Local environmental groups joined hundreds of organizations across the country Monday in darkening their websites in protest of a federal bill they regard as anti-democratic and a threat to the environment.
About 15 local activists, dressed in black, held a news conference in front of a federal building on Main Street to blast Ottawa's 425-page omnibus budget legislation, Bill C-38. Its provisions, they fear, will tip Canadian environmental laws in favour of unfettered industrial development.
Eric Reder, with the Wilderness Committee, said tens of thousands of Canadians are expected to send messages to federal party leaders through email and social media expressing concern over the massive bill.
Environmental organizations, organized labour and groups such as the Council of Canadians participated in Monday's national Black Out Speak Out campaign, saying it was just the beginning of a sustained initiative. A website devoted to the campaign had close to 11,000 online signatures in support of its efforts by early afternoon Monday.
"Today's event is an overwhelming outpouring of concern by Canadian citizens and from people around the world," said Reder, noting large American environmental organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club USA, had also blackened their websites Monday in support of their Canadian allies. "The values that make Canada the greatest country in the world — values of democracy and nature — are facing devastating threats from the federal omnibus bill."
Protest organizers are upset the Harper Conservatives are looking at clamping down on groups challenging its legislation, questioning whether they should receive charitable tax status if they spend a lot of money on political action. The federal bill sets aside $8 million to investigate groups that disagree with the federal government's position, said Josh Brandon, a spokesman for the Green Action Centre. "By taking a stand against C-38 we're placing ourselves on the side of numerous groups that the federal government has targeted as enemies of Canada. Canada's First Nations, charities, labour groups and students have all been tarred for standing in the way of the federal government's agenda," Brandon said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet ministers fanned out across the country Monday in response to the "blackBlacoutout" campaign. Led by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, the ministers touted the government's budget plan and its supporting legislation that would rewrite several environment laws and significantly reduce the number of federal scientists monitoring Canada's air, wildlife, waterways and oceans.