On Priorities

I’ve quickly discovered, running as a Green candidate, that the larger parties set the conversation topics around election time. So long as we’re talking about what they’re talking about, we’re part of the national conversation and get a decent amount of press coverage; but if the larger parties get distracted by side issues and partisan rhetoric and we try to steer the conversation toward more important matters, we get dropped form the news cycle because we’re no longer part of the story. The story is whatever the larger parties, and in particular the current ruling party, are doing. Even in my own riding, where I am pleased to be interviewed on a weekly basis, the interviews are often largely asking me to respond to the issues the other parties bring up (though not always – I’ve really appreciated the coverage that The Carillon has been giving to the election campaign).

The way we fit into the media cycle became quite clear to me the other night as I was on my way to meet a supporter and deliver some signs. It was pouring rain and pitch black out, but I took comfort from The Current Review, one of my favourite shows on current events. The host was talking to a panel about healthcare in Canada, and they were hitting on all of our Green policies: pharmacare, home care, palliative care. They could have been reading straight from our platform a lot of the time. But the panel members lamented that no political parties have a vision for this type of thing – nobody is talking about healthcare, they complained. Through the whole episode I was just waiting for someone to mention the Green platform by name, but that mention never came. But there was a flash of hope: the host mentioned that the next day there would be a panel of political candidates! We’d get to point out that we DO have a vision for these things! But alas, my hopes were dashed: “…we’ll have a panel of the three major political parties to talk about healthcare….” Three major parties? Finally the story was about something important, something we’ve said a lot about, and we were denied the chance to comment.

I’m not writing this to say “woe is me,” but in a system of politics that depends largely on simple public recognition, getting mentioned on a national radio show holds a lot of power. The Green Party has the most ambitious and concrete vision for Canada, but that doesn’t matter if nobody hears about it. But to get any mention in the media, we have to be commenting on whatever the larger parties’ leaders are talking about rather than our vision and ideas. We’re left with a choice between promoting important ideas in obscurity, or making headlines talking about sensational issues that have nothing to do with this election, like niqabs.

So knowing that the party leaders of the three largest parties are able to set the media agenda, and through that to decide what Canadians will be talking about and thinking about as they decide who will represent them in Parliament and, ultimately, who will govern the country, I can’t help but wonder: what are the priorities of the other parties?

The biggest expenses our government faces are always healthcare, education, military, and judicial (mostly prisons). At the same time, we’re facing several crises that are either currently exploding or soon will be: climate change, the aging baby boomers, and refugees. All of these expenditures and issues are crucial to the role of the federal government. But what have the three largest political parties been talking about?

  1. The Economy. Everyone is always talking about the economy. When they do, they talk a lot about the number of jobs that have been lost or created, the amount of imports and exports, whether or not the budget is actually balanced, and the Gross Domestic Product and whether or not we’re technically in a recession. All of that is fine and good, except that none of it is particularly important on an aggregate level on a week-to-week basis, or even a year-to-year basis. It doesn’t really matter if the budget is balanced this year, the problem is that it was in severe deficit for the previous eight; it doesn’t really matter how many jobs were created this month, the problem is that overall employment is still too low and the jobs that are being created are largely not as high-paying or meaningful as the ones that were lost; and the government doesn’t actually control these things anyway! The most the government can do to influence the Canadian economy is create incentives and disincentives through taxes or tax breaks, or by setting interest rates, and then wait and see what happens.

So the never-ending conversation about the economy amounts to throwing numbers around and trying to predict things that we can’t control. Meanwhile, the very structure of our economy is about to be challenged by the aging of the workforce and the oncoming retirement of the baby boomers. The viability of our economy is currently being challenged by climate change, and we know that it’s going to get a lot more challenging if we don’t act now. The shift from a carbon-based economy to a clean-energy economy is the biggest economic shift, and therefore the biggest economic opportunity, since the industrial revolution. And the refugee crisis, largely caused by climate change in the first place, also presents us with the economic challenge of settling tens of thousands (or more) people into our nation, and the economic opportunity that increase in population will bring us provided we can integrate them into our economy through recognition of their learning and credentials and ongoing education and professional development to adjust to their new context. But who’s talking about all of that when they talk about the economy? The Green Party is, but when we do so we’re off the narrative, and shut out of the media cycle.

