First in Tunisia, then Egypt and now Libya, youth are risking their lives to topple oil-rich authoritarian leaders, many who obtained their military might with western backing. Meanwhile, as we sit at our TVs watching with some astonishment as these protests become popular revolutions, our own country is steadily moving towards more authoritarian rule.
Has the quality of our democracy been slipping away as Canada itself becomes an “energy superpower”? Is there anything about Canada that makes us immune to this happening? When you look at what has occurred in five short years of Harper’s rule, it seems time to blow the warning whistle.
The growing list of how Harper’s tightly-controlled rule is moving us away from democracy is discussed in “The New Solitudes” by Erna Paris in the March 2011 The Walrus. I suggest you read it carefully if you care about the future of our country. Paris lists many concrete examples of how our democracy is being whittled away, and you begin to see a pattern to Harper’s ongoing assaults on Canadian society. Here are just a few examples.
Diplomat Richard Colvin warned the Harper government that the Canadian military was turning Afghan prisoners over to Security Forces where some were being tortured. Instead of investigating this, as Canada is obliged under the Geneva Accords, Harper’s government tried “to suppress the flow of documents that might contain incriminating material.” While the law clerk of the House of Commons confirmed that elected Parliamentarian’s had the right to see the evidence, the Harper government threatened Richard Colvin with legal action “if he dared to file documents before the House”, warning him “to conduct himself according to the interpretation of the Government of Canada”. Free speech is replaced with obstruction, intimidation and authoritarian rule.
Harper clearly cares little for the rule of law. The Walrus article discusses the case of child soldier Omar Khadr, noting that “Between 2009 and 2010, three high courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, ruled that the Harper government had breached his constitutional rights under the Charter.” The article continues: “Essentially the Prime Minister ignored these legal decisions. Canada became the only country to refuse to repatriate a citizen from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.” No matter what one’s view of the war in Afghanistan, we do not want to see Canada’s democracy weakened by Harper’s mishandling of the military mission.
Harper’s record speaks for itself: The Walrus article notes Harper “appointing an unelected party worker, Michael Fortier, to the federal cabinet to secure representation from Montreal; eliminating the Access to Information database; reducing and controlling government contact with the media; obliging cabinet ministers and public service officials to speak from scripts approved by the Prime Minister’s Office, thereby increasing the executive power of the PMO in new ways; twice proroguing the House of Commons, narrowly averting a constitutional crisis…”
This is just the tip of the iceberg of Harper’s creeping authoritarianism. The list gets much longer when you add in international obstruction of climate change negotiations and his disregard for pressing matters of environment and sustainability. Canada’s Environmental Commissioner has reported that Harper’s government isn’t monitoring our watersheds and has no plan for climate change or major oil spills. With Harper’s disdain for international law and global sustainability, it is no wonder that UN members voted so strongly against Canada, a pioneer of the United Nations and Human Rights, getting a seat on the Security Council.
LYING ABOUT KAIROS
Harper undermines basic honesty in politics. During a trip to Israel in 2009, Harper’s Minister Jason Kenney slurred the ecumenical coalition KAIROS as being anti-Semitic. (He actually confused the ecumenical group with another organization calling for a boycott of Israel due to its occupation of Palestinian territory.) Composed of most of the mainstream Christian churches, KAIROS has received federal funds for international development projects since 1974. In 2009 it was told without warning that all its international projects had been cut. According to Harper’s Minister responsible for foreign aid, Bev Oda, and many Conservative MPs, this was because KAIROS failed to meet the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA’s) new guidelines. As it turns out CIDA actually recommended continued funding for KAIROS, and Minister Oda had the CIDA document doctored to insert “not”, before it went through the budgetary processes. Harper defends his Minister’s right to arbitrarily decide, diverting attention from the fraud and forgery. Harper supports his Minister misleading Parliament, showing again how he prefers to govern by deceit.
Some of KAIROS’s international projects supported women’s reproductive health, and it may be that Harper’s government was unwilling to fund overseas projects that might include access to abortion. KAIROS has also been high profile about the impact of the tar sands on Alberta’s environment and the health of Indigenous people. Being attacked as “anti-Semitic” is a way to detract from Harper’s un-categorical support for Israel, whatever injustices are involved. It is noteworthy that long-time Israel supporter, Charles Bronfman, recently said “As long as it fails to end the occupation, Israel will be seen to be on the wrong side of history”. Kenny, of course, won’t dare to call this Canadian Jewish businessman “anti-Semitic”.
AFFRONTING HUMAN RIGHTS
Such mean-spirited, aggressive tactics are used to obscure and promote Harper’s ideological agenda. This will continue to threaten Canada’s democracy. When Harper hosted the G20 in Toronto, 1,100 Canadians were held in a Police Detention Centre, most without charge or under false arrest, often without food and water. Some police removed their badges, presumably so they couldn’t be identified. While police stayed mostly uninvolved when a small minority engaged in property damage, peaceful protesters were abused and injured. The human rights of thousands of Canadians were suspended when police enforced rules that had no basis in law.
This was the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, much larger than during the October 1970 FLQ Crisis. Canada looks like a police state when you view the Fifth Estate’s documentary on how the police handled the G20 protests. The decision to have the G20 in downtown Toronto, and to bring 20,000 police to Ontario at a cost of one billion dollars, was Harper’s. A government committed to democratic values would immediately call for a public inquiry, but not a peep from Harper, who clearly prefers to trump-up fear about disorder rather than uphold our democratic rights. Such blame-the-victim tactics are typical of tyrannical leaders everywhere.
We hear a lot about electoral fraud and corruption in Afghanistan. But what about right here? In 2008 Canada Elections sent the RCMP into Conservative Party headquarters and now four senior Conservatives, including Senator Doug Finley, who was Harper’s campaign manager in 2006 and 2008, have been charged with making “false and misleading statements”. According to the Feb. 26th Globe and Mail the allegation is that the Harper Conservatives breached spending limits by shifting excess advertising expenses on to candidates in 67 ridings. Finley is considered Harper’s “pit-bull” and believes politics to be “an adversarial business”; he was responsible for the expensive, aggressive attack ads on Liberal leaders, including ones now being aired about Ignatieff previously living in the U.S.
If Harper was ever able to manipulate his way to a majority government, Canada would sink further into authoritarian rule. Our chance of getting on a sustainable path would slip further away. We are presently on a slippery slope, and perhaps have something to learn from the brave youth in the Middle East.
Next time I’ll explore what Canadians of all political stripes can do to overcome Harper’s authoritarian politics.