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STEPHEN HARPER: THE REAL THREAT TO CANADA

If we destroy human rights and rule of law in the response to terrorism, they have won. – Joichi Ito

Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it. – Noam Chomsky

Frank A. Pelaschuk

 THE WAR OF FEAR

Of what is Stephen Harper afraid? Why has he turned his back on the promises of honest, open, transparent, and good governance?

From where comes that mistrust of scientists, sociologists, scholars, jurists, and the idea that experts are not to be trusted and that he is answerable to no one. Does he believe it a sign of weakness to bend, to retreat, to seek advice, to hear others out, to admit to being sometimes wrong? If so, what kind of leader does that make him?

Harper may be successful as a politician and it is true he will certainly leave his mark on Canada, but it is difficult to believe him even a good, let alone great, leader. For some, he will most certainly be seen as a failure, a man of too much false pride and arrogant insubstantiality blinded by the belief of the inerrancy of his beliefs and goals however wrong, disastrous, and corrupt. He is too petty to be gracious, too vindictive to be forgiving, too mean-spirited to be empathetic, too suspicious to be trusting, and too intransigent to recognize and embrace the value of others especially his critics, preferring to listen to the sycophantic bleatings of toadies and “yes” men. He is a bully who abuses his majority privilege and is apparently untroubled by doing so perhaps because he is surrounded by others equally removed from the world where humaneness is considered a gift rather than a curse of weakness. Their behaviour is that of bullies and cowards, liars and knaves willing to do anything to keep that power even fomenting fear and even waging war against whole segments of society. For them, it is not enough to disagree. They must tar with sweeping generalizations, exaggerated claims, shameless self-promotion, apocalyptic warnings of terrorist activities, scapegoating of members of the Muslim community, gross misrepresentations of what the opposition offer, and impugning the patriotism of doubters opposing Bill C-51.

Harper apparently doesn’t know what great, even good, leaders do: they not only are decisive and confident, they also possess character and integrity and the possibility of experiencing shame; they listen, and they listen to everyone, with an open, honest intent that permits them to be persuaded, to change direction, to stand firm when they must and to retreat when it is wise; he does not seek out credit for the successes not due him nor does he take it for himself when unearned; he does not shrug off responsibility nor, more importantly, does he blame others for his failures.

Good leaders become great when they seeks counsel, accept sound advice even if unsolicited, and are willing to listen to those who are knowledgeable in their fields, “experts” if you will. A leader of a nation is not influenced by special interests nor does he wage war against those who question his judgement; instead, he listens and works for every member of society and works even harder to enrich the lives of those less fortunate rather than for those to whom much is given. In Harper and his crew, I see very little of a leader, even less that is admirable.

THE DEFENDERS AND THE DAMNED

Far too often, we have been witness to the Harper gang’s response to criticism. Opponents to frequent Conservative attempts to slip omnibus bills were smeared as “siding with pornographers” or by having their loyalty questioned. Joe Oliver, then environmental minster, slammed environmentalists as “radicals” accusing them of threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” This was in 2012. With that in mind, it appears Bill C-51 is aimed at setting this right and that is bad for Canadians. Not withstanding Harper’s denials, the bill threatens the right of assembly, association and peaceful protest if he, CSIS, or any other government body determines such activities, say a blockade of trains transporting oil, poses an economic threat. C-51, under Interpretation, Part 1, Section 2 (2) states:

“The following definitions apply in this act.

“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:

  1. 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;”

That is vague language, and open to interpretation allowing this government the authority, if not the right, to shut down strike activities and perhaps even go after unions as economic terrorist threats. Just take another look at the Joe Oliver statement above and consider the Harper regime’s fixation on the Oil sector, the XL Keystone pipeline project in particular.  Harper and his gang, along with the RCMP, have labelled environmentalists as extremists. With such a mindset, could anyone doubt Harper and crew would not hesitate to employ C-51 against unions, strikers, activists or even peacefully protesting citizens blocking a highway?

