Hundreds of Artists Slam Anti-Terror Law for Its ‘Direct Attack on Creative Arts, Free Expression’

Signatories inlcuding Margaret Atwood write that C-51 ‘gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like.’

Hundreds of Canadian artists warned in an open letter this week that the country’s recently passed anti-terrorism law has a “chill” effect and “directly attacks the creative arts and free expression.”

The signatories include author Margaret Atwood, musician Raffi, and filmmaker Paul Haggis.

The bill, C-51, passed in June, and has been criticized for its vast expansion of powers to spy agencies without accountability, and the BC Civil Liberties Association denounced it as “representing[ing] a massive threat to the freedoms of Canadians, without making us any safer,” adding that it “violates key constitutional rights.”

“This bill was rammed through Parliament by the Harper Conservative government, despite a huge public outcry and without due consultation,” the letter states. “As many experts have pointed out, this bill allows the government to silence dissenting voices without oversight or accountability. It criminalizes ‘advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general,’ which, because of this vague wording, could be interpreted in some very stupid ways. In effect, it gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like,” the authors write in their letter.

They ask if it constitutes “terrorism” if they

  • write a spy novel about an assassination plot?
  • record a song questioning our government’s agenda?
  • paint a mural about the conflict in Syria?
  • produce a documentary on security threats in Canada?
  • put on an art show critical of the oil sands?
  • make a film with an environmental theme?

David Christopher writes at Ricochet Media that the letter “is sure to remind voters of just what’s at stake over the coming weeks. Our core democratic principles are under threat, and only a complete repeal of this irresponsible bill can safeguard our rights and freedoms.”

Commenting on the massive public outcry the bill has sparked and how it’s an issue in the election next month, Christopher continued, “Tens of thousands have taken part in nationwide rallies, with thousands more writing to their MPs, senators, and local newspapers. Months after C-51 was forced through Parliament, it’s now become a major election issue. Finally, on Oct. 19, every Canadian voter will now have a chance to deliver a decisive verdict on the bill.”

The open letter appears in full below:

Dear Party Leaders,

We are Canadian artists. We have been blessed to be part of a country that does not send poets to gulags, that does not behead people for saying things a government considers critical of it, and that does not murder dissidents and journalists wholesale.

But we know that totalitarian and repressive regimes always try to shut down artists, along with any other independent voices. We are alert to the possibilities: we, and all who wish a free and open society, must strongly oppose such tendencies when they arise.

Bill C-51 directly attacks the creative arts and free expression in this country.

This bill was rammed through Parliament by the Harper Conservative government, despite a huge public outcry and without due consultation. As many experts have pointed out, this bill allows the government to silence dissenting voices without oversight or accountability. It criminalizes “advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences in general,” which, because of this vague wording, could be interpreted in some very stupid ways. In effect, it gives the government carte blanche to suppress any voice they don’t like.

Is it promoting terrorism if we:
– write a spy novel about an assassination plot? 
– record a song questioning our government’s agenda? 
– paint a mural about the conflict in Syria?
– produce a documentary on security threats in Canada?
– put on an art show critical of the oil sands?
– make a film with an environmental theme?

Creativity, expression, opinion, and art are not the same as terrorist propaganda. Through its “chill” effect, C-51 undermines one of the chief freedoms of a democratic society: the right of every Canadian to free speech and free expression, including free artistic expression.

In addition, Bill C-51, because of the lack of oversight and accountability, is an invitation to intellectual property theft. All creative classes, including entrepreneurs and digital creators, are threatened by it. And every citizen is subject to blackmail, due to unlimited, unaccountable access to personal information.

We agree with the more than 300,000 Canadians who have called on the government to scrap this reckless, dangerous and ineffective legislation through the petition at

This election we will be voting to protect our artistry, our rights, and our freedoms: we will be voting for the repeal of C-51. We hope you will join us in ensuring that all Canadians are no longer subject to the chilling effects of C-51 and targeted by government censorship.

We can defend against terrorists in much better ways than this.


