Jews & Muslims, among others. Through our work together, they know us and our work well.
For over 14 years we have engaged with Canadians, promoting active citizenship and outreach. If the government had any concerns, why bring them to light only now? Either they have been grossly derelict in their duty to ensure public safety or this is a McCarthy-esque political witch hunt.
In addition, we have participated in major public inquiries, appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada on issues of national importance, and provided advice to security agencies on engaging communities and promoting safety.
We have consistently and unequivocally spoken out against terrorism – regardless of who perpetrates it, including naming groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Al-Shabab.
In 2005 we coordinated a national statement by over 120 Canadian Imams representing hundreds of mosques across Canada which denounced terrorism and religious extremism and we subsequently met with former Prime Minister Paul Martin who recognized this initiative.
Incidentally, the prime minister’s delegation also included the controversial Jewish Defense League (JDL) of Canada. In the U.S., the JDL was officially “deemed a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI for its violent activities.
Does this mean it’s fair to conclude that the PMO is linked to terrorists? Of course not, but it does mean the PMO is trying to suck and whistle at the same time.
Similarly, fringe bloggers like to trot out innuendo of wrongdoing based on a game of six degrees of separation that would never pass muster in any court of law worth its salt. Most recently, we successfully settled a claim with a full retraction from an Ottawa professor who joined in this sort of smearing.
Most shocking is that this attempt to vilify Canadian Muslims is not coming from some obscure radio shock jock but from the highest office of the land.
Who does the PMO listen to? It certainly isn’t to the broad range of Canadians who support our work, or the dozens of national organizations and law enforcement agencies who know and work with us.
We weren’t the only group to raise serious concerns about the prime minister’s delegation but it looks like we were targeted to pay the price. To defend our good name, we gave legal notice for defamation to the PMO.
Prime Minister, the Canadian Muslim community is tired of being a political punching bag. And in case you have any doubt, we will neither be intimidated nor will we be silenced.