Canadians have a reputation for kindness and diplomacy…and then an election happens. If someone were to judge Canadians by their political advertisements, we’d have a reputation for being passive-aggressive (“he’s just not ready“) and corrupt (“enough“). This election isn’t the worst by a long shot; I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how few attack ads there are this year, considering the intensity of the issues at hand (Senators on trial, veterans attacking Conservatives, etc). For too many years now, we’ve had even more negative campaign ads.
But if you did judge Canadians as passive-aggressive and corrupt, you’d be wrong. Canadians are sick of that kind of politics. The problem is, we’ve forgotten that there’s any other kind. Rather than calling on our political parties to clean it up, many people have disengaged altogether. Too many.
I don’t mean that people just aren’t voting. I mean that people actually recoil, physically, when politics is brought up. Everyone is usually happy to share an opinion, but try asking someone for a signature on a petition or nomination form sometime. Some people simply refuse to participate; for others, their eyes widen in surprise and then narrow in distrust, sometimes with a hint of panic. They feel overwhelmed by the very notion of getting involved, and want nothing to do with it. If you think I’m exaggerating, come canvassing with me. (And before you say it – yes, they recoil before they know who I am or what party I represent!)
What’s worse than individuals who don’t want to participate in simple, nonpartisan political actions is when the public square is closed to the conversation. I’ll give you two examples from my riding, Provencher.
On Canada Day, a political day if ever there was one, I was at a public event. Since there were thousands of people there, I had brought my clipboard with signature pages. Every would-be candidate has to collect 100 signatures in order to get on the ballot; the signatures “consent to candidacy”, which means that the people who sign it agree that the would-be candidate has the right to run. It’s entirely non-partisan, because the signature doesn’t imply endorsement of the candidate’s party – only the candidate’s right to be a candidate. Even so, I thought it would be professional for me to ask permission before collecting any signatures, and was directed to a man setting up a microphone; he was the manager of the venue. His response was that they’d really prefer if I didn’t collect any signatures; they wanted it to be a “non-political” place. Sure, I said, wondering what he meant by that. Then he finished setting up the microphone, and introduced Conservative MP Ted Falk, who gave a speech. This was followed by the Progressive Conservative MLA, the Mayor of the city, the Reeve of the surrounding municipality, and the Reeve of the next municipality. Apparently what he meant by “non-political” was “non-partisan”, which itself was based on the assumption that anything I had to say while collecting signatures might stir up tension (not to mention the assumption that the MP, MLA and even municipal politicians would have nothing partisan to say).
The next example is even more clear-cut. One of the places we had been hoping to set up a table to promote our campaign was at local farmer’s markets throughout the riding. We plan to set up a table with a few brochures, a few postcards, and some buttons and cloth tote bags to give away; maybe we’d get a few volunteers to sign up, or collect a few donations. Unfortunately, at least one of the directors of the largest farmer’s market in the riding has denied us access; they will not allow us to rent space at the farmer’s market for our table, citing concerns that we would be “bad-mouthing the other parties.” My first thought is “have they heard of the Green Party? We don’t do that.” Unfortunately, at least at this point, this director has not spoken to me directly.
It would appear that politics of any kind is not welcome in Steinbach. It’s a dirty word. It creates tension, fosters conflict, scares people off. This is not the fault of the people I’ve mentioned above, it’s the result of years of negative campaigning. Politicians: we’ve done that. We need to undo it.
There are eight weeks of campaigning left. I challenge Ted Falk, Terry Hayward, and whoever runs for the NDP: let’s run positive campaigns, with no attack ads. That means no more “Just Not Ready” ads, no more “Wait, What?” ads, no more “Enough” ads. There’s plenty of time and space for criticism of the other parties; we don’t need sound bites and spin to do it. Join me in pledging to keep all of our ads about…us. Us as candidates, and the platforms we’re running under. This election is about giving people a choice between us and our ideas, not about tearing each other down. Maybe we can show the people of Provencher that politics isn’t all about divisiveness and conflict after all. Maybe there’s hope for public engagement and an open public square.
Provencher, don’t be afraid to engage. Ted, Terry and I are all nice guys who actually get along well enough, even if we disagree about how to best represent you. Give us a call, invite us over, and get to know us; we’ll talk to your neighbours too. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
It’s been a while since I’ve responded to Ted Falk; there hasn’t been much to say about his recent posts, except that they’re more or less exactly what an MP should be writing about. He’s telling us what the government is up to, and how it affects us here in the riding. He’s recognizing volunteers and veterans, announcing new services, and even putting out calls for proposals for new programs and events. Well done, Ted! I love to agree with what Ted is doing, though I often find it difficult to agree with what the Conservative government is doing. If I seem critical here, it’s because I’m supposed to. Allow me to explain.