  1. Niqabs. Seriously, this has been the biggest issue of the campaign so far, except maybe for the nebulous talk of the economy. There have been opinion polls that show that the Conservatives and the Bloq Quebecois have gained significant popularity since this issue came up – but it’s an issue that actually only affects two Canadians thus far. Yes, two women in Canada’s history have insisted on the right to wear garments they feel inspired to wear out of respect for their God while they swear a citizenship oath. It’s a baseless issue, but even the question of whether or not it’s an important issue is getting more attention than things that are absolutely important issues – like healthcare, education, climate change, and the necessity of a national seniors strategy.

  2. Whatever the other party is saying. I get that it’s necessary to differentiate yourself from your opponents during an election, and that means being critical of the platforms of the other parties. We all do it, and it serves a function if it’s done well. But the message that’s been most clearly sent in this election isn’t about any particular issue, or about any party’s particular plan; the central message of this election that most people have received (including some of the kids in the public schools I’ve spoken in this week, who can quote the ads verbatim) is that Justin Trudeau is “just not ready”, and that Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau all seem to hate each other. They do a better job of pulling each other down than they do of informing people of their actual platforms. Props to the Carillon for running a story this week asking high school students what they think about the election; their question was, why all the mud-slinging? Teenagers want to know what the parties stand for, not who they stand against.

And while we’re on the subject of promoting platforms, here’s an interesting fact: in spite of the excessive length of this election campaign (the longest in Canadian history), the Conservatives and NDP waited until yesterday, the first day of advanced polls, to actually release their platforms in full. We’ve had almost ten weeks of campaigning, and they waited until the last week of the campaign to show the nation their full strategy. The Liberals released their full platform a few weeks ago, and the Greens released our platform six weeks ago, fully costed and with an independently reviewed budget, because we believe that the point of an election campaign is to give voters the chance to actually hear what we’re proposing to do for the country and compare that to the strategies of the other parties in order to decide what they think is best. How can we have an informed electorate if the two biggest parties don’t release their plans until the last minute, and continue to lead the media cycle down rabbit trails instead of actually talking about their platforms?

Some of you may have already voted, as the advanced polls opened yesterday. I’ll be going to my advanced poll today. When you make your mark, consider what you know about the parties and their priorities. Are they spending their time informing you about real issues, or incensing you about cultural concerns that you’ll probably never actually have to deal with? Are they planning for the future, or fighting for prominence in the present? The spectacle of it all is like team sports, and many politicians (and voters) treat it that way, but this is not a game. This is our life, our nation, our world, and we need people who can lead us and keep us informed, people with a plan for the present and the future. “Without vision, the people will perish;” so what vision and priorities have the different parties presented you with?

You can see the Green Party platform here, and the full Vision Green policy document (available year round, not just the week before an election) here. Take another look, compare it to the other party platforms, and vote for the vision that inspires you to make your community, nation, and world better. And let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issues and platforms!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

On Representing You

I haven’t responded to Ted Falk’s column in a while; the election call has led to more canned messages than ever appearing there. Even so, I went to www.tedfalk.ca today to see what he’s been up to, and was redirected to tedfalk.conservative.ca – his campaign page. The first thing that struck me about this page is that it is dominated by a huge picture of Stephen Harper. You have to scroll down to find a picture of Ted.

What does it say when a local candidate’s website is dominated by his party leader? It says a lot, and none of it is very good for Ted. Harper dominates Ted’s website because Harper dominates Ted. Putting Harper first, with Ted nowhere to be seen without scrolling down, says that Harper is more important (despite the fact that people in Provencher do not get to vote for him), that Ted is interchangeable with any other Conservative candidate, and that Ted is only an extension of Harper. Unfortunately, at least as far as his role as a Conservative MP goes, that last part is actually true.

