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Suppressing information, such as India’s Daughter and Bill c-51, tends to be counterproductive

Photo: JMacPherson, CC

Despite the wealth of information that’s available in the age of the Internet, censorship is still a serious problem that continues to affect people all over the world.

Although this is a horrible practice, the act of trying to repress or alter information is useless, since it usually produces the opposite of its desired effect.

This suppression often results in the spread of information that becomes more popular and generates more interest, often indirectly promoting the material it’s trying to ban.

Consider the Indian government’s decision to pull the release of India’s Daughter, a documentary that highlights the horrifying case of the rape and murder of a Delhi student in 2012.

The Indian government justified the ban by claiming that the film “appears to encourage and incite violence against women” and is “a conspiracy to defame India.” Not only are these claims ridiculous, but they are also counterproductive.

It’s because of this ban that the international community reacted with outrage, which caused the documentary to become popular not only within activist groups, but with people all over the world. Now, more people than ever are inclined to watch the documentary so they can be informed on the issues discussed, such as rape and gender inequality.

The recent unveiling of Bill C-51 is a local example of how acts of censorship can help generate unwanted attention towards issues.

The purpose of this new anti-terrorism legislation is supposedly to modernize certain offences, take into account new communications technologies, and equip law enforcement agencies with new investigative tools.

However, critics have stated that the bill’s vague definition of “terrorism” would allow the government to suppress groups like environmentalists and human rights advocates, a revelation that provoked negative reactions from legions of Canadians. On March 14, protestors took to the streets across the country to express their opposition to the proposed legislation.

By trying to pass this law that could give goverment officials the authority to encroach on people’s free speech, Canadians are now more aware of the contents of Bill C-51 than ever before, a fact that is putting its architects, and the values they represent, in question.

Acts of censorship don’t just extend to rabble-rousing movies and rebellious activism—they can also be used by governments to stop important scientific information from seeing the light of day.

Last February, Democracy Watch and the University of Victoria’s environmental law clinic published a report chronicling the federal government’s preventing of environmental scientists from speaking freely to the press. The report stated that scientists were told to say carefully crafted responses or had to request permission before speaking publicly on sensitive topics. In some cases, especially concerning research on climate change, scientists were prohibited from speaking entirely.

This study, and others like it, has attracted a lot of attention and caused nationwide outrage surrounding the lack of transparency in environmental data. News about this widespread suppression of freedom of expression has even reached the attention of foreign organizations like the French National trade Union of Scientific Researchers, meaning that the Canadian government’s war on science has now been pushed into the international spotlight.

Ultimately, the counterproductive nature of censorship is emblematic of human nature as a whole: We want what we cannot have, and the act of taking something away only encourages us to go after that one thing more fiercely.

In a lot of ways, modern censorship is the ultimate paradox, since it strives to suppress human beings’ natural curiosity to learn and discover.

Thankfully, because of this dynamic, issues concerning censorship are as prevalent as ever, as this unintended method of advertising keeps the public informed on critical issues in the local community and around the world.