A coworker recently told me that he really doesn’t like Elizabeth May. I was surprised; she’s always struck me as being the most positive, gracious, cooperative politician around. But my coworker pointed out that she disagrees with whatever the Conservatives say or do, and his perception of her is that she is a negative person who can’t bring herself to agree with anything. Ted Falk, on the other hand, has a very high opinion of Elizabeth May: he knows her both personally and professionally, and both likes her and is impressed by her work ethic and collegiality. But he admitted to me that he thought it would be nice if she agreed with the government more often.
My coworker is reacting to negativity and perceived partisanship in politics, and that’s good – our political system has become far too partisan and combative. Some people react to attack ads, for example, by becoming cynical about the whole political process and refusing to participate. (That’s actually quite deliberate: the Conservative campaign strategy is to alienate and suppress non-Conservative voters, using the same strategy the Republicans used in George W. Bush’s elections). Other people respond to negativity by just wanting everyone to cooperate and get along for a change. That’s more admirable than tuning out and refusing to vote, but it’s not a recipe for good legislation or an accountable government.
Agreeing vs. Being Agreeable
Ted and my coworker would both like Elizabeth May (and undoubtedly the rest of the MPs in the opposition) to agree with government legislation and policies rather than always arguing so passionately against them and pointing out their flaws. If she were to do so, she would be utterly failing in her job as an MP in the opposition. This is because our government is an adversarial system: one party (or a coalition) writes legislation and attempts to pass it, while the other parties, who have less power, pick it apart to ensure that it’s actually good for Canadians. The role of the opposition is to find the problems with a bill (and no bill is perfect) and point them out, and hold the government to account when it begins to overreach. The Senate has the same function. The reason we have this system is because we want to ensure that no individual person, party, region, or class has absolute power to act in their own interests at the expense of all Canadians.
So when Elizabeth May argues passionately against a government bill, she’s doing her job. She’s still friendly with MPs from other parties, and still supports them as people even when she doesn’t like their bills; and she still tries to work together with others whenever possible. She’s agreeable. And when I pick apart Conservative policies and Ted’s columns here, I’m doing mine. I want to represent you in Parliament, but until I’m elected the best I can do is try to keep Ted sharp and on his toes to ensure that he’s doing what’s best for you. This doesn’t mean that I dislike Ted, or that I don’t agree with anything he says on principle. That would be partisanship.
Partisanship is when a representative from one party opposes representatives from other parties simply because of their party affiliation. It’s a refusal to cooperate, putting the interests of the party ahead of the interests of Canadians. The role of disagreement in Parliament is supposed to be a refining process, altering legislation bit by bit before it is passed in order to make it better. Partisanship undermines that role, because it causes MPs to refuse to hear each other’s suggestions and ideas regardless of how good or bad they are. Partisanship takes an oppositional process of refining legislation for the good of all and turns it into a power struggle, or as a “team sport.” The trouble with this view is that politics is not a game: it’s our lives, our society, our ability to create a better world by working together.
Refusal to work together is being downright disagreeable. I would rather work with someone I generally disagree with, than refuse to acknowledge someone I might agree with because of who they are or who they represent. And I have no problem saying that Ted’s political communications lately have been good, even though I think some of the things he’s been communicating aren’t as good (lapel pins and certificates for veterans, after the dog’s breakfast this government has made of actual services for veterans? I don’t know if lip service is better, or worse, than nothing – if you want to help veterans, restore the services that were cut!). If Ted were in a position to actually represent his constituents rather than being a back-bencher in a party that controls his vote, and if he were using his position to argue for long-term sustainable policies and programs that benefit Provencher, then I’d be working with him. There are many places where Ted and I could see eye to eye, and I’d love to hear him say that his party is willing to compromise, to work with others, or even to allow for proper debate and amendments to the legislation they ram through Parliament. We’re willing, but cooperation is a two-way street.
The Green Party has consistently invited the other parties to work together toward shared goals. In regard to democratic reform, we invited the other parties to work with us toward instituting proportional representation in Canada; they refused, not because they don’t want proportional representation, but because they don’t want to cooperate to get there. There was even a leaked NDP memo telling NDP MPs that they could not even read the letter on this subject that Elizabeth May sent to them. There have been calls to cooperate on many other issues, always with similar results.
We’ll continue to try to work with the other parties to create a better Canada, even if on the surface that looks like we’re opposing them. What we won’t do is refuse to hear an idea because of who’s saying it, or band together as a “team” in order to try and “win.” We’re all Canadians, and we’re all in this together – but agreement has to start with being agreeable.
In a recent blog post, Provencher MP Ted Falk talks about all of the things that the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus have done to stand up for hunters and anglers. I find it more than a little puzzling. From his blog:
This caucus helps to advance the issues surrounding conservation, habitat and enhancement of fish and game while engaging the millions of Canadians who enjoy the great outdoors.
This is the first ever group of its kind in Ottawa. The caucus meets with interested parties from across the country and the input received is brought back to Ottawa to help influence our policy development. Protecting Canada’s strong hunting and angling heritage is paramount to ensuring that we will continue to protect this Canadian tradition and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.