A few lines following the above excerpt, is this proviso: “For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.

A superficial reading of this may reassure some who believe critics to be alarmists. Not so. It is the use of the qualifier, “lawful”, that becomes troublesome. Wildcat strikes, for example, while disruptive and not desirable, might be considered terrorist acts simply because they do affect the economy. To believe the best of this regime, to trust Harper and his crew to act only out of the purist motives, is not good enough especially since they have, in the past, proven themselves untrustworthy. This is a gang with a pattern of smearing and threatening folks they do not like. No one should forget what happened to Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission who was fired by the Harper gang the day before she was to appear before a parliamentary committee to testify about why she shut down the Chalk River reactor for safety reasons. The government engaged in a smear campaign to discredit her. They did the same with Pat Stogran, at the time Veterans Ombudsman, when they quickly learned he took his job seriously. He became a target of anonymous email attacks and began to suspect his medical records had been leaked. The government side raised questions regarding his mental stability and cast doubts regarding his patriotism. Another vet, Sean Bruyea, was similarly targeted for his support of the Ombudsman and for his criticism of the government’s handing of disability pensions for vets which, readers may recall, under Julian Fantino, at that time Veterans Minister, was changed from a monthly, tax-free, lifelong pension to a one-time lump-sum payment. And no one should forget the treatment of Kevin Page, when he, as Parliamentary Budget Officer, was stonewalled by Harper, Peter MacKay and the gang at every turn when he sought information regarding the purchase costs for a proposed 65 F-35 jets. As with Stogran and Keen, Harper and gang went after Page, accusing him of bias and questioning his credentials and his patriotism and, as they did with Stogran, refused to renew his term. Most recently, Daniel Therrein, Privacy Commissioner, has been denied the opportunity to appear before the Commons public safety committee to voice is concerns regarding C-51. This is shameful, shabby treatment of those men and women who were, and are being, punished for doing exactly what they were paid to do. Clearly, when one goes against the Harper gang, there can be no expectation of walking away unscathed. They are brutal and vindictive. That is not leadership; it is petulance.

It will be much easier for Harper and gang, or any government for that matter, to hide behind Bill C-51 to not only target terrorists, but also those they perceive as “enemies” real or imagined. If this bill goes through, and it will because the Harper gang has the majority vote, it will be a bad day for Canada. The Harper regime has allowed for limited debate of the Bill, until the end of March. That is window dressing, dominated by Conservatives who are allotted half the allowed time to ask questions but, thus far, have indulged in rambling monologues and offensive attacks directed at witnesses often running out the clock to deny opposition members on the committee opportunity to pose questions.

Ian MacLeod, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, reports how Tory MP Rick Norlock went after Carmen Cheung, senior counsel for British Columbia Civil Liberties Union, saying, “Is there any degree of checks and balances that would satisfy you? Are you fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the street?” The implication is clear and it is contemptible.

MacLeod also quotes LeVar Payne commenting to Greenpeace Canada executive director, Joanne Kerr appearing as a witness, “The purpose of the act is sharing information for national security threats, so it makes me wonder if your organization is a security threat?” He went on to say, “I see your organization is protesting pipelines, forestry projects, but I didn’t hear anything to indicate to me that you were planning to bomb any of Canadian infrastructure or sabotage electrical grids, so I wonder if you consider yourself to be a national security threat and if you understand the definitions, that it won’t apply to you as long as you don’t commit any of these terrorist activities” (Ottawa Citizen, Ian MacLeod, March 14, 2015). I don’t know about you, but I see a threat in there.

