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Public servant being investigated for writing and performing anti-Tory ‘Harperman’ songUntitled Post

posted Aug 29, 2015, 12:57 PM by SOS SaveOceanScience   [ updated Aug 29, 2015, 1:07 PM ]

Kathryn May, Postmedia News

Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

YouTube Video

An Ottawa federal scientist is being investigated for breaching the public service’s ethics code for writing and performing a highly political protest song to get rid of the Harper government.

Tony Turner, a scientist in habitat planning at Environment Canada, was recently sent home on leave with pay while the government investigates the making of Harperman, a music video posted on YouTube in early June that has attracted about 48,000 hits.

Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Environment Canada, said the department wouldn’t be commenting on the case because of “privacy concerns.” He said public servants agree to comply with the value and ethics code — which lays out expected behaviours — when they join the government regardless of their level or job.

YouTubeOttawa folksinger Tony Turner in the video for Harperman.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents federal scientists, said the union was representing Turner. It said he was put on leave pending the outcome of the probe into allegations that he violated the ethics code by writing and performing a political protest song.

“We will stand up for its members who face the prospect of being disciplined for exercising their democratic rights as citizens. The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that public service workers, like all Canadian citizens, benefit from freedom of expression,” said PIPSC president Debi Daviau.

Turner has been a public servant for 19 years and is nearing retirement. He most recently was assigned to co-ordinate a project to map priority areas for migratory birds.

But he has also been a stalwart of the local folk music scene since 1994 when he joined Writers’ Bloc, Ottawa’s songwriters collective. He has several CDs, plays regularly across the province and is best known for the song Circle of Song, which will be included in a new anthology of Canadian folk songs. His biography makes no mention of being a public servant.

For Ottawa’s folk musicians, Turner’s situation is a fight for freedom of speech that has become tangled in the balance between political rights of public servants and their duty of loyalty to the government.

“Can’t we make jokes or say anything? Are we all muzzled? This is the politics of fear. I am an activist and singer but mostly I am a citizen and I care about democracy and freedom of speech,” said Diane McIntyre, who sang one of the verses in the video.

The song, with its chorus “Harperman, it’s time for you to go,” was recorded in a Westboro hall. The chorus is a call to dump Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which even some public servants felt went too far.

“It’s always risky when a public servant criticizes someone in power,” said David Hackston, a former public servant who sings one of the verses. “It’s political and I can see why someone is upset with it, but that’s what protest songs are all about.”

The video began when Turner won a songwriting contest with Harperman and performed it at Gil’s Hootenanny, an annual May Day sing-along event where judges were looking for “songs of protest and songs of hope,” said organizer Hollis Morgan.

“I am chagrined that his employ would ever be a factor in his private outputs,” said Morgan. “He never discussed his employ, and in my world Tony Turner is a singer-songwriter,” said Morgan.

Turner’s win snowballed into a project led by Chris White, longtime artistic director of the Ottawa Folk Festival. He decided to record the song and use it to launch a national singalong on Sept. 17. The plan was to get as many Canadians as possible singing it online or adding their own verses.

White said he put out a call to gather local musicians and singers. About 50 showed up, most having never heard the song. They practiced a few times and then recorded the song, which was posted on YouTube.

In the meantime, White set up a Harperman website with T-shirts, bumper stickers and other paraphernalia and launched a crowd-funding drive to help organize the Sept. 17 singalong.

He said the fundraising has been stopped but the singalong is going ahead as planned whether Turner attends to perform his song or not. It’s unclear if Turner breaches the ethics code if others sing his song.

“This is an issue of freedom of expression, and who is the government to tell Tony what he can do on his own time when expressing himself in music and song?” said White.

Donald Savoie, a political scientist at the University of Moncton, said the song crosses the line of behaviour expected of public servants. He questioned Turner’s judgment in publicly performing it and the department’s for investigating it and bringing even more attention to the video.

“The government risks giving this much more visibility than it warrants by launching an investigation. People will be on YouTube to look at this because they made it an issue.”

Posted in: News Tags: Canadian PoliticsCanadaEditors' ChoiceFederal Election 2015HarpermanTony Turner

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