Vancouver Sun: Award-winning library director calls terrorism bill this generation’s ‘most repressive’ legislation

By Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun

Brian Campbell, former director of the Vancouver Public Library, has been named recipient of 2015 Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada from the Canadian Library Association.

The retired 71-year-old former systems and planning director has defended free speech and promoted free and equal access to information both inside and outside of libraries throughout his career.

During Campbell’s 25-year B.C. library career, he played a leading role in library association campaigns against federal government plans to reduce statistics gathering programs, raise fees for government information, and eliminate the government depository program. He also chaired library committees that campaigned for passage of provincial freedom of information and protection of privacy laws.

In his acceptance speech on May 21, Campbell, who helped found and run Vancouver FreeNet (now Vancouver Community Network), described the Harper government’s anti-terrorism bill (C-51) as the “most repressive piece of legislation introduced in this generation.” He warned that libraries could be put at risk by the bill’s broad definition of terrorist.

He also noted how, since 9/11, western governments have “leapfrogged” over each other to expand surveillance legislation, criminalize a broader spectrum of speech, and strengthen the repressive apparatus of state.

He also noted how initial public support for Bill C-51 has dropped from 82 per cent in favour to 56 per cent opposed, in one poll.

Campbell recently talked with The Vancouver Sun about his award, the threat to free speech, and how access to information has changed over the years.

Q.: What can you say about winning this award?

A.: I think it’s a recognition of the work that a group of librarians have done over the years in trying to put forward the public good in terms of information policy and in intellectual freedom.

Q.: How has free speech and access to information changed over your career?

A.: Right now, there are many more laws — Bill C-51 being the latest — that suppress freedom of speech. And there are many more efforts by the government to restrict the collection of social data, such as (ending) the long-form census. But at the same time, the government is increasing the amount of personal data they collect through surveillance.

Q.: What was it like 25 or 30 years ago?

A.: I think there was much more of a recognition of the social world and the acceptance of rational planning, the need for information, people being able to speak out somewhat more. It was by no means perfect, but it wasn’t as bad as it is today.

Q.: What is your proudest achievement?

A.: I guess my proudest achievement is the work that we did to convince libraries to make free public Internet accessible across Canada. It was the single thing that enhanced people’s ability to access information broadly, and it also made people familiar with the Internet and its many uses for getting information.

Q.: You’ve been highly critical of the Harper government’s anti-terrorism bill, C-51. What are your main concerns?

A.: My major concerns are the limitations that are put on speech in the act where it talks about people not being able to talk about terrorism in general. In general, it is so vague and non-specific that it covers everything or nothing. Privacy protections are substantially eroded, it expands the powers of the security services, and it expands the use of security certificates and makes it easier to put people on a no-fly list.

Q.: You also have strong feelings about the federal government’s strong support of the Israeli government. Do you find it odd that a Canadian government is highly critical of Canadians who criticize a foreign government, Israel?

A.: I find it very odd. It’s odd that you would restrict the ability of your own citizens to criticize what’s happening internationally. I simply think it is completely wrong to say that criticizing Israel … is anti-Semitic. These are questions of government policy. They have nothing to do with the religion of Judaism.

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