The following is a letter I sent to the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) National Council and Executive Director John Degen on the occasion of the 2021 Annual General Meeting, expressing my concerns regarding ongoing violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under Covid regulations:
George Gordon, Lord Byron. Ernest Hemingway. George Orwell. Samuel Beckett. Emma Goldman. What did these writers have in common? All of them risked their lives to fight for freedom. Byron fought with the Greeks in the war of independence from Turkish rule in the 1820s, also using a generous portion of his own wealth to fund their navy. Ernest Hemingway risked life and limb by volunteering for the Red Cross ambulance corps during World War I. George Orwell, determined to support the Spanish resistance to fascism during their Civil War, took a bullet in the neck for the cause. Samuel Beckett worked with the French Resistance fighting the Nazis during World War II, and was nearly caught by the Gestapo several times. Emma Goldman went to prison in 1917 in an attempt to prevent young men from entering the military in the biggest bloodbath in history.
Whatever we may believe about the lethality of coronavirus, the example of these courageous writers confronts us with some critical questions: Is it appropriate—for a virus with an average survival rate of 99.97%—to shut down not only the entire country but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? What are WE prepared to do to preserve those rights? Remember the letter-writing campaigns for Amnesty International to help free political prisoners in other countries? Well, we’re ALL political prisoners now. Do we honestly believe it’s an appropriate response to send a SWAT team to shut down a Calgary church? Taser children for playing pond hockey? Fine dissenters thousands of dollars for exercising their Charter right to free speech in public? Prevent families from holding public funerals? To name only some of the abuses our governments have doled out in the name of “protecting” us. Remember: Just over a year ago, all that was being asked of us was a single, short-term voluntary quarantine lasting 90 days. Since then the totalitarian creep has become more evident by the day.
Why is it that not a single major writer in Canada has spoken out for the protection of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why is it that the Writers’ Union has remained silent about these increasingly draconian restrictions? Do we as writers stand for freedom of expression or not? As writers we need to ask ourselves: Are we okay with the following measures:
- Fines of up to $2300 given to those who exercise their Charter right to freedom of expression by organizing or hosting protest rallies
- Jailing the pastor of an Edmonton church for exercising the Charter-guaranteed right to freedom of religious expression
- Incarcerating travellers returning to Canada in “quarantine hotels” that charge obscene rates, provide poor quality food, and no cleaning services
- Unconstitutional orders allowing police to use stop checks to monitor travel, violating our Charter right to freedom of movement
- Shutting down small businesses while Wal-mart and other big box stores continue their businesses unmolested, packed to the rafters with people
History teaches us that this kind of restriction of freedoms tends to move in only one direction: further and further away from what political philosopher Karl Popper described as “the open society” we’ve taken for granted in Canada until now. Two centuries ago, Thomas Paine warned: “The greatest tyrannies are always perpetuated in the name of the noblest causes.” Whether the excuse is coronavirus, terrorism, supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (remember that debunked threat?) or anything else, the net effect is the same. Any excuse will do for the tyrant seeking total power. George Orwell summed up the principle of power politics: “… no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”
As early as July 2020 a coalition of 11 pro-democracy groups released an alarming report on the rollback of democratic protections under Covid measures, with 100 organizations as signatories. In its accompanying statement, “A Call to Defend Democracy,” the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) elaborated: “…even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order…” etc. (Emphasis mine.)
It pains me deeply to have to say that if there are freedom leaders in our country right now, clearly it’s not our writers, with a few notable exceptions. The true Canadian heroes today are the whistleblower nurses, doctors, emergency medical personnel and police who have formed associations such as Police on Guard for Thee, Canadian Frontline Nurses, Canadian Physicians for Science and Truth and others. These courageous souls are prepared to risk their careers in order to speak truth to power and defend the Canadian tradition of a constitutional democracy. Are today’s Canadian writers singularly lacking in such backbone? History, sadly, is likely to record just such a verdict.
But it’s not too late. There’s still time to stand up for a free and open society. Start by turning off CBC, CTV, CNN, BBC, or any other such official propaganda outlets. They are the current equivalent to Soviet Russia’s official propaganda organ Pravda. With even minimal research outside mainstream news sources, the truth of this orchestrated farce quickly becomes apparent. Thousands of scientists, doctors and nurses have already testified that Covid measures are unscientific, politicized, and actually cause far more harm than good. (ref: Great Barrington Declaration, etc.) As the saying goes, “If you’re not enraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Thus, I offer as a motion for consideration at the AGM the following:
That the Writers’ Union of Canada fully supports Canadians’ rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and condemns any official action that violates this constitution in the name of Covid rules and regulations; and that we will support in principle any advocate who is prepared to fight for these rights through lawful, peaceful means.
Sean Arthur Joyce
FOLLOW-UP: Unfortunately I misread the deadline for having an AGM motion put on the agenda, which as it turns out was incredibly convenient for the leadership of the Writers’ Union, which is clearly unwilling to stand up for our Charter rights. This is highly ironic given that Canadian writers in the past have been avid supporters of Amnesty International’s annual letter-writing campaigns. I was advised to send this letter to all of the TWUC National Council, which I did. This required that the letter at least be considered. Here is their response:
Dear Mr. Joyce,
National Council discussed your email and your attached letter and has decided this is not a matter for the Writers’ Union of Canada. You are welcome to contact the Union on future matters directly pertaining to writers and writing in Canada.
Chair, The Writers’ Union of Canada
My response via email came in one word: Pathetic.
 “Global Democracy and Covid-10: Upgrading International Support,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), July 15, 2020, Stockholm, Sweden: https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/new-report-covid-19-and-democracy-calls-urgent-measures-governments-and-civil