Online petitions have been something of a revolution for advocacy. Anyone, anywhere, can create a petition about just about anything, targeted at anyone. And the plethora of online petitions in Canada may actually be hurting the animals.
Unlike many other countries, most online petitions do not count as actual petitions or forms of communication for our provincial, territorial, and federal governments. Letters, emails, and phone calls are all tracked by members of legislative assembly, members of provincial parliament, and members of parliament, particularly if the person contacting them is a resident in their constituency (that’s why we always ask you to include your address and name).
But the online petitions you may sign directed at political leaders may not be as effective as you hope – and it may also be taking you and your co-signers away from action that will result in change. An example is an online petition currently asking for support for Bill C-246; while it does mention writing a letter, many click-to-signers will skip that step thinking they’ve done their part. And in the case of C-246, it is vital that letters get sent to MPs.
Don’t get us wrong – online petitions still have a place in modern Canada. They’re great tools for raising awareness about issues, can attract media attention, and, in the case of businesses, can put a lot of focus on negative ethical practices.
The Government of Canada also introduced their own version of online petitions. They’re more involved, require verification, and an MP to sponsor them – but the benefit is only 500 signatures are needed, and the government is required to provide a formal response to the signees.
Online petitions have, in many ways, changed the face on advocacy. But they do not replace the tried, tested, and true methods of letter writing and phone calls. And their use must always be measured against what will actually help the animals most – not make it easiest for people to feel they've accomplished something.