One witness, Ihsaan Gardee, representing the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), was subjected to a harangue from Conservative Diane Ablonczy. Ablonczy wanted it noted her concerns regarding allegations the NCCM having ties to various groups supporting terrorists, including Hamas. Said she, “I think it is fair to give you an opportunity to address these troubling allegations. In order to work together, there needs to be a satisfaction that, you know, this can’t be a half-hearted battle against terrorism. Where do you stand in light of these allegations?” Mr. Gardee’s response was to the point. “McCarthyesque-type questions protected by parliamentary privilege and unbecoming of this committee” (Kristy Kirkup, Mar. 14, 2015). This was a deadly comeback but I suspect it was as if water off a duck’s back. There was nothing fair in what Ablonczy was attempting to suggest or in how she was doing it. Mr. Gardee knew it and let her know he was unimpressed and not intimidated.

The performances of the Conservative members were a shameful display of partisanship and vile innuendo. Mr. Gardee’s defence of himself was stalwart if wasted on the obtuse and absolutely nasty Conservative members on this committee who apparently believed they were participating in an inquisition rather than an attempt for a fair hearing. If so, in that, they were right, it was an inquisition. If anyone really doubted what the government expected from this committee, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney put that to rest when he went after the those opposing the bills referring to them as “so-called experts” who included, “former prime ministers, retired Supreme Court justices, eminent former politicians, national security legal academics and constitutional scholars” (Ottawa Citizen, Ian MacLeod, March 14, 2015).

The hearings will accomplish nothing, or very little at best. If there are changes, they will be modest, insignificant, but enough, perhaps, to convince an inattentive public that the government is listening. Don’t believe it. The government’s reason for not hearing from Daniel Therrein is that there is not enough time. Really? Perhaps the Conservatives on the committee should ask real and relevant questions rather than offer rambling monologues and accusations that are inflammatory and prejudicial and appear to question the loyalty of those appearing before them. It is clear from this government’s behaviour that opponents of C-51 will be tarred along the lines of George Bush’s, “You’re either for us or you’re against us.” Hardly conducive for a serious, objective debate when you know that the government side has already determined that those witnesses opposing the bill are suspect. As for Daniel Therrein being blocked? Perhaps his open letter published in the Globe and Mail played a role (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/without-big-changes-bill-c-51-means-big-data/article23320329/).

So what does concern critics other than that the Act allows for warrantless search and seizure, denies the accused opportunities to face their anonymous accusers, allows for suspects to be held for longer periods without charge, allows CSIS to shut down online activities of those they deem a threat and to share information with other agencies and have the ability to put Canadians on no-fly lists? Well, the vague language for a certainty. There are no terms of reference in the Act. What makes a terrorist? This is a regime that has targeted environmentalists, unionists and scientists, scholars and jurists. This is the regime that has conspired with corporations to suppress wages of Canadian workers by wielding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program as a vicious club. What if unions push back? With this government, I can guess. Conceivably, anyone urging a massive public protest across the country against Harper and his crew, perhaps shutting down highways or main streets, could be prosecuted for advocating “economic” terrorism. I suggest the reader look at the open letter by 100 Canadian professors of law and related fields addressed to all Parliamentarians (http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/02/27/open-letter-to-parliament-amend-c-51-or-kill-it/).

HARPER LOOKS IN THE MIRROR AND SEES A GENERAL

C-51 is simply bad legislation and will doubtless be struck down by the courts. But that will take time and by then we will have had the election and know if Harper’s campaign of terror worked.

Meanwhile, the present war in Iraq and the flap generated by Zunera Ishaq’s refusal to partake of her citizen ceremony by refusing to remove her niqab, allows the Harper establishment ample opportunity to continue to ratch up the rhetoric and isolate a whole community of Muslims with reckless language and disregard for truth telling. As face coverings are not a requirement of the Muslim faith, just of certain States, Saudi Arabia for one, I would prefer them done away with but I also believe if a woman chooses to wear niqabs or burkhas and are willing to allow themselves to be unveiled should they be required to do so for identification or security purposes they should be allowed to do so. That is not my preference but it should be their right. That Harper has turned this into an issue that is divisive and smacking of condescension is unworthy of any leader of a nation. He is appealing to the worst in us, to our fears, ignorance and intolerance. He has done the same with his changes to jail sentencing, his “life means life” homily and suggestions of “murderers walking our streets”. It’s loathsome stuff. It’s all about bogeymen out there, ISIL barbarians pounding at the gates and the neighbour next door waiting to pounce to rape women and slit throats. C-51, draconian and mean-spirited, serves no purpose other than to bolster the image that Harper and gang are on top of the terrorist threat. Unfortunately, the threat posed by this legislation is directed against all targets, the innocent, the guilty, the ones this government decides are its enemies: that would be me; it could be you. Harper’s inflating the dangers so that we are all quaking in our bedrooms and closets until Election Day is likely the best reason to not vote for him. This is irresponsible governance whereby he would seek to be re-elected solely on the basis of the politics of fear. Neither Harper nor his party can save us from the terrorist threat; they are it. Should he be re-elected, there will be no peace and harmony reigning over the land as he would have us believe. That is his myth. I tell you, it is chimera.

