Hundreds of Sites Participate in Black Out Protest Against the Government

It may be one of the latest examples of how we live in an age of internet activism. Using the power of the Internet to get the message across, hundreds of organizations in Canada have blacked out their websites to protest the Canadian governments budget bill which many say would gut environmental regulations in favor of big oil companies.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Protests on the Internet have really gained traction in recent years. In fact, blacking out websites is not necessarily a new idea. While we don’t know which protest first initiated the blackout protests, we do know that the earliest iteration of such a protest that we’re aware of dates back to 2009 when citizens of New Zealand protested the three strikes law. While the protest wasn’t able to stop a draconian three strikes law from being passed in New Zealand, it did raise awareness for the copyright law in a very big way. Back in November of 2011, we witnessed the rise of SOPA. In January of 2012, numerous websites both big and small (ZeroPaid also took part in the protest) joined in a massive protest against SOPA. Unlike the New Zealand three strikes law, this protest was successful in stopping SOPA altogether. One of the many messages this sent was that the internet is a very valid force in political discussion and can make a difference in pushing for a cause. That is what makes the internet so valuable to society and efforts to stifle that freedom could easily have disastrous consequences for everyone.

Now, hundreds of websites are blacking out their websites in protest of the Canadian budget bill. While it doesn’t sound like much, many Canadians know that numerous provisions are embedded in the legislation that really have little to nothing to do with the budget. That includes many provisions that would vastly alter environmental regulations in a way that would favor big oil companies. The main protest page is Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Council of Canadians, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Margaret Atwood, the David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Foundation, and the Sierra Club Canada.

The sites FAQ contains a top ten list of what is wrong with the Omnibus Budget Bill (PDF). Here’s a condensed version of that:

1. Changes to the Fisheries Act mean that the law may no longer protect all fish and the waters where they live.

2. No maximum time limits on permits allowing impacts on species at risk.

3. The National Energy Board (NEB) will be exempted from species at risk

4. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is being replaced with a new Act
that will significantly narrow the number of projects that will be assessed for their
environmental, social and economic impacts.

5. The federal government is offloading responsibilities to the provinces.

6. Cabinet is now granted authority to override a “no” decision of the National
Energy Board.

7. No more joint review panels.

8. Broad decision-making powers are being shifted from the public realm and given
to Cabinet and individual Ministers.

9. Significant narrowing of public engagement in resource review panel hearings,
particularly for major oil projects, pipelines and mines.

10. Repeal of two important environmental laws. [Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act and the National Round Table on Environment and Economy Act]

While some political commentators are suggesting that this online protest won’t have much of an impact on the ultimate outcome of all of this, that doesn’t mean it isn’t having an impact on domestic politics. According to Yahoo! News, the protest is putting the government in damage control:

Gillian McEachern, deputy campaign director of Environmental Defence, which is one of the organizations leading the web black out, says the government’s response means their campaign is working.

“It isn’t every day that a third of the Cabinet fans out to respond to a civil society campaign, so clearly this has gotten under their skin,” she told Yahoo! Canada News.

“The signal of today’s action — over 500 groups representing millions of Canadians — makes it clear that Canadians care about nature and democracy, and will join together to defend it. We hope that rather than just dispatching Ministers to spin to Canadians, government will listen to the people speaking out today and change course.”

McEachern adds that her group will continue to pressure the government on Bill C-38 throughout the summer.

It’s very significant that the Canadian government is not only not ignoring the online protest, but is also trying to find ways to try and combat it. It’s not easy to push the government into action (unless, of course, you’re a major oil company of course). This is why people like us are big supporters of free speech on the internet. It gives people a voice that they wouldn’t otherwise really have. In this case, a voice on the internet is having an effect on the Canadian government, re-enforcing the fact that the Internet is a vital tool for empowering democracy.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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