I very much appreciate that there’s a group devoted to preserving and promoting a traditional way of life, and I especially appreciate that this involves “conservation, habitat and enhancement of fish and game.” What I’m puzzled about is how this group can make any claim to protecting habitat when they report to the government that has done more to cut environmental protection than any government in Canadian history, single-handedly destroying protections over two terms that took a century to build up.
The Conservative omnibus budget bill of 2012 amended or repealed 70 other pieces of legislation, many of which were directly related to conservation of habitat. Elizabeth May wrote about it in May 2012, and noted some of the key environmental protections that were gutted by the supposed budget bill. This government has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning our already modest goals for greenhouse gas reductions in favour of embarrassingly lax new goals, which we have since failed to meet. This government cut the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano to save money, which led to an embarrassing slow response to the recent oil spill in English Bay this year. This government continues to promote pipelines to facilitate the expansion of the Alberta oil sands, even though those pipelines would run through important habitat areas carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), which is far more difficult to clean up than conventional oil; the proposed Energy East pipeline would run dilbit through Provencher, so this would directly affect us, including the land that Provencher hunters and anglers use.
I could go on about how the Conservative government has undermined the protection of species and habitat in Canada, but I think the point is clear. So what is the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus actually doing? Ted gives us a list of things that the Conservative government has done to protect hunters and anglers and their way of life, and you can find another list on the Hunting and Angling Caucus’ website. From Ted’s blog:
– Scrapping the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry, a +$1 billion Liberal government boondoggle that criminalized Canada’s hunters and anglers.
– Reversing the decision made by RCMP bureaucrats to phase out their use of muskrat fur hats for an inferior alternative.
– Tabling the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, keeping our promise to make firearms regulations safe and sensible. The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act will reduce red tape while ensuring that Canada’s communities are safe.
– Establishing the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program to support projects aimed at improving the conservation of recreational fisheries habitat. The Program brings partners together and pools their resources to support the common goal of conserving and protecting Canada’s recreational fisheries.
Most of these things have to do with the long gun registry and streamlining the process of getting a gun license. The only thing related to fishing on this list is the last point, which is only even necessary because this government has already decimated the protections that Canada had in place to protect the habitat of fish.
It seems, then, that this caucus is a political tool to promote the issue of gun licensing and fix the problems caused by their previous legislation. Hunters and anglers care about the environment in ways that most people who spend less time in the wilderness cannot understand, so a government that destroys the environment needs to reach out to them in a special way in order to keep their votes, and getting their backs up about gun control is a good way to do it. There are few political issues that are as polarized as gun control: Green MP Bruce Hyer was elected as an NDP MP, but when the NDP required that he vote to keep the long gun registry in spite of the desires of his Thunder Bay constituents, he quit the party and sat as an independent before becoming Green (because the Green Party never tells its MPs to vote against their constituents). The language used in Ted’s blog post and the Hunting and Angling Caucus website is polarizing and misleading (e.g., suggesting that the Long Gun Registry “criminalized Canada’s hunters and anglers”), and designed to shore up support for the party with those groups.
So while I appreciate that the Conservatives have a group specifically for the purpose of protecting habitat and a way of life, I try to always remember that you can know a tree by its fruit. This government talks about protecting habitat, and then systematically undercuts existing programs that were already doing just that.
The Green Party of Canada has a thorough platform, but nowhere is our platform more thorough than in regard to the conservation and sustainable development of our environment. Our policies on fisheries, forests, ecotourism (which would include hunting and fishing), air and water quality, parks, species at risk, toxic chemicals, support for environmental science, waste management, Arctic strategy, Aboriginal policy, and more, are together the best protection for the Canadian way of life enjoyed by hunters and anglers. You can read about them in Vision Green.
The Green Party would also take seriously the responsibility of gun ownership, but work hard to ensure that lawful gun owners are not unnecessarily hassled or penalized. Gun registration, like vehicle registration, exists to help us maintain the security of our own guns, and in so doing protect our neighbours should a gun be lost or stolen; it doesn’t need to be a burden, and it certainly doesn’t need to be unfair, but it can be a great help to law enforcement agencies. From Vision Green’s statement on gun control and ownership rights:
[Green MPs would] work hard to create a registration system that is fair, free, and easy to use. Streamline the gun registry in consultation with First Nations, and with gun sports and hunter organizations. We support the elimination of registration fees for hunting rifles and will ensure law-abiding citizens do not have their firearms confiscated.
If I were your MP, I wouldn’t be a member of the Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus (I’m not a Conservative!). Instead, I would continue to work to protect the habitat of animals and fish in consultation with First Nations, hunters, and anglers, and fight for the rights of my constituents without membership in any special group. That’s simply the job of an MP, and I’d love to work for you. What I won’t do is create a special group to pay lip service to a special interest group while at the same time voting for partisan legislation that undermines our environment and the way of life of Canadians who love the outdoors. Ted Falk is a good guy, and wasn’t even around when those bills went through, but sadly those things don’t matter: as a Conservative MP, he has to vote the way his party leader tells him. This year, vote for someone who can actually represent your interests.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
(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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.