Leveraging the Parliament Hill Shootings

Certainly the shooting that happened on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 was a tragedy. Two men died. And one man was forced into the traumatic circumstance of having to kill another man.

It’s enough that these things happened.

But why the sudden burst of anthem singing? And why this sudden compulsion to identify an enemy? Are we a country so beaten down that we need to rise up, wiping away our tears as we vow to “stand on guard for thee”? What is going on here? Have we lost our collective minds?

What is so great about Canada?

There are some things, I suppose. It’s to our credit that so far, our rights to mobility and privacy have been so well upheld. It’s a great thing that our court rooms and parliaments are open forums. I suppose that if we are forced to define what’s meant by freedom, these things would factor in.

But in the wake of the shootings on Parliament hill, mobility and privacy are the very things that are under threat –not from any gunman, but from our own leaders, who seem to be leveraging this event into their hawkish ambitions to be the guardians of righteousness –protecting citizens from themselves for their own good. And how convenient this patriotic fervour can be in times when the government needs to drown out dialogue about an economic policy that promises to keep public services down, and to rape the natural environment in the name of protecting the wealth of the richest people in the world!

And let’s not forget ourselves. Patriotism can blind us to the fact that there are things in Canada that are not so great. Did no one see the tent city in Oppenheimer Park? Shall we simply ignore the fact that an RCMP member is on trial for perjury after causing the death of a man who came to Canada to visit his mother? Shall we simply gloss over the historic fact that for over a hundred years of our formation as a nation, our way of life destroyed the way of life of the original citizens of this “soil”? Does anybody care about the sad legacy of so many women who have disappeared on the Highway of Tears?

You may say that I’m reaching –that I’m negative. I’m not. You may say that I hate Canada. I don’t

And you may say that these terrible aspects of our nation are isolated incidents – things that no country, no matter how great, can avoid. And maybe they are.

But if that’s true, why then is the recent Parliament Hill incident NOT an isolated incident? Why, when Nathan Cirillo was shot, did we launch ourselves into vainglorious sentimentality over our downtrodden nation? Was it because he was wearing a soldier’s uniform?

And why, in light of all the other incidents in this country is he being called a hero? How can those of us who never knew him deem him to be anything? Certainly heroism can’t be ascribed to him for his job, standing as an honour guard for a statue, any more than it can be ascribed to a taxi driver. The simple fact of his murder doesn’t make him a hero. Why are we all of a sudden clamouring for a hero?

One has to ask if there would have been an attack at all if an honour guard had not been present to remind a man with radical beliefs of our newly militarized history, courtesy of Stephen Harper’s conservative government. It’s fair to wonder if the presence of a soldier in full regalia on public display was a trigger for the killer’s deluded mind.

Why do we need an honour guard at the war memorial? Is it not enough that the public can walk by the statue and pay their respect to those whose historic circumstance placed them in the midst of horrible tragedy: tragedy that didn’t stop when the guns were silenced? Do we need a spectacle to tell us how we should view this work of art, or how we should view the meaning of our dead?

Have we forgotten how terrible war is? Should it not be a thing we remember with a bit of sadness and sobriety? Is it not a disservice to engage in sudden bursts of sloppy sentimentality and vainglorious patriotism?

Those who died didn’t die for this. I know, because I have spoken to a few of those who fought and survived. For them, war was not glorious –not in the least. My grandfather feared fanaticism of any kind, including nationalism or religious zeal. He knew they were the foundations of thought on which Naziism was built. And here we have a prime minister who embraces both.

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Harper’s speech after the Parliament shootings

After gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, shot and killed a Canadian honour guard at our National War Memorial, and went on a rampage into the Parliament Building, Prime Minister Harper addressed the nation in a most predictable way.

In his speech he carefully framed the events of the day as an act of war. He reminded us that “attacks on our security personnel and on our institutions of governance are by their very nature attacks on our country…”. He made sure to use the word “terrorist” (four times) and he managed to include “ISIL-inspired” in his oratory –this despite the fact that no organized group had claimed any responsibility for the “attack” (a word he used seven times) at the time of his reading of the speech.