Much has been said about Stephen Harper’s unprecedented control over his caucus and the government in general. Scientists, MPs, and staffers are muzzled, requiring approval for any press release or statements. Conservative candidates across the country are avoiding debates and all-candidates forums – at the direction of their party. (Note: Ted Falk has agreed to one debate, and I look forward to him honouring that.) There have been a few Conservatives outraged at this state of affairs, notably Brent Rathgeber who quit the Conservative party to sit as an Independent, but for the most part the Conservative MPs are happy to submit to this level of control. Former Conservative and now Wildrose leader Brian Jean recently responded to a question about Harper’s level of control this way:

I do not believe it is a tightly controlled caucus. I believe it is a tightly self-disciplined caucus, and I think you should quote me on that because it’s a misperception of who Stephen Harper is. He has soldiers that are disciplined and admire him greatly and will follow him into the battlefield because they believe in what he does. They are not whipped. Take my word for it.

So what’s worse: MPs whose leader tightly controls what they say and their ability to speak to and for their constituents, or MPs who see themselves as soldiers and have willingly given up their ability to do their job and represent their constituents for the sake of a leader they believe in? I can appreciate the loyalty they show, but they’re supposed to be loyal to their constituents, and they’ve abdicated that loyalty and duty in favour of their admiration for one person. Ted Falk is a nice guy, and I don’t doubt that he’s working hard, but he openly admits that he believes his role is to support Stephen Harper. He’s wrong.

The role of an MP is to advocate on behalf of their constituents to ensure that legislation and government programs meet their needs as much as possible; to communicate the concerns, ideas, and ideals of their constituents to Parliament; and to communicate to the constituents regarding the actions being taken and issues being discussed in Parliament. Conservative MPs are very good at communicating what the government is doing – they have staffers who write canned messages branded with party logos to announce every newly funded project, and they tour their ridings handing out big cheques to distribute government funding (especially in the lead-up to an election). Even their speeches are choreographed to ensure that none of them go off message when telling us about all of the great things they’ve done for us. But when it comes to speaking up for their constituents in Parliament, they are nearly silent.

Since January 2014, Ted Falk has spoken 42 times in the House of Commons. That might sound like a lot, until you consider that Elizabeth May spoke 315 times over the same period. Elizabeth May gets no special privilege for being a party leader; as far as the House is concerned, she is an independent MP because the Greens only had 2 (now 3) MPs. She speaks as often as any MP is entitled to. While not all speeches are equal, that’s still a significant difference. If Ted Falk could have spoken 315 times, or even just 115 times, on behalf of Provencher, he should have (and probably would have); raising your riding’s profile in Parliament is crucial to advocating for your constituents. But even though the Conservative party gets extra speaking opportunities because they are the governing party, they limit their MPs ability to speak on behalf of their constituents and tend to focus MP speeches toward partisan matters.

Added to this is the ridiculous truth that the large parties tell their MPs how to vote on issues. They actually give their MPs info cards with the House’s agenda for the day, with notations on how their party will vote on each item. MPs who vote against their party on important issues have been stripped of any ability to speak in the House, and usually end up going Independent so that they can continue to represent their constituencies. The Conservatives definitely do this, but they are not alone: the Liberals and NDP have even tighter party discipline, at least recently. So I’m not just picking on Ted here; Terry Hayward is also a great guy who would make a good MP, if his party would let him, but I’m not confident that they would.

This is one of the reasons I chose to run with the Green Party. I take representing my constituents very seriously, and want to spend my time as an MP in the House making sure that your interests are being served. My loyalty is to my constituents, then to Canada as a whole, and then to my party. I will certainly bring a Green perspective to my work, but Elizabeth May will not be able to overrule my constituents when it comes to how I vote (not that she would – this is a central Green value), and I will work to follow her example as someone who speaks on behalf of my constituents at every available opportunity.