Margaret Atwood, Author
Mark Achbar, Filmmaker
Brett Gaylor, Filmmaker
Hayden Desser, Musician, Hayden
Cory Doctorow, Writer
John Dunsworth, Actor
Zach Gray, Musician, Zolas
John Greyson, Filmmaker
Paul Haggis, Filmmaker
Thomas King, Writer, Photographer
Dan Mangan, Musician
Ali Momen, Actor
Judy Rebick, Writer
Raffi, Musician, Author
Antonia Zerbisias, Writer
Aaron Carley, Musician
Aaron McHattie, Musician
Adam Vee, Music Producer, The Ludvico Treatment
Adrienne Barrett, Writer
Ah Ram Lee, CG Artist
Alex Fallis, Actor, Director, Teacher
Alex Kennedy, Writer
Alex Leslie, Author
Alex Tribe, Musician
Alexander Hauka, Cellist, Good For Grapes
Alexander Kennard, Writer, Musician, Communications Professional
Alexandre Millaire, Musician, Moonfruits
Alexis Mitchell, Artist
Alexis Young, Musician
Alfred Peter Gough, Artist, Vice President, Society of Canadian Artists
Alice Burdick, Writer, Bookseller
Alisa Gayle-Deutsch, Musician
Alison Smith, Writer
Alison Urquhart, Potter, Painter
Allie Weigh, Musician, Performer
Andrew Barrett, Theatre Practitioner, Impulse Theatre
Ann Douglas, Writer
Aparna Sanyal, Writer, Editor
Asher Ettinger, Musician
Barbara Meneley, Artist
Barry Webster, Writer
Beverly Taft, Musician
Bill Rowat, Actor
Bill Young, Musician Composer
Brad Fraser, Writer
Brian Bowman, Writer
Brianne Nord-Stewart, Filmmaker
Brittney Rand, Producer, Musician
Bryan Webb, Musician
Caitlin Coflin, Dancer
Cameron Chouinard, Musician, Songwriter, Producer
Cameron Dixon, Painter
Camille Sullivan, Actor
Carla Richards, Author
Carole Henshall, Potter
Carolyn Deby, Artist
Carolyn Marie Souaid, Poet
Cass Reimer, Artist-Educator
Catherine Craig, Artist 
Cathy Gulkin, Film Editor
Cecilia Oberholzer, Painter
Chara Kingston, Museum Collections Manager
Charles Bowie, Author
Charles Demers, Comedian, Author
Chris Down, Artist
Christopher Majka, Writer
Christopher Reiche, Musician, Composer
Cindy Asoden, Videographer, YOLO Video Productions Inc/JCVDude
CJ Unsworth, Lighting Designer
Claire Cameron, Writer
Claire Coupland, Musician
Clayton Drake Musician, The Almighty Rhombus
Clô Laurencelle, Art Teacher
Constance Cooke, Choreographer
Corbin VanderZalm, Musician
Corey Redekop, Author
Cory Lavender, Editor
Cristina Greco, Writer
D Ferguson, Actor
Dafydd Palfrey, Filmmaker, Musician, Artist, Ten Pence Films/Dave Palmtree and the Palmtree Trio
Daisy Morant, Writer, Visual Artist
Damien Gillis, Filmmaker
Damien, Actor
Dave Meisner, Tour Manager
David Bobier, Artist, Director, Curator, VibraFusionLab
David Grenier, Artist
David LeReaney, Ator
David Ward, Musician
Deborah Dumka, Fibre Artist
Deborah Jones, Writer, Journalist, Photographer
Deena Aziz, Actor
Devin Gourley, Musician, Booking Agent
Devon Cooke, Filmmaker
Devon Urwin, Recording Artist, Film Worker
Diane Scaman, Photographer
Diane Schoemperlen, Writer
Dionne Brand, Writer
Don McKellar, Filmmaker
Donn Zver, Craftsman
Douglas Phillips, Musician
Douglas Williams, Photographer
Drew Arnott, Songwriter
Duane Janvier, Food Artist, Painter, Writer
Edmund Brownless, Musician
Edo Van Breemn, Film Composer
Elaine Carol, Artistic Director, MISCELLANEOUS Productions
Elise Moser, Writer, Editor
Elizabeth Greene, Poet
Elizabeth Philips, Writer
Elizabeth Saunders, Artist
Elle Flanders, Filmmaker
Elrington, Musician
Emily Millard, Musician, Miss Emily Brown
Endre Farkas, Poet, Playwright, Novelist
Erin Donovan, Musician, Director
