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February 17, 2011

Canada's writers and journalists: late to a revolution

The Canadian Charger

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Since January 25, during Egypt's pro-democracy revolution, many of the country writers and journalists were harassed, denied access to internet and cell phone service, forced to communicate lies to readers and viewers, lost their jobs and some were shot dead. Where were Canada's writers and journalists from all of this? Why have they not issued statements? Why did PEN wait until February 4 to issue a statement?

PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) Canada’s mission statement states that “PEN Canada is a non-profit organization that is committed to defending freedom of opinion and the peaceable expression of such opinion…It campaigns on behalf of writers around the world persecuted for their thoughts.”

A very well written, and commendable mission statement to be sure.

On February 4, 2011 PEN Canada released a statement condemning “the violence used against peaceful pro-democracy protestors during February 2-3, 2011, in which journalists and independent media outlets were amongst those attacked.”

Again, an admirable statement.

In the case of the end of Hosni Mubarak’s long standing dictatorship, most pro-democratic protestors and supporters would agree with the assessment “better late, than never.”  In the political and social hemispheres change takes time.  Nothing is accomplished over night.

However, once those changes occur shouldn’t a so-called socially advanced country like Canada with its civil society have the ability, and the know-how, to respond more quickly to the plight of people in need?  Are we not at a place to use the freedom we have in a way that will, at the very least, show we hope to make a difference with our words and ideas?

Surprisingly PEN mentions “the crackdown on peaceful protesters…since 25 January 2011, including several journalists.”  They mention the well know fact that many “more journalists attempting to cover the demonstrations have been attacked, and tight restrictions have been imposed on freedom of assembly.”

So why, with this information being readily available since the 25th, did it take PEN Canada so long to make a statement and defend their Egyptian counterparts?

The Committee to Protect Journalists, which is also “an independent, nonprofit organization” that defends “the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal”, made a statement condemning “the violence against journalists covering demonstrations in Egypt” on the 26th of January.

Why such a discrepancy in response time? 

We seem to be on the cusp of a new democratic age, where people in more countries than ever will have the ability to choose who their leaders are, and how their country is run. 

In a short amount of time the world will no doubt be a very different place politically, and there is no coincidence that this is following the age of information and socialization.

However, we can’t stop now. We can’t hesitate or wait for the right time to stand up to make our voice heard. The right time is now and now is happening all the time.

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M. Elmasry

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