Ted Falk is not the problem, but he’s also not the solution; his party prevents him from giving you his full attention. The Conservative Party of Canada is all about Stephen Harper, and individual MPs are interchangeable mouthpieces for him. The Liberals and NDP may allow their members to speak, but they still control how they vote. If you want an MP who can actually represent you in Parliament, there’s only one choice.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff_Background1

The Politics of Courage

Yesterday I attended the anti-C51 protest at Winnipeg’s City Hall, and was incredibly encouraged by what I saw there. Hundreds of people crowded in front of City Hall, many carrying signs, some carrying flags representing Canada, a few different First Nations, the Pirate Party, and at least four unions. There were speakers from the Green Party, the NDP, and even the Communist Party; Aboriginal nations, Amnesty International, UWinnipeg Student Union, CUPE, and the Raging Grannies, among others. There were English and French, Jews and Christians and Muslims, and people of every race and age, all united around our rejection of Bill C-51, dubbed “the Anti-Terrorism Bill” by the Conservatives, but called “the Secret Police Bill” by Elizabeth May (and “an act to monitor and suppress the Raging Grannies” by Bruce Hyer). This was just one of dozens of rallies across the country. All of the pictures below were taken by me at the Winnipeg rally – I am not a professional photographer by any means, but I hope they capture the energy of the event.

Winnipeg Rally
At Winnipeg City Hall

What is this bill, and why is it so problematic? There are technical problems with the bill, but let’s talk about the foundational problem: it is a reactionary bill, responding to fear with control instead of courage. (This is a big bill, a bigger issue, and I’ve been working on this all day through many distractions and illness, so please forgive any disjointedness in what follows.)

NDP MP Pat Martin
NDP MP Pat Martin

Fear of Terror

In the past October there were two attacks within days of each other. In one attack in Quebec, a man drove his car into two members of the Canadian Forces, killing one of them. Two days later, a lone gunman shot and killed a member of the Canadian Forces in Ottawa, before making his way into the Parliament buildings. Both of the attackers were killed in shootouts, so we lack the ability to question them or get a better understanding of their motivations and connections. A short video from the Ottawa shooter explains that what he was about to do was in response to Canada’s military activities in Afghanistan and the impending re-invasion of Iraq. Here’s the full transcript of what he said:

To those who are involved and listen to this movie, this is in retaliation for Afghanistan and because Harper wants to send his troops to Iraq.

So we are retaliating, the Mujahedin of this world. Canada’s officially become one of our enemies by fighting and bombing us and creating a lot of terror in our countries and killing us and killing our innocents. So, just aiming to hit some soldiers just to show that you’re not even safe in your own land, and you gotta be careful.

So, may Allah accept from us. It’s a disgrace you guys have forgotten God and have you let every indecency and things running your land. We don’t, we don’t go for this. We are good people, righteous people, believers of God and believing his law and his Prophets, peace be upon them all. That’s my message to all of you in this, Inshallah, we’ll not cease until you guys decide to be a peaceful country and stay to your own and I-, and stop going to other countries and stop occupying and killing the righteous of us who are trying to bring back religious law in our countries.

Thank you.

Both of these men were recent converts to Islam, and we were all quick to make connections to the largest violent Islamist movement in the world right now, ISIS. While these men may have been inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the organization’s name tells us a lot: ISIS understands itself as a state, not an international terrorist organization. They also understand themselves as ushering in the apocalypse, which they understand at least partially as their armies defeating Western armies. You can read more about them here. The two attackers in Canada were not members of ISIS, even if they were inspired by them. The Ottawa shooter was indeed a self-described “Mujahedin”, or one engaged in struggle (jihad), but he was previously known to police as someone who also struggled with mental illness and drug addiction. So even if his attack was inspired or even ordered by ISIS, it was not an organized terrorist attack – it was a lone gunman with issues with our government’s foreign policy.

Amnesty International speaker and friends
Amnesty International speaker and friends. These Muslim women stood up for the rights and liberties of their fellow Canadians.

