After Muzzling Librarians And Scientists, Now Canada Starts Making It Difficult For Citizens To Express Their Views
from the coincidence?-I-don't-think-so dept
Last month, Techdirt wrote about the requirement for librarians employed by the Canadian government to self-censor their opinions, even in private. This came in the wake of similar restrictions being placed on government scientists. We pointed out that this kind of muzzling created a really bad precedent that might one day even be extended to the public. It seems that moment has come sooner than expected:
New undemocratic rules are creating a barrier to public participation in upcoming National Energy Board (NEB) hearings into the proposal for Enbridge's Line 9 oil pipeline. For the first time, members of the public who want to send a letter with comments to the NEB about a pipeline project must first apply for permission to participate -- by filling out a 10-page form that includes a request for a resume and references.
The National Energy Board reports to the Minister of Natural Resources Canada, and describes itself as follows:
an independent federal agency established in 1959 by the Parliament of Canada to regulate international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries. The purpose of the NEB is to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest.
Making permission to submit a letter conditional on filling in a 10-page form and sending a resume and references first is clearly an attempt to make the process so onerous that only lobbyists paid to do so will bother to go through with it. That's exactly the opposite of most consultations, which seek to encourage comments from as wide a range of people as possible by making the actual mechanics easy. It's particularly galling that these serious obstacles to participation should have been placed by a body tasked with working "in the Canadian public interest": if the public can't make their voices heard, how can the NEB claim to serve them?
Taken together with earlier moves, this latest ploy by a federal agency seems a part of an wider campaign to shut down public debate in Canada. Few politicians like to be criticized, or have the weaknesses of their plans exposed, but a country where people find it increasingly hard to express their views on government proposals is starting to take a dangerous road.