When Bill C-51 is picked apart piece by piece in the Supreme Court, and it will be, he will once again refuse to take responsibility for making bad legislation. Instead he will again blame the High Court and “activist” Justices and continue to work at whittling away the trust most Canadians hold for the institution and Supreme Court Justices.

That is not the behaviour of a leader but rather that of a man of low character and without shame, a child really, who is always pointing fingers elsewhere too cowardly to man up to his own failings. It’s always the fault of someone else.

Yet, why is Harper so resistant to the idea of independent or Parliamentary oversight?

Now he and his gang have told us they have plenty of oversight in the form of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). That is patently false. The agency cannot possibly adequately perform its mandate, particularly in this day, when its five members, all government appointees, meet only once a month and the executive director and fourteen staff are left to take care of the day-to-day affairs. Too, SIRC has been plagued by scandal with one time Harper Cabinet Minister Chuck Strahl forced to resign when exposed as a registered lobbyist for Gateway Pipelines and Arthur Porter, one time Chair, in a Panamanian jail facing Canadian charges for fraud, conspiracy, abuse of trust, money laundering, and accepting secret commissions. How confident can Canadians be that the agency is able to do the job effectively or objectively? Not very. So who will keep a non-partisan eye on the spies? No one.

When abuses do occur, and they most certainly will, Canadians will likely never know except, perhaps, years from now. Once the bill passes, as it will, we may occasionally hear faint voices of complaint, perhaps even cries for help, someone running to the media and telling a story of government abuses, false arrest, secret hearings. But we may never know. The government, if it’s still the Harper gang, will shrug the stories off with blandishments and the public, if roused from its apathy, will merely shrug along with Harper and go back to sleep. And if the voices are heard, perhaps the only one who will listen and believe the stories will be the veterans, themselves subjected to so much abuse from this regime, and environmentalists and a few others who actually do believe in democracy and civil rights. The environmentalists will be dismissed as “radicals”, “extremists”, and those noisy vets thrown a few bones with the hope of silencing them at least until the next election.

For this gang, it is no longer their stewardship of the economy on which they rely to capture our vote. In that front, they have been peculiarly silence considering all the noise and bluster of their self-mythologizing over the years of themselves as economic wizards. The folks they have attempted to snow with that myth live the harsh reality of the emptiness of that particular Conservative promise. Instead, Harper and gang prefer these days to stoke the flames of panic by conjuring up terrifying images and creating a poisonous atmosphere that threatens to overwhelm the Muslim community.

Are the Harper Conservatives racists? I don’t know, but I know the language Harper uses is offensive and divisive. We have Conservative MP John Williamson in offering a critique of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program saying: “It makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while we bring in brown people to work these jobs.” Is he racist? Again, I don’t know, but the language was certainly racist. Instead of attacking foreign workers, Williamson would have done himself some credit by criticizing Harper, Jason Kenney, and the government for abetting business in suppressing wages and in exploiting foreign, at the expense of Canadian, workers through the TFWP.