Clearly, Harper wants to define this issue as a justification for his combat policy in going after ISIL.

Most telling was the following paragraph from the very short speech:

“In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home, just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores. They will have no safe haven.”

Harper would like us to see this event as part of a broader world conspiracy of  “terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores” against “free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all”. In case you missed it, we Canadians are the latter group. Apparently those savages whom Harper alleges to be our enemies don’t embrace human dignity.

Surely the gunman at the parliament building today was a radical, much as Marc Lépine (the École Polytechnique shooter) was a radical. Surely Canada should protect its citizens from violent offences and radicalism, but Harper would like us to perceive ourselves to be at war. He would like Canadians to sanction a combat role in a war against an idea –a war that can’t be won, but a war in which people will die from the “savagery” of Canadian F-18 sorties nonetheless.

As the leader of a nation, his attitude, which plunges us into a world of “us” and “them” thinking, should also be thought of as radicalism, misguided and dangerous.

Examining the Tsilhqot’in ruling: We have it backwards.

When you think of aboriginal land title, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? The September 26 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding land title of the Tsilhqot’in nation in BC has certainly set precedent. What does this mean for the First Nation? What does it mean for Colonial Canada?

It seems that the answers on most people’s mind have to do with business. On CBC’s “The National”, Peter Mansbridge announces how the decision “could have huge implications right across Canada.” He then goes on to report how those implications will “touch government, industry, and any future economic or resource development on First Nations land, including the newly approved Northern Gateway Pipeline.”

The crafting of this report is problematic in two ways. First, the report mentions “The Northern Gateway Pipeline” as if it is a fait accompli. It is not. There is no pipeline. Northern Gateway is a proposed name to be given to a proposed pipeline that an oil company would like to build. It’s only an idea on paper. To talk about it in this way reinforces in everyone’s mind that it is an inevitability. Once it’s named, it’s real. At best, we should be saying, “a pipeline that Enbridge Corporation would like to build.”

The second, and larger problem with the report is that it ignores the people that the ruling most affects –the Tsilhqot’in themselves. What is the implication of the ruling for them? Who knows? Who cares? The report bypasses them completely, and jumps right into talk about the possible effects on business. And the more in-depth coverage of the issue by CBC’s Chris Brown is no better, focusing pretty much exclusively on a pipeline debate. Need I remind everyone that there currently IS NO proposal for an oil pipeline to go through Tsilhqot’in territory. Is there no other meaning to the Supreme Court’s decision than the thwarting of a multinational business interest?

It’s not just CBC that is reporting this way. The Huffington Post reports much the same way, as does The Globe and Mail, which contains “Northern Gateway Pipeline” in its headline.

This is a concerning mindset in Canada. We have it backwards. We look at legal precedent, and government in terms of how they will affect business. We seem to measure everything in terms of “the economy”, forgetting that “economy” is a means to an end, and forgetting that in the current economy there are winners, but also many, many losers, including future generations who will have to suffer the effects of accelerated climate change and pollution. Really, we should be asking, “How will this business affect the future living conditions of all First Nations people, and all Canadians in general?” We should measure business in terms of its effects on our endeavour, and not endeavour in terms of its effects on business.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Tsilhqcot’in land title is the culmination of generations of struggle of a people. To limit its significance to the building of an oil pipeline not even near the land in question, is an insult to all those who struggled. What is their story? Their lawsuit was not crafted as an attempt to stop an oil company. Why so much focus on that?

 

Comparing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Adolf Hitler

It’s a big-time taboo to compare any leader in a democracy to the notorious Adolf Hitler. People are justifiably loathe to ascribe to anyone the pathology that would lead Hitler to commit such terrible atrocities. I suggest that by NOT making comparisons, we are putting ourselves more at risk for some version of the same thing happening in our own place and time.

When we think of Hitler, we think mainly of the ultimate atrocity that he committed: genocide against the Jews. The horror of it is how coldly systematic and how terrible it was. Compared to this atrocity, the other transgressions of Hitler are diminished. But we mustn’t forget those other transgressions. We mustn’t forget that Hitler’s ability to create a totalitarian dictatorship depended on a lot of initial groundwork.

