Canadian government muzzles librarians and archivists, creates snitch line to report those who speak online or in public without permission

Canada's Conservative government has issued new regulations to librarians and archvists governing their free speech in public forums and online media. According to the Harper government, public servants owe a "duty of loyalty" to the "duly elected government" and must get permission from their political officers managers before making any public utterance -- or even a private utterance in an online forum that may eventually leak to the public, to prevent "conflicts" or "risks" their departments.

The Tories have also rolled out a snitch-line where those loyal to the party line can report on their co-workers for failing to maintain ideological purity.

“Once you start picking on librarians and archivists, it’s pretty sad,” says Toni Samek, a professor of library and information studies at the University of Alberta. She specializes in intellectual freedom and describes several clauses in the code as “severe” and “outrageous.”

The code is already having a “chilling” effect on federal archivists and librarians, who used to be encouraged to actively engage and interact with groups interested in everything from genealogy to preserving historical documents, says archivist Loryl MacDonald at the University of Toronto.

“It is very disturbing and disconcerting to have included speaking at conferences and teaching as so-called ‘high risk’ activities,” says MacDonald, who is president of the Association of Canadian Archivists, a non-profit group representing some 600 archivists across the country.

Regular readers will remember that Canada's librarians and archivists led a charge to save Canada's National Archives when the Harper Tories broke up the irreplaceable collections and flogged them off to private collectors at fire-sale prices.

Federal librarians fear being ‘muzzled’ under new code of conduct that stresses ‘duty of loyalty’ to the government [Margaret Munro/National Post]

(Thanks, Dad!)


  1. Meet the new “loyalty”, same as the old “loyalty”.

    I believe a certain talking stuffed tiger once said “If your friends are contractual, you don’t have any.”

  2. The Canadian conservative mindset (likely similar to the US and other versions) is usually that they are right and correct in their views.  Being right and correct in the face of (what they perceive) as malice and ill intent from the rest of us, it is therefore only in the interest of the good that they stifle dissent and ostracize those who disagree (and are therefore wrong and/or malicious).

    The natural endpoint of this sort of thing is never good (see Pinochet, Thatcher, Peron).

    1. Though I’m no fan of the Conservative government, I feel it’s fair to say that the Liberals were just as guilty under Chrétien.  One only has to look back to the APEC demonstration from the 1990s and the way the government handled those that were “wrong”.

    2.  I used to write our local (Conservative) MP on a regular basis about important issues, providing helpful context and research to justify the concerns of myself and many of her constituents. No matter what was brought to her attention, she sent a generic letter containing meandering talking points, most of which were debunked in my initial letter to her.

      They have no interest in opening their eyes or ears, they just want to further the goals of the flagship and tow the party line.

  3. I try to never assume malice of governments I dislike.

    But the idea of any government mandating that bureaucrats first loyalty is to the them and not to the people they serve is profoundly disturbing.

    Almost any government decision is a trade-off of costs and benefits between different groups of citizens.  While I often disagree with the government’s weighing of those costs/benefits, I fail to see how this particular decision benefits *any* citizens, ever.

    1.  On top of that, the ‘duly elected’ language in their justification is in stark contrast to their actual percentage of the popular vote (39.6% in the last election).  Hardly a mandate from the people when most of the population voted against them (and still more didn’t vote for anyone at all – not a rejection, but not an endorsement either).

      1. Yeah, but as disagreeable as our electoral system may be, as disagreeable as I find the Conservatives to be, and as disagreeable as the whole concept of civil servants answering to the duly elected government of the day is, the Conservatives are in fact the duly elected government of Canada. I don’t know where I was going with this – I just got myself too angry and have to go for a lie down.

        1. Totally agree with you, but I think the point rocketpj was going to get to was that this is about word choice. They chose the words “duly elected” when “people’s will” or “majority” might have been more appropriate. But those terms, unusable because they are technically inaccurate, have a more dangerous downside: they acknowledge that there are different points of view within the government and that diversity in opinions is not only possible, but heaven forbid, might be good. 

        2. Save a couple of voting irregularities they would like everyone to forget about, which I am sure stressing their duly elected status is meant to help with.

    2.  When I was in the Federal Civil Service, we were told our loyalty was towards the country of Canada, not necessarily the government of the day – you worked with the government of the day, but you worked for Canada – you were supposed to be apolitical.

