Pirate party holds WikiLeaks rally

A fringe political party hopes to bring aboard a new crew for their cause at the University of Calgary.

The Pirate Party of Canada looks to increase awareness and support for WikiLeaks at their rally Jan. 15.

Calgary organizer Steve Henderson said the event is to raise public perception of what he sees as an attack on democracy and freedom by the United States government’s attempt to silence a website that releases confidential material.

The rally is also partially in response to U of C professor Tom Flanagan’s remarks made in December, when he called for the assassination of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a CBC interview. Flanagan has since apologized.

Henderson said WikiLeaks is an important issue, especially for youth who will choose the direction of Canada’s future.

“We decide where our country is going and it’s important for an educated society that we have an educated population,” said Henderson. “One way to achieve this is through government transparency. WikiLeaks and other similar entities provide this government transparency that allows people to say, ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t support this war in Iraq if the government’s been killing over 600 innocent civilians at checkpoints, or maybe we should be questioning the pesticides EPA is putting on the crops.’ “

Henderson said the website has published information the public should know which would otherwise remain secret.

“WikiLeaks represents a concept and an ability, and that ability is to publish extremely sensitive information on the internet and for there to really be no way to trace it back to you,” said Henderson.

U of C Arthur J. Child Chair of American Security Policy Terry Terriff said most of the information released should have been available anyway and that it’s a government’s knee jerk reaction to classify documents. Despite this, Terriff still feels there were cables released that shouldn’t have been.

“The idea behind WikiLeaks is reasonable,” said Terriff. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t have access to relevant information. The problem is at what point does too much information revealed to the public have a jeopardy attached to it?”

Terriff said many people don’t understand that it’s not just the United States government that is impacted by leaks of this nature, but other countries and other people could be put in danger as well.

“Should you have access to details that, if revealed, are going to compromise what a bunch of Americans are going to do on the ground in Afghanistan and as a consequence people are going to die?” asked Terriff. “I don’t think so.”

Fourth-year political sciences student Mike Maher said he’s interested in attending the Pirate Party event, but isn’t sure how involved he’ll be.

“Yes, transparency is awesome and yes, it’s important to support as much openness as possible, but you need to exercise a certain amount of editorial restraint when realizing that you could put people at risk when you put that kind of information out there,” said Maher.

The Canadian version of the international Pirate Party was founded in 2009, becoming officially registered the next year, and focuses on issues such as net neutrality, patent law and copyright. The party recently began hosting a WikiLeaks mirror at wikileaks-pirateparty.ca in addition to rallies here and in Vancouver where Henderson said he hopes the group will have the chance to meet with students.

“We’re also trying to reach out to the younger generations about the pirate party’s existence and that we believe in open government and that there is an alternative to the current corrupt political parties available,” said Henderson.

The Pirate Party finished with 0.6 per cent of the vote in a November by-election in Winnipeg, 20 votes behind the fourth place Green Party.

U of C political science professor David Stewart said fringe parties like the Pirate Party appear when the mainstays ignore a particular salient issue. Stewart suggested that rather than become a lobby group to push for their agenda, the Pirates have a wider appeal as a registered body.

“At times, forming a party can get publicity that might be difficult to secure in any other manner,” said Stewart. “Depending on how important the issue is, the issue non-responsiveness can create a party that could fundamentally transform the party system. In a sense, the rise of the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois in the early 1990s stemmed from issue non-responsiveness.”

“It may be an issue that people strongly care about, whether it’s an issue that will drive them to vote for a particular party is another matter,” he added.

Students and public attending the rally can expect to meet and speak with Henderson and party leader Mikkel Paulson, among others.

Henderson believes the Pirate Party will grow as technology continues to impact the lives of Canadians at an ever-accelerating rate.

“I have no idea who this particular fringe political party is,” said Terriff. “It comes down to some people wanting to know everything with the belief that all information is not harmful. Well it is, actually.”

Henderson stands firm of the importance of WikiLeaks and encourages others to do the same.

“I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said, ‘Give a man a mask and he’ll speak the truth’. WikiLeaks really represents that,” said Henderson.

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