Since then, our government has kept “violent jihadism” (to quote Stephen Harper) in the front of our minds, and drafted C-51 as a direct response to what they describe as a global terror threat. The last time our public safety policy got this big of a makeover was in the wake of 9/11, when Al Qaeda’s successful attack on the US, killing thousands, made us all more aware of the power of a global terrorist network with cells in many countries planning organized attacks around the world. Then, as now, new legislation gave powers to law enforcement agencies that in effect sacrificed the freedom of Canadian citizens for the sake of security. We’ve had almost fifteen years to reflect on whether or not that was necessary; we’ve never used many of the provisions put in place at that time, lowered our airport security after the initial increase, and while we’ve simply gotten used to some restrictions there are many Canadians (even most) who believe that freedom is not worth sacrificing for the sake of security. That sentiment hasn’t changed with these new attacks, despite the government’s fearful rhetoric. The big difference between then and now is that Al Qaeda really was planning organized attacks around the world, while ISIS is summoning all “true” Muslims to help establish and grow the Caliphate or state. ISIS actually considers people like the two attackers in Canada to be lesser, as they did not respond to the call to serve and live in the Caliphate. Lone wolf gunmen responding violently to Canada’s foreign policy are not likely to be picked up by spy agencies tracking the movements of terrorist organizations, so this “response” is both unwarranted and misdirected.

Misdirection

When I say that the response is misdirected, it’s not only because the attacks that inspired C51 weren’t by a terrorist organization. It’s also because it’s inherently difficult to define a terrorist organization. We use the word all the time, but rarely with any particular definition in mind other than a vague sense of attacking people and causing fear in the general population (which I’m sure has always been a result of attacks). The Criminal Code of Canada describes terrorism as

  • (b) an act or omission, in or outside Canada,

    • (i) that is committed

      • (A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and

      • (B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada, and

    • (ii) that intentionally

      • (A) causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence,

      • (B) endangers a person’s life,

      • (C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public,

      • (D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), or

      • (E) causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work that is not intended to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C)

I’ve bolded some of the text to show how fine the line can be between the definition of terrorism and the definition of political protest. If it weren’t for the caveat at the end of section E, a sit-in or roadblock at a pipeline would be considered an act of terrorism, especially if it were carefully organized. I’m very pleased that this caveat exists; civil disobedience and protest are part of the history of political action going back thousands of years, and if legitimate political engagement is limited to what happens inside Parliament, our society is in trouble.

A Tree Hugger, NOT a Terrorist. A Raging Granny.
A Tree Hugger, NOT a Terrorist. A Raging Granny.

C-51 muddies the waters a little bit. This is from the first section of the bill:

“activity that undermines the security of Canada” means any activity, including any of the following activities, if it undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada:

(a) interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada;
(b) changing or unduly influencing a government in Canada by force or unlawful means;
(c) espionage, sabotage or covert foreign-influenced activities;
(d) terrorism;
(e) proliferation of nuclear, chemical, radiological or biological weapons;
(f) interference with critical infrastructure;
(g) interference with the global information infrastructure, as defined in section 273.61 of the National Defence Act;
(h) an activity that causes serious harm to a person or their property because of that person’s association with Canada; and
(i) an activity that takes place in Canada and undermines the security of another state.
For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.

Here we see terrorism listed alongside other offences, all of which are lumped together by C-51. Most of these other offences would satisfy most of the definition of terrorism already provided by the criminal code – so are they terrorism, or separate offences to be treated the same as terrorism? Again, I’ve bolded the sections that cause me concern. While I appreciate the inclusion of the caveat regarding lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression, who decides what is dissent and what is terrorism?

The Raging Grannies led us in a rousing chorus of "Harper is a dic...tator"
The Raging Grannies led us in a rousing chorus of “Harper is a dic…tator”

The government likes to pull out the argument that law-abiding Canadians don’t need to be concerned if the law is heavy-handed. Former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews famously said, of a bill that would allow the government to spy on Canadians ostensibly to control child pornography, that “you’re either with us or with the child pornographers.” If the world is divided into good guys and bad guys, the good guys should be able to be as tough on the bad guys as necessary, and only bad guys would object, right? But who are the “bad guys”?