Estee Klar, Writer
Farid Noordin, Photographer, Producer, Director
Farrah-Marie Miranda, Artist
Farzana Doctor, Author
Faten Toubasi , Visual Artist, Instructor
Fiona McLean, Artist
Florencia Comesana, Dancer, Singer
Frances Boyle, Writer
Francoise Thibault, Artist
Franke James, Artist, Author
Fraser Parkes, Musician, The Fuzzy Undertones
Freda Guttman, Multimedia Visual Artist
Fulvio Cecere, Actor
Gail Chin, Photographer
Gale Zoe Garnett, Writer, Actor, Arts Activist
Geneviève Lajeunesse, Game Designer
Gilbert Gilbert, Musician
Gloria Ronalds, Art Teacher
H.L. Goyer, Artist
Haley Hunt-Brondwin, Visual Artist and Designer
Hannah Claire Epperson, Musician, Composer
Heather Birrell, Writer
Heather Grant, Bassist, Singer, Crossed Wires
Heather Rankin, Designer (retired)
Helen Hoy, Painter
Ila Crawford, Visual Artist
Isaac Vallentin, Designer, Musician
Jackie Dicaro, Painter
James Bunton, Musician
Jan Wade, Artist
Jane Eaton Hamilton, Author
Jane Simpson, Writer
Janice Brunson, Independent Music Professional
Jason Toal, Designer
Jennifer Claveau, Singer, Songwriter, Watercolourist
Jessica Stuart, Musician, The Jessica Stuart Few
Jim Riley, Video Artist
Joana Joachim, Museologist, Curator
Joe Sarahan, Carpenter, Artist
Jonathan Sweeting, Artist, Poet
Julia Mosher, Furniture Finisher
Julie Joosten, Writer
Julie Picken-Cooper, Arts Educator
Julie René de Cotret, Curator
Julija Sukys, Writer
Justine Warrington, Performer, Writer, Filmmaker
Kaitlin Milroy, Musician, Moonfruits
Karen Trask, Artist
Karen Walton, Screenwriter
Kat Cizek, Documentary Maker
Kat Lanteigne, Writer
Kate Hurman, Actor, Director, Writer, Teacher
Kate Inglis, Writer
Kate Lucyk, Artist
Katherine Dodds, Filmmaker, Writer, Creative Director, Hello Cool World
Kathleen Winter, Author
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Writer
Kathryn Lennon, Poet
Kathryn Mockler, Poet, Professor, Screenwriter
Kathryn Para, Writer 
Katie Wright, Artist
Keith Higgins, Artist, Publisher
Kelly Carmichael, Graphic Artist
Kelly Daniels Director, Educator
Kennedy Douglas Telford, Artist, Designer
Kirby Rivest, Glass Artisan
Krisdy Shindler, Artist
Kristian Joseph Warburton, Film Student
Kyle Weber, Artist, Entrepreneur
Lana Pesch, Author, Producer
Lance Buan, Visual Artist
Lani Ashenhurst, Actor
Laura Smith, Musician
Laurel L. Russwurm, Author
Lauren B. Davis, Author
Lauren Ray, Photographer
Leigh Matthews, Author 
Lesley Ewen, Director, Dramaturg, Playwright, Performer, Teacher
Linda Brine, Fibre Artist, String Fever Fibre Arts
Lindsay Brown, Writer, Designer
Lindsay Clayton Day, Writer, Teacher
Lisa Ireland, Artisan
Lori Montcalm, Jewelry Maker
Lori Waters, Scientific Illustrator, Animator
Lori Watt, Actor
Lynn Beavis, Art Gallery Worker
Lynn Bishop, Musician
Lynn Williams, Artist
M Dawn Lafleur, Graphic Artist, Actor
Madeline Bassnett, Writer
Maggie Tchir, Visual Artist
Marcia McInnis, Mixed Media Artist
Maria Elena Mesa-Mejia, Poet, Visual Artist
Maria Meindl, Writer
Marie Smith, Museum Assistant
Mark Bentley Cohen, Writer/Performer
Marney Morgan, Metalsmith
Marni Binder, Artist Educator
Marsha Kennedy, Professor, Visual Arts
Martin Kennedy, Artist
Mary Alice Downie, Writer
Mary Ellen Davis, Filmmaker
Mary Lou Dickinson, Writer
Matias Munoz, Music Writer, Ottawa Showbox
Matthew Gunkel, Musician
Maureen Lyons, Photographer
Megan-Magdalena Bourne, Photographer, Filmmaker, Musician