I don’t actually believe that the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is a deranged psychopath of the order of Adolph Hitler. Nonetheless, he is the leader of a nation, and as such, wields power that has the potential to cause much harm, as well as much good. Therefore, we are fools NOT to compare his proclivities to those of world leaders throughout history – including Adolf Hitler.

Here is a laundry list of things that Harper has done that scare me:

1. He has used the media extensively to advertise his initiatives, and to discredit his adversaries. This is called propaganda.

2. He has allowed the surveillance of his own people, including using a state-sponsored spy agency.

3. He has demonstrated extremely right of centre policy attitudes.

4. He has identified a religion as the biggest threat to Canadian security (“Islamicism”).

5. He has used legislation to attack trade unions.

6. He has tried to politicize and discredit the judiciary.

7. He has espoused extremely unorthodox science in order to squelch environmental issues.

8. He has suppressed intellectuals, especially those who might stand in the way of his policies.

9. He has an almost pathological obsession with controlling the dissemination of information.

10. He has increased penalties for crimes.

11. He has covered up manipulations of elections.

12. He is currently creating policy that will give him an electoral advantage.

13. He has increased the militarization of the country.

14. He has, through an advertising campaign, and through funding (and de-funding) initiatives, tried to re-create the history of Canada as a militaristic history.

These are but a few observations. As I have already said, I don’t believe that Harper is a mad dictator like Adolf Hitler, but I DO compare his behaviours to Hitler’s. Why shouldn’t I? And I DO think that in many ways, he is taking Canada down a very unhealthy path.

I haven’t bothered to substantiate my claims with links or references. I would appreciate measured comments that take issue with my concerns, as much as I’d appreciate comments supporting them.

 

The Fair Elections Act benefits the Conservatives, and hurts everyone else.

I wish I could believe that the mainstream press would analyze the Fair Elections Act bill in terms of its implications for future democracy, or that the public most affected by it could look up from Flappybird long enough to read such an analysis. I don’t know. Maybe I’m being fatalistic, but the passing of this bill is pretty much a certainty, and its implications will be felt as soon as the next federal election. It will create a political advantage for the Conservative Party because it will remove limits on campaign funding, and it will decrease Elections Canada’s ability to govern fairness in elections.

Money is able to buy very manipulative ad campaigns that distract people from “the other hand” of any debate. And if you manipulate election rules well enough, you can ensure that the your message saturates the media and the “other hand” is never heard. You can also make it harder for your detractors to exercise their franchise. The new Act allows the Conservatives, who are so well funded by oil corporations, to do all these things.

The Act will increase the Identification requirements of voters, ensuring that the most marginalized people – the homeless and mentally ill, will have a more difficult time voting. If you’ve ever dealt with people who live on the margins of society, you know how hard it is for them to complete the process of getting required government issued ID. Currently, we have a “vouch for” system, in which someone with ID can witness to someone’s ID when he doesn’t have it. This system will be removed by the act.

The more stringent ID requirement will be advertised as a way to ensure that people can’t cheat by voting more than once. And who wouldn’t think it a good idea to stop this kind of election fraud? But underlying this measure is a straw man: the measure assumes that the “vouch for” system is a big source of election fraud. In fact, it is NOT. What was certainly a problem in the last federal election was a barrage of automated phone calls (robocalls), that fraudulently told self-identified non-Conservative voters that their local polling stations were closed, thereby discouraging them from voting . But the Act does not address this type of fraud which was orchestrated by the Conservatives.

So we’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist, while conveniently giving an advantage to the party that is currently governing.

This bill is another attack on the democratic process by the Conservatives. It irks me that our more conservative governments are willing to produce legislation that is in their own partisan interest rather than the long-term best interest of Canada. Theirs is the same shortsightedness that exploits the environment for short term economic gain. But what is worse – what saddens me deeply, is the fact that no one seems to care. We’ve been anaesthetized. Cap in hand we accept these things without so much as a whimper.

When did we lose our idealism? We now have a governing party that actively tries to prevent open-minded intellectual debate, and instead tries to win through manipulation of the system, and through the use of Orwellian advertising.