This government has a history of describing environmental activists as terrorists. Apparently, so does the RCMP. Government ministers have made statements referring to people who oppose pipelines as being the pawns of “jet-setting celebrities” (referring to American environmental activists like Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio, who’ve commented on and visited the oil sands in northern Alberta); does that count as “foreign influenced activities”? Republicans in the US have made the argument that the Keystone XL pipeline is necessary for North American energy independence and security, and our government agrees; does that mean that Canadians who oppose it are responsible for undermining “the security of another state”? Our government certainly believes that Canada’s economy depends on the oil sands, so are we who oppose their expansion to be considered a threat to “the economic or financial stability of Canada”? And as the link above clearly shows in leaked RCMP documents, oil pipelines are certainly considered to be “critical infrastructure” and protests and civil disobedience around their construction is absolutely considered to be “interference.” All of this means that when an indigenous Nation blocks a road on their traditional territory to stop construction crews from building a pipeline through it, it will be considered, if not a terrorist act, at least akin to it and to be treated like one.

Winnipeg Rally 7

Last week a Simon Fraser University professor and climate scientist who had protested the Kinder Morgan pipeline project through Burnaby Mountain took a photo near the project site. A few days later RCMP phoned his daughter looking for him, noted that they were aware that he had been at the protests, and asked if he had been taking photos near there. All the RCMP will say about it is that they must follow up on all complaints, which shows that Kinder Morgan noted that he took a photo and filed a complaint, and the RCMP considered it important enough to follow up on. If taking photos near a future pipeline site is considered interference with critical infrastructure, then journalists and scientists may be severely limited in their ability to do their jobs.

So while C-51 is ostensibly aimed at terrorist groups, it is worded in such a way as to more easily label activists, and even scientists and journalists, as terrorists. And pipeline companies are using these blurred lines to co-opt the RCMP (and potentially CSIS) as their own security force, intimidating their opponents. This co-opting is unfortunately a predictable by-product of the Conservative government’s emphasis on control: once you start trying to control people, you must always increase the extent of that control in order to simply maintain it.

A concise sign, and... the back of Manitoba Green Party Leader James Beddome's head?
A concise sign, and… the back of Green Party Manitoba Leader James Beddome’s head?

The Politics of Control

Perhaps the biggest distinction between the Conservatives and the other parties is that the other parties all look for the causes of society’s problems, and place emphasis on different issues, causes, and approaches to dealing with those underlying issues. It appears that the Conservatives are not interested in what causes society’s problems at all, and are only interested in controlling outcomes, and people. So for example, when it was suggested that we try to understand what motivates terrorists (after an alleged plot to blow up a VIA train was stopped), Stephen Harper said “this is no time to commit sociology.” The Harper Conservatives instead responded with more rhetoric about fighting the war on terror, in spite of the fact that many terrorists claim to be acting in response to Canadian military action in the Middle East (see above). Similarly, Harper has consistently refused to allow an investigation into the disproportionate number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada, suggesting that all incidents should be investigated individually and treated as a criminal issue rather than acknowledging the broader trend that links them all. This government has worked systematically to remove the ability for our judicial system to use understanding and judgment when dealing with criminal justice, imposing mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the ability for parole boards to release convicts who have actually been rehabilitated. And we don’t have time to even get into the ways they’ve undercut science in this country, seemingly largely because it interferes with their fossil-fuel agenda. No, understanding issues is far less important than controlling them.

Marching down Main Street before turning onto Portage. A big thank-you to the Winnipeg Police for stopping traffic for us! They were courteous and professional.
Marching down Main Street before turning onto Portage. A big thank-you to the Winnipeg Police for stopping traffic for us! They were courteous and professional.