      1. Exactly.  After all, it’s the people of Canada who pay the civil service salaries, not the Conservative party coffers.

        I think the Conservatives are confusing managers with owners.

        1. Maybe it’s time to make use of that Head of State and get the Governor General to smack Mr. Harper around a bit.

          1. It is, indeed, quite rare that the Governor General (GG) makes use of any power whatsoever.  In theory he COULD make a difference by disallowing proroguing of Parliament, refusing to give royal assent to omnibus bills, and such; but traditionally he (and many cases she) has stuck to the figurehead role of smiling and nodding while all hell breaks loose.

  4. This is disgusting, but not the first time they’ve done this.  The Harper government did this to the science folks first. Basically they want to control the messages that get out.  It’s extremely reminiscent of a regime more than a government. 

    Just google harper muzzle.

    1.  They do this with all the Tory MPs too. They have a list of questions they can answer and have prewritten approved answers they can give in any public appearance.

  5. It’s not all bad news: the penalty for transgressors has been reduced from death by six man firing squad to death by four man firing squad.

  6. Am I the only one that sees the funny irony here? Shouldn’t it be librarians telling other people to be quiet, not the other way around? :) 

    1. I think the seriousness of the problem makes it hard for people to see the humor. But this reminds me of that Mel Brooks line: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”

      By that definition what the Harper government is doing is hilarious.

      1. Feh.  “Harper Government Says Shhhhh! To Librarians” would have been a much better post title.

  7. Seriously NDP and Libral party, if you don’t combine into one federal party and stop this 35% ‘majority’ then you’re worse that the conservatives (at least the conservatives are shameless douches).  100% of no power is worse than 50% of power.

    1. Much as a I would like to stop the Conservatives, I think trading short-term gain for the long-term headache of a two-party system is a *bad* idea.

      See our friends South of the border for an example of the cost of such.

      1. Good point, how about a hybrid.  In traditional NDP strongholds no Lib candidate and vise versa?

      2. Speaking of which, just how much do priceless national treasures sell for? I only ask because our two-party party has gotten us into a bit of a financial jam of late and we may have to sell the china…er, sell to China, I mean…

      3.  If you want to have a multi-party system, perhaps you should have adopted a government structure that supported it? Any system that gives a minority part the power to do something like this, seemingly unchecked, simply because they are the largest minority, well…

        Unless they SHOULD be checked, but the other parties just plain aren’t doing their job?

        1.  Yes, the parliamentary system is a “serial dictatorship” (at least if you get majorities).

          It is also an expression of the populace’s trust in government (not trust they’ll do what we want, but that they are loyal to the citizens of their nation), and one of the fundamental cultural differences between the United States (where the government is all about checks and balances) and Canada and the UK.

          I used to hate it, and it absolutely has it costs, (especially in examples like this), but as time as gone on, I have actually found myself more in favor (favour!) of the system over its American counterparts.

          However, it *does* require a fundamental belief that the parties that you intensely dislike are not filled with fundamentally evil or malicious people.  Merely ones who are completely wrong.

          Feelings that, I admit, are being put to the test with legislation like this.  However, no party lasts forever.  Now is the time to the other parties to pledge that they will reverse this when they eventually get into power.  Something to hold them to when “but they did it” becomes tempting.

    2.  That is the opposite of what democracy should be. They are two parties with vastly different values with a few shared ideas on populist issues.

      Co-operation? Sure. That’s admirable… two parties working together on a common goal. Mergers? Hell no.

      I don’t want silver spoon corporate entitlement flooding all 3 or 4 parties. We have Harper’s Conservatives, the “lite”/slightly left version of the same thing (wearing red jerseys) and some real alternatives.

      Electoral reform would be swell though.

  8. First they came for the librarians, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a librarian.

  9. Just want to chime in to add a little bit of insight from another part of the Canadian Public Service. It’s not just the scientists, archivists, and librarians that are under gag order. It is the ENTIRE public service. We have all been issued with new codes of ethics and values recently. They all basically say, you are never to question the government, STFU and do as you are told.