And, speaking of our new Defence Minister Kenney, once again he has proven himself absolutely unfit as a member of parliament. When he was minister of immigration, his office faked a citizenship ceremony on the late, unlamented, Sun Media by having six bureaucrats pose as immigrants. He refused to apologize. It was Kenney who banned the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony, which led Zunera Ishaq to fight back. Jason Kenney clearly likes the headlines, good or bad. As minister of employment, he had his fingers rapped for accepting gifts from lobbyists to his department. In 2011, Kenney also had his finger rapped for using government resources to fundraise for the Conservative Party. Nothing happened, no punishment. Last October, he tweeted news of the death of Cpl. Cirillo before the military had a chance to release the news. Again, no repercussions. Recently, we have him tweeting on International Women’s Day: “On #IWD2015, thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL’s campaign to enslave women & girls”. Accompanying the tweet were three photographs. One shows a line of burkha-clad women in chains. Another shows four chained women, faces covered. The third shows the purported marriage of a child, hands bound, to an ISIL member. It’s clear what we are to take from this picture. Unfortunately, Kenney fails to tell us that these pictures are not what they appear. It’s a lie. Glen McGreggor (Ottawa Citizen, Glen McGregor, March 9, 2015) of the Ottawa Citizen reveals that the picture of the child marriage has been largely debunked. He also reveals that one photograph is a re-enactment of a 1300 years old event and that the other is a 2014 demonstration by Kurdish women in London protesting the sexual enslavement of women by ISIL. It was not a mistake; it was a deliberate attempt to mislead and to inflame the public using fake pictures to highlight legitimate and real concerns. It’s dodgy and, as with the other issues, says much about the character of Jason Kenney. It’s not flattering.

How low will these Harper Conservatives go? How confident can Canadians be that this government will not abuse C-51? Clearly these folks have no shame.

WHEN I LOOK AT HARPER, I SEE A PISSANT

The Harper gang have engaged in a pattern of behaviour that should not be forgotten nor forgiven. It is not just the routine lapses of ethics that is troubling, though that should be sufficient to toss them into the ash can of history. It is their targeting of people they don’t like that is particularly worrisome. Everyone who opposes them is “the enemy”. Because they hold that mindset, the have rigged the so-called Fair Elections act that threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands unlikely to vote for them. As well, it is their abuses of their majority that clearly threatens to undermine democracy. They have rammed through bills without proper debate, in fact, invoking closure routinely. With C-51, disregarding the chorus of voices warning them against this step, the Harper crew have volunteered to wallow in filth with the politics of fear that threatens to ensnare all Canadians hurling gratuitous insults at the critics and questioning their characters, reputations and patriotism.

And it all appears to be working for Harper. Polls suggest 66% of Canadians believe we will be subjected to terrorist attacks in 5 years. 48% believe we are in danger now, 71% worry about their children being radicalized.

It is unbearable that ignorance and fear has taken such a hold of Canadians. Folks should worry more about losing their child or friend through drugs, alcoholism, or an accident.

In Ottawa, there is a debate raging about a proposed monument to the victims of Communism. It is called Tribute to Liberty. It is to stand on land near the Supreme Court. Land donated by Canadians. Have people forgotten Canada’s own treatment of First Nations peoples? Have they forgotten the days when loyal Ukrainians, Germans and Italians, communists, and unionists were incarcerated during the war years? Does anyone remember the Japanese interment camps? Our hands are not clean.

Yes, by all means, let us recognize victims of totalitarianism. And also all victims of injustice. I would also include the victims of Capitalism: those unionist shot on picket lines by company thugs, those organizers hung from rail trestles, those workers trapped behind locked doors in burning or collapsed factories. Harper, however, has a worldview that doesn’t allow for that kind of inclusivity.

There is real irony in Harper’s support of this memorial. Even as he denounces a totalitarian system, he is working at legislation that threatens the security of every Canadian citizen.

Jack Layton wrote on his deathbed, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Harper is deaf to that hope.

What do you think? Who should I really fear?

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In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. — Jose Narosky

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But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

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They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

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