by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
I believe we, as Canadians, as world citizens, are on the verge of losing control of a democracy we take for granted.
Why Alarm Now??
Forty and fifty years ago, when hippies were seen as harbingers of anarchism and anti-war protesters were feared for opening the doors to Communism, the alarm of the Right was likely akin to how I feel now. But the continuing move to the Right in Canada, to Law and Order thinking, and to a shrinking of a generous national outreach to people in need within and outside our borders, has reached a point where I feel the presence of a slippery slope toward something dark and wrong.
So what’s new? Polarized politics continually swing like a heavy pendulum, grinding to one side, and taking decades to grind to the other. Left and right – eternally fighting. One hopes for another viewpoint about the possibilities for the world, drawing from past and present toward a different future [distributive justice and the philosopher John Rawls suggest one positive direction].
But meanwhile, things don’t stand still while we figure them out.
History Underpins my Present Fears
I am a child of wartime, and always a little paranoid about fascism, sensing danger in the rise of fearful talk about enemies and the need for police-state measures. My fears have arisen to counter the fears and proposed solutions of the Right. But being paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you, as some wise guy once said. Democracy has to be worked at and safeguarded. We could lose it – that’s not paranoia.
I have always tried to understand how the German people, who had contributed so mightily to intelligent civilization, allowed the rise of the far Right in the 1930’s. Fear so powerful as to undermine clear thinking was contagious and won the day. Shaky economics and a loud clash of political views, as Communists noisily offered up a new order, must have confused many. Stability and a powerful leader would seem like salvation. Were people ready to believe anything, even that Hitler was a fine guy, because of fear, and superb propaganda and hypocrisy?
Hypocrisy – As Old As The Hills
They say the first casualty of war is truth. While we’re not at war, we’re subject to a series of hypocrisies, the persistence of which over time doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t note them. There is a willingness on the part of the Government to fudge the truth of things. This keeps us uncertain about what our country is doing out there in the world.
The military is lauded, even loved, by our Leader. Yet, even as they drive along the 401 Highway of Heroes, retired soldiers may be headed for more rejection of their requests for assistance in covering the financial and psychic costs of severe wounds to body and mind. Our government boosts the man in uniform until he’s no longer able to hoist the weapon, muster the will to damage or destroy. Then he’s pretty much on his own. I call this a lie being told. There is no real honourable love for the military.
What is the advantage in glorifying the military? Is it meant to keep us well-disposed to men in uniform? Is it as simple as our Leader wanting to know he can wield a big stick if he thinks he has to? The rhetoric about Canada always includes reference to our peaceful nation, our peaceful values. As Canadians, we have indeed loved our peace-keepers. But where are they? All retired? Why are Canadians again in the midst of the fighting in a land with which we’re not at war? Are these the first choices of a peace-loving nation?
Another area of double-speak is the inciting of fear of crime. A heavy-handed push for increased punishment and incarceration go forward in the face of decreased crime rates. Our prisons utilize a massive amount of solitary confinement (beyond that of most western countries), while data on the brain damage resulting from this method and the positive results of very different methods are ignored. Facts are ignored. Punish those who behave badly – horribly and indefinitely. The government talk is of creating greater safety on the streets, but policies that create mental malfunction are nurtured in the system.
Disjoints between our leader’s slogans and honourable follow-through offend my reason.
Double-Speak Isn’t the Worst of Our Situation
Four red lights have gone off for me.
The avoidance of debate
The shutting down of sources of information
Intentional dismantling of institutions supporting Canadian community
Developing the means of repressing dissent
There are many journalists publishing in the independent Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail – not widely distributed throughout Canada but likely available on the Web – who are setting out clearly the details of how the above repressive policies are already formed or are being created.
I will point to the obvious ones.
Avoidance of debate
The British and Canadian systems of government were intended to thrive on parliamentary debate. Intelligent argument. Our government dislikes disagreement so much they have tried muffling it. Omnibus bills make study and discussion very difficult. Volumes of material, containing multiple pieces of legislation, are presented to parliamentarians with little time for study. How can MP’s develop sound responses before the whole pile is rushed through for a vote?