  10. Now, if they speak publicly in French, they’ll be protected since none of Harper’s friends cared to learn it… 

  11. When Frank McKenna was Premier of New Brunswick, his government instituted a 1-800 ‘Welfare Snitch Line’ – so people could report their welfare-receiving neighbours if they thought they were living high on the hog or weren’t really disabled or were working ‘under the table’…

    A day or three later, a citizen, who understands just how things work, instituted a 1-800 ‘Snitch Snitch’ line:  so that people who suspected that their neighbours had called the government’s Snitch Line, could report THEM.

    Withing 24 hours, the government reversed itself and McKenna cancelled the Snitch Line. 

    I can still recall watching on TV the then-Premier McKenna, in a reporter scrum (remember those?), who turned to a reporter who had just asked him why they had cancelled the Snitch Line.  The straight-talking politician replied: “‘Because we screwed up!”.

    (That’s when I decided I had to move here.)

    What’s needed here is another Snitch-Snitch line.

    / Snitch lines are soooo Stasi…

    // It was a McKenna Goverment policy that any phone number listed in the phone book (remember those?) had to be answered by a human being.

    /// It was a McKenna Goverment initiative to lay fibre-optic Internet backbone throughout the province – in the early 1990’s, the first in Canada.

  12. The people who wrote this probably have no idea what’s involved. Show someone this on a sheet of paper:

    From: The Office Of Stephen Harper

    And a lot of them would have a had time understanding that it is not a real email but just something typed on a sheet of paper. Of course, a whole witch hunt could be launched before that simple ruse is detected. And of course we’ve all had the “boner pill” spam with a friends name on it, so maybe that starts to happen.

  13. I suggest they undertake a passive aggressive protest. “I’m sorry I cannot tell you if we have the [record; archive; book] becaue I’m being gagged by my duly appointed representative” It’d be interesting see how long the bureaucratic machine can run when its cogs stop turning.

  14. “So we would not read other than their sacred writings They burned ours in bonfires Our history, our poetry, the records of our people They filled the sockets of our eyes with smoke They filled our intestines with tears They burned our writings, carefully painted by the scribes They burned the history that made us who we were.” This excerpt from a poem by Gioconda Belli

  15. Solution: An organized effort to falsely snitch on everybody.

    Even Stephen Harper counts as a public servant, right?  I mean technically, not in the sense that he actually serves the public.

  16. While I would like to see a free and open federal library, I think it may be difficult for librarians outside the federal service to understand that a long history of anonymity of public servants has been one of the main tenets of the “Peace, Order and Good Government” (POGG) outlined in the Canadian Constitution. Generally, in a parliamentary system, bureaucrats are expected to be loyal to the current government. In return, the Minister gets to wear the foul-ups that may occur due to mistakes and errors that occur from policy. This process has broken down over the past few decades with policos using the public service as the generic scapegoat for their failures, and public servants being outed by social media etc. (consider Wikileaks). While the principle of free-speech is all fine and dandy, public servants have lost their job over speaking out against the government, and this has been upheld by the top courts. The damaged caused by a political wing of government not being able to trust its public servants to apply public policy in an impartial manner far outweighs the loss of free speech of a few public servants. While I think this system sucks and is way off for the 21st century reality, it is the still the system that has kept Canada in relative economic stability and preserved Universal Health Care.

    1.  It is certainly true that a politicized bureaucracy, where individuals might try to sabotage policies they disagree with, is less than ideal.  A politician should be able to trust the bureaucracy to implement their policies properly.

      However, that should not require explicit loyalty to the government, but only loyalty to the Canadian citizens who duly elected this government.

      Instead, what this policy makes clear is that in the unfortunate case where the interests of the government differ from the interests (in the global sense) of Canadians, the duty of the bureaucrat is to the government.

      Now of course, this is mostly about symbolism, but (1) symbols have real (if subtle) consequence and (2) this symbol makes it clear that the bureaucrats represent the government in power, not the people of Canada. 

  17. How dare Harper speak of “duty” and “loyalty” while he is in a continuous state of: breach of trust as trustee of the public trust dereliction of his duty-of-care in violation of his oath-of-office?

    Ring-leader of a pack of white-collar thugs who repress discussion and dissent while smashing and vandalizing anything they can get their hands  on in their prolonged post-coup orgy of gratuitous violence.

    May all of what they are bringing on themselves hasten home to them and may freedom and peace replace the collateral damage of their presence

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