So rather than doing important study on the theology and politics of ISIS, we simply label them a terrorist organization and assume that they’re similar to, or in cahoots with, Al Qaeda (they’re not), and then write terror legislation that seeks to fight a terror organization like Al Qaeda through the same means that the US has been using for the past decade. C-51 amps up CSIS (our spy agency) by giving them more power and less oversight, similar to what the US did with their spy agencies in their so-called Patriot Act. Since then it has been revealed that the NSA has been collecting digital data on every American, not just those considered security threats, and the vague wording of C-51 would allow CSIS to do the same to Canadians. The US was also caught using torture, and their own investigations into this found that the information gained from torture was unreliable and of no strategic value, yet C-51 would allow Canadian law enforcement agencies to get a warrant to search or arrest someone based on information gained from torture. It does not sanction Canadians using torture, but we’ve already been in trouble for turning Afghan detainees over to other forces we knew would torture them; C-51 would give us license to do so, and then use the information gleaned from that torture for our own purposes.

In the middle of the intersection of Portage and Main, Winnipeg.
In the middle of the intersection of Portage and Main, Winnipeg.

I can’t stomach the idea of Canadians being accessory to torture, but perhaps even more troubling is that in most cases Canadian law enforcement under C-51 wouldn’t even need to get a warrant to arrest someone – they only need to have a reasonable suspicion that detaining someone would prevent an act of terrorism. Once again, if terrorism is defined as above it would justify preemptively arresting protesters. This would justify actions like the mass arrests made during the G20 protests in Toronto, an event for which the Conservative government shelled out $1,000,000,000 for security and which led to charges being filed against police and allegations of human rights abuses when protesters and bystanders were detained for days without charge.

The strategy behind C-51 is to know what everyone is doing, identify every possible threat, and eliminate threats through incarceration. Not only is this not possible to pull off, but steps taken in the attempt would seriously infringe on the rights and liberties of Canadians.

Turning onto Portage, one flag stood out.
Turning onto Portage, one flag stood out.

The Politics of Courage

The politics of control issue from the politics of fear. The Harper government can only institute Bill C-51 in good conscience if they have the support of the people they represent. Their rhetoric has been fearful, and fear is infectious: the more Stephen Harper talks about the imminent threat of Islamist jihad, the more concerned Canadians get. Fear also weakens our willpower and dulls our confidence, so that even those who would argue strongly for civil liberties can be convinced to give those liberties up for the sake of security when they perceive an imminent threat. Never mind that you’re statistically far more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die from a terrorist attack, or that the attacks we’ve actually experienced may not have been connected at all to any particular terrorist group; if there’s a sense that we’re under attack, it seems almost treasonous to argue against increased security. At least, that’s what fear tells us.

What’s ironic is that our government may be more responsible for the fear Canadians are experiencing than any terrorist is. In order to combat terror, our government instills fear. In order to oppose those who disagree with how we use our freedoms in our liberal society, our government imposes restrictions on us. It doesn’t have to be this way though.

Fear is the enemy.
Fear is the enemy.

There is another response to terrorism. Instead of a politics of fear, we can and should embrace a politics of courage. That’s one of the reasons I’m so encouraged by the thousands of Canadians who turned out to anti-C51 rallies across the country: they’re showing our government, the terrorists, and the world, that we’re not afraid.

When the French magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by terrorists because they had satirized Mohammed the first thing they did in their next issue was satirize Mohammed again. Dozens of satirists around the world stood in solidarity with them, satirizing terrorism. Personally, I think that it was unnecessarily disrespectful for them to satirize Mohammed and antagonize about a billion people in the first place, but the point here is that in spite of many of their staff being killed for exercising their free speech, they immediately responded by exercising their free speech again. They responded to terror with courage, not with fear, and they inspired people around the world to do likewise.

Canada used to inspire hope in people around the world, being a leader in peacekeeping and aid and international cooperation. Now our government is more concerned with inspiring fear in its own people, so that it can then turn around to comfort us by way of tighter security and regulation on our private lives. But when I look at the thousands of people across Canada who stood up and raised their voices yesterday, I realize that Canada can still inspire hope, with our without the support of our government. May we soon have a government that is inspired to hope by its people.