Melissa Rebronja, Singer, Songwriter
Mériol Lehmann, Photographer, Media Artist
Michael Anstead, Painter
Michael Cole, Musician
Michael Greenhow, Musician
Michael Harris, Author, Journalist
Michael Libling, Writer
Michèle Houle, Photo, Video
Mikela Jay, Singer, Actor, Narrator
Miles Evans-Branagh, Musician
Milton Lim, Theatre Director, Multidisciplinary Performer, Hong Kong Exile/Theatre Conspiracy
Molly Johnson, Dancer
Mona Germain, Poet, Teacher
Monica Prendergast, Actor, Writer, Poet
Nancy Hiron, Visual Artist, Painter
Naomi Binder Wall, Writer
Neeraj Padmanabh, Film Editor
Nick Roddam, Artist
Nicola Morry, Teacher
Nicole Yates, Musician
Noah Spivak, Visual Artist
Norberto Rodriguez, Visual Artist
Orin Bishop, Game Designer
Patricia McDonough, Custom Picture Framer
Patrick Farrugia, Musician
Patti Randazzo Beckett, Artist
Paul Cowling, Actor
Paul Walde, Artist, Professor
Paul Wilfred Herbert, Actor
Peter Kufluk, Actor
Peter Ricq, Filmmaker, Musician, Illustrator
Precious Chong, Actor
Rachael Cardiello, Musician
Rachel Jacobson, Director
Raymonde Savoie, Writer
Rebecca Northan, Actor, Director, Writer, Teacher
Rebecca Salazar, Poet, Editor
Rhonda Head, Musician, Songwriter, Writer
Risa Horowitz, Artist
Robbo Mills, Writer, Director
Robert Cameron, Musician, BESTiE
Robert Dayton, Artist
Robin Pacific, Visual Artist
Rodney Hanson, Architect
Rodrigo Hernandez-Gomez, Multidisciplinary Artist
Rona Altrows, Writer, Editor
Rosemary Carter, Graphic Designer
Samantha Reid, Writer
Samantha Soo, Filmmaker
Sandra Diaz, Visual Artist
Sandra Mannila, Artist, Writer, Arts Administrator
Sandra Nieuwenhuijsen, Art Director
Sarah Comfort, Artist
Sarah Dowling, Poet
Sarah Sawler, Writer
Sean Devlin, Comedian
Sean McQuillan, Actor
Seth Stuve, Audio Engineer, Musician
Shari Hatt, Visual Artist
Sharon King-Campbell, Theatre Artist
Shawn Jordan, Artist
Sheleah, Makeup Artist, SJB Makeup
Shelly Cassivi, Musician
Shlomit Segal, Graphic Designer
Siobhan Vipond, Stage and Film Technician
Sojin Kim, Independent Curator
Stephanie Belding, Actor
Stephanie Yates, Artist
Stephany Aiken, Artist, Philosopher
Steve Bays, Musician, Producer
Steven Foster, Musician
Steven Laurie, Visual Artist 
Su J. Sokol, Writer
Su-Feh Lee, Choreographer, Battery Opera Performance
Sue Goldstein, Artist, Activist
Susan Applewhaite, Actor
Susan Kendal, Choreographer,Textile Artist
Susan Olding, Writer
Susan Swan, Author
Suzanne Dallaire, Visual Artist
Tamara Szymanska, Visual Artist
Tammy Gelfand, Writer, Artist
Tara Mahoney, Producer, Creative Director, Gen Why Media
Thad Rosenau, Visual Artist
Tony Marryatt, Musician
Trevor Thomas, Musician, Producer
Trisia Eddy, Writer, Printmaker, Photographer
Troy Nixey, Movie Director, Comic Book Creator
Tuula Helin, Writer
Vanessa Dandurand, Musician, The Ballantynes
Veronique Mallet, Musician
Victoria Ginsley, Poet
Wendy Davis, Photographer
William Tomlinson, Painter
Winn Bray-Rathbun, Writer
Zachary Gough, Artist
Zack Embree, Filmmaker, Photographer
Zainab Amadahy, Writer

By Andrea Germanos

Andrea Germanos is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams. She manages our social media in addition to creating news content. She joined Common Dreams in 2007 after teaching ESL for many years in Chicago. An avid bicycler, gardener and supporter of her local farmers, she tweets about food justice and environmental issues here: @andreagermanos.