Not My Canada...


Before the end of this parliament, possibly before the summer, Bill C-51 could become law. It's bad legislation, based on fear and loathing in equal parts (fear of the unknown and loathing of difference), and it will add nothing to Canada's long and distinguished history of protection for human rights.

Designed to "strengthen" measures passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, cities not in Canada last time I looked at a map, the new law will give the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP added powers, with cursory oversight from the judiciary. Stephen Harper and his supporters claim that the threat to Canadians is so severe, and has increased so much lately, that we must be willing to give up our civil liberties in order to combat the threat. It's the kind of thinking that has made us form docile lines at airports to remove our shoes, submit to intrusive and embarrassing body scanning, and limit our on-board defence against dehydration to 100 ml of liquid BECAUSE ONE GUY SOMETIME SAID HE'D MADE A BOMB FROM SOME KIND OF LIQUID. And some other guy tried to light his running shoes on fire in flight. On flights from one country to another, neither of which was Canada.

The smug lemmings who support Harper and his Law 'n' Order buddies say that all of us should be willing to cooperate with these measure to keep Canada "safe" and "free." Well, guess what? We have always been free, and we've always been pretty safe. Why? Because we had an international reputation for kindness, and constructive engagement with the rest of the world. We weren't the guys who went in there, guns blazing, when another country elected a government we didn't like. We were a haven for dissent and we welcomed the world's disenfranchised.

Our Constitution with its attendant body of law built carefully on government-funded challenges to our Charter of Rights guarantees freedoms of speech, association, religion, and other such signs of a grown up civil society. Our national tradition, our very identity as a nation, guarantees protection for those who disagree, for dissent, for awkward public questions.

And yet now, amongst other deeply distressing changes to our national identity and the fabric of our Canadian landscape (industry rampaging over our unspoiled environment, the plundering of our treasured waterways, scientists thrown onto the unemployment line, newcomers denied medical care, transgendered people denied the right to use public bathrooms....), Canada has become as paranoid and vindictive as (some of) our (more right-wing) American cousins. Ask any US citizen who lives outside the ruling class about the effect of the Patriot Act.... increased demands for ID, increased difficulty in doing international business, and a new identity as a "suspected terrorist" or, if you're not obviously Muslim, "soft on terrorism," if you express discomfort with increased security measures from your government.

By stoking fear of "terrorism," claiming that recent attacks are the product of organised, international "jihad," rather than mentally ill, lone individuals, the Government is attempting to convince us to surrender our rights voluntarily. Even if these Draconian measures were a magic bullet to destroy threats from within, or capable of erecting a magical force-field to protect us from the world outside, they would not be worth the sacrifice of those great things that make us Canadian. They would not be worth the threat to movements like Idle No More or Occupy, movements that made thousands of people suddenly think carefully about the kind of civil society they want and then take to the streets to demand it.

It is worth remembering that Canada is not a lawless place: murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault, and treason are all illegal. We do not need new laws to criminalise public discussion, no matter how distasteful the subject. We do not need new laws to allow our security forces to infiltrate citizens' organisations: the RCMP forfeited that opportunity when it did things like tap the phones of non-violent gay rights activists. We do not need new laws to criminalise public protest: surely the police and protestor deaths at Oka and Ipperwash have taught us that.

Bill C-51 will not pass in my Canada....

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