The free flow of information
And how can it be that Canadian scientists, in their frustration, have had to parade on Parliament Hill to protest their being muffled in sharing information about their work? Is this not a dire situation? Stifling the voice of a key sector of the productive intelligentia – is this not the sign of serious interference with the public’s right to information?
Information about our society, as illuminated by regular census-taking (a practice from Roman times), has been severely curtailed by the elimination of the long-form census. Enough evidence of the ruinous results of this policy has been publicized in recent weeks so that it seems there may be an adjustment to this policy – it is election year, after all and some concessions to reason may be made. But this is information about ourselves that has been repressed.
Intentional dismantling of sources of Canadian community
The above chipping away at significant freedoms has become more possible because of this government’s dislike of, and efforts to crush, the maintaining of a shared set of Canadian values. For many decades, particularly post WW2, whichever party was in power, there was clear growth of positive Canadian identity. This was not a fostered jingoism but rather a quiet pride as we learned about all parts of the country. School children regularly watched, in assembly, National Film Board documentaries about industries and varying ways of life in the north, west, east, seacoasts and cities. Group of Seven prints were churned out by the thousands, adorning school walls across the country. The CBC featured interesting radio and TV programs that introduced us to each other.
The present government has, for ten years, created distrust between sectors of the nation. The interests of the privileged are guarded while those who protest deprivation are treated as a danger to society. Homelessness and severe under-housing never receive more than cursory attention. The interests of city dwellers are not addressed – is this to appease the frustrations of primary producers (oil, agriculture, extraction of minerals) or simply because cities are not rich electoral ground for the Party? Newcomers have become suspect, not welcomed. [Is there any public recognition of what they have brought, in skills and actual money, to us?]. Our Leader’s Canadian “family” doesn’t have room for someone who covers her face for religious reasons. We won’t offer space to civilian refugees from Syria. Anyone with a criminal conviction is considered despicable, outside the commonweal. Lock them up for as long as possible – they are not part of us. How much large-scale crime within business occurs with either modest or no punishment – it’s the petty criminal for whom wrath is reserved.
Hobbling the CBC must be understood as an assault on Canadian community. CBC drew the country together, and has held us firm. To the furthest reaches of the North, to islands on the edge of each coast, we have been able to argue and learn from each other. Diminish the CBC and we lose our best opportunity to know ourselves as Canadians. The National Film Board: is it being strengthened, maintained, or weakened?
The means of mounting communal resistance to the results of government policies is lessened as communication is reduced.
Why are we sitting still while security measures are being prepared that push us into U.S. style post 9-11 repression of due process?
This is the culmination of what I think this government wants. To silence us. To squelch debate. To make us afraid and keep us there. To muzzle Northern Spirit – keep that for the Raptors. Northern Spirit rises among First Nations but as a growing crowd walks hundreds of miles in winter to visit Parliament, our leader doesn’t emerge to acknowledge them, let alone listen to what they have to say.
Harper wants no Northern Spirit. He wants us to stay quietly afraid. Call environmentalists terrorists. Keep calling the two separate murderous attackers in Ottawa and Richelieu terrorists – not deluded individuals. Drum up fear of terrorists, boost the military, keep building bigger jails, and give CSIS powers to arrest on suspicion without charges or appeal…does this not sound a little like the F word?
And when does a Law and Order government slide into being a police state? Are we watching closely enough? Do we even still have the tools to do so?
We are not a fascist state. However, our government has developed a process of governing that has moved away from key tenets of democracy. The present combination of governance and policy have more potential for escalating toward fascism than any government since WW2.
I realize that none of this is new to most readers. What I emphasize is that when you look at the whole picture, are we doing enough to guard the democracy we have? Are we speaking out enough? Are we complacent in our relative privilege, and sure that things will surely be alright because we are, after all, solid peace-loving Canadians? Dangerous thinking.