Martin government stepping on freedoms with new Bill

MONTREAL--The Canadian Islamic Congress came out in strong opposition to a new federal bill that will give the Paul Martin government power to fine Canadians who subscribe to foreign TV satellite channels, such as Al-Jazeerah.

Bill C-2, due to come up for second reading in Parliament in February, will impose up to $25,000 or one year in jail, for Canadians caught subscribing to the overseas channels through American companies, or who import the same signals by installing equipment marketed by Dish Network or Direct TV. Both of these American companies provide Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Polish, Hindi and other non-English language TV channels to a market that is too small for Canadian entrepreneurs to serve.

"If Canadians can subscribe to foreign magazines and newspapers, why does the Martin government want to punish them for subscribing to foreign TV channels through an American distributor when these are not available here?" asks Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "Bill C-2 clearly goes against Canadian values of freedom of religion and freedom of expression. It is an insidious form of censorship."

It is estimated that if Bill C-2 becomes law, more than one million Canadian families, who watch these TV channels to stay in touch with their cultures, will be adversely affected. In addition to hundreds of thousands of Canadians from the Middle East who tune in to Al-Jazeerah, many other ethnic communities will also suffer. Among them, for example, would be more than 140,000 Spanish-speaking Canadians, according to the Congreso Ibero-Americano de Canada.

"This amounts to open war against Canadian multiculturalism," said CIC national vice-president, Mrs. Wahida Valiante. "We ask all Canadians who care about freedom of religion and freedom of expression in this country to contact their local MPs and urge them to stop this bill."

Bill C-2 will amend the Radiocommunication Act "to add import control measures in respect of radio apparatus or devices used for decoding encrypted subscription programming signals. It makes importation of them without an import certificate an offence and provides for the issuance of the certificates and for Ministerial exemptions from the requirement. Finally, it provides measures to facilitate compliance with and enforcement of the Act, including adding certain inspection powers, increasing penalties and providing the option for a person who pursues a civil remedy to elect statutory damages."

The full contents of Bill C-2 are posted at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/3/parlbus/chambus/house/bills/government/C-2/C-2_1/C-2_cover-E.html

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or for the Government Ethics Coalition, visit http://www.dwatch.ca/ethicscoal.html