Have you ever heard the wind go “Yooooo”?/”Tis a pitiful sound to hear!/It seems to chill you through and through/With a strange and speechless fear. – Eugene Field
For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true. – Lucretius
Frank A. Pelaschuk
Though it cannot all be laid at Stephen Harper’s door, he and his gang did campaign relentlessly to convince Canadians the world was a dangerous place and Canada, in particular, targeted by ISIS. He attempted to bolster his image at home as saviour and warrior by inflating Canada’s role and his own image in the fight against terrorism suggesting none were more dangerous than Muslims and none more a threat to Canadian “values” than two Muslim women wearing niqabs and none, other than himself, equal to the task in combatting the dangers. The niqab debacle in particular apparently served him well in Quebec and in other regions; for his many abuses and relentless efforts to undermine and make a mockery of our Parliamentary democracy with discreditable and dishonourable conduct in the House, he and his Conservatives were rewarded at the polls with second place position as the official opposition rather than the justly earned total annihilation. Not bad considering his years of abusive relationships with scientists and public servants, veterans and First Nations peoples, Elections Canada and environmentalists, critics and the media and even the public whom he refused to keep informed evidently in the belief that an ignorant populace was easier to handle. If that was the case, he was probably unto something there.
That the Conservative defeat was not resounding must surely put to rest the self-reverential myth we hold of ourselves as a nation deservedly loved for its generosity, tolerance, acceptance and humbleness. Oh, yes, just ask us, we’ll gladly regale you with endless stories our modesty and generosity. However, with the recent violent terrorist acts in Paris just a few days old, we have clear evidence that, even with the Conservative ouster just weeks ago, the fearmongering and racist and religious intolerance the gang so diligently worked at fomenting has firmly taken root in some quarters. We can tell ourselves we are a good people and by and large it’s true. But self-praise is really no recommendation; there is a rot within and too many infected.
If we are judged by our deeds, and we should be, we would likely understand we are no better and no worse than others just like us. We Canadians, often in jest, are particularly harsh on our neighbours to the south whom we have often mocked and held as object lessons of what we are not. It may have been fun, but it is a conceit of empty hubris. Do not misunderstand me, I love my country and I would not trade this land for any other. But, I also know this: as a people we are all too often complacent, there are times we, as individuals and as a nation, have fallen short and been found wanting. We are not as too many of us imagine ourselves and it certainly did not help that Stephen Harper was able to expose that ugly side when he and his gang set out to poison a nation with fear, exaggerating the terrorist threat and playing to the worst in us by fomenting racial and religious intolerance. Far too often, we are less than we imagine and it’s not a pleasant image. It is also true, that there are many, many, who do this nation proud never succumbing to the worst that others would foist upon them.
Recent events and our reaction to them offer evidence of the Harper legacy.
In October of this year, just days before the election, a pregnant Muslim woman is attacked by two teens on bikes. She was wearing a hijab, which they tried to forcibly remove, knocking her to the ground.
The Paris tragedy; the whole world weeps. Even so, above the tears, almost before the sound of gunfire has abated, voices have been raised here, at home, expressing concern and hostility to the new government’s plan to follow through with its efforts to introduce 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end. Not long ago, the image of a dead child on a beach roused Canadians to demand more of their government. We not only wanted to help Syrians fleeing their war-ravaged home, we wanted to help them NOW. But Harper was prime minister and he would not be rushed; this flow of fleeing people has been going on for years. We had to be careful, weigh the security risks against our natural urge for a generous response. But the haunting image of the dead child and mounting pressure from Canadians did cause him to change his mind as the election came to a close promising: he would allow 10,000 refugees into the country as soon as possible. But he made no bones about it: there were security concerns.
Then the Harper regime came to an end.
And then, mere weeks later, Paris happened. And, oh, how the world has changed, and Canadians with it. There are still those eager to help but there all also voices clamouring for Trudeau to slam the door shut.
One can almost hear the old gang and their supporters gloating: Well, we warned you didn’t we? Harper was right and you didn’t listen and this is the price we pay. Well, that’s the response of fear and ignorance; he wasn’t right then and he isn’t right today, but it’s hard to convince the frightened and cowardly and all but impossible to reason with the racists and scapegoaters who are always with us: for them, there’s always the need for the fall guy, someone to be feared, blamed and held accountable. And, for them, the timid and the bigots, the evidence is there, in Paris, with brutal ISIS claiming responsibility for the 129 dead, mostly young, all beautiful and innocent beaming lights extinguished far too soon and the 352 wounded, many critically, again mostly young and beautiful and innocent. As well, for them, the haters and bigots, there is further evidence and it is found among the terrorist dead, one of who purportedly carried a Syrian passport (possibly fake) and believed to have hidden among the many hundreds of thousands seeking refuge in Greece. There it is. Proof! How can we even contemplate bringing in possible terrorists? How can we be certain, how can we feel secure when they, the terrorists, possessing no shame, knowing no decency hide among innocent men, women and children passing themselves off as one of the persecuted and desperate just bidding their time to strike at the Canadian heart? For the easily swayed, the easily frightened, this may appear to be reason enough to bar our doors. The racists don’t need a reason: hate is enough. For them, the frightened and the haters, Harper, for all his prescience and wisdom, is the prophet unjustly punished October 19th and Paris, bleeding and mourning in a fever of terror and defiance, the sad, irrefutable reminder of what could happen here and of the huge mistake Canadians made in electing the young and inexperienced Trudeau over a tried and experienced Harper.
So, November 14, in Peterborough, Ontario, a cowardly nobody torches a Muslim mosque and shines a light on his ignorance.
The Syrian crisis is not our problem.
Then whose is it? To whom can those poor people turn if not us and our allies?
Should we all close our eyes, minds and hearts to what’s going on out there?
When then do we become involved? Do we insert ourselves only when our neighbour is in difficulty? Maybe not even then, it’s best to mind one’s business. Perhaps we only help when it’s a member of the family.
No? Then when?
Some, like premier Brad Wall, have called on Justin Trudeau to suspend his plans to welcome Syrians into Canada. He is worried about security concerns, he says, but how does suspending aid to refugees make the world more secure? What happens to those in desperate need for help? The suggestion appears to be that we are rushing into this, that we cannot bring in that many people that quickly without incurring risks. While it may be true that Trudeau’s goal may not be possible in the time allotted, there is no reason to suspend the program or to listen to Wall and others victimize the victims again by labelling them all as risks. Of course the moves must be done securely with newcomers properly vetted. But what evidence is there that security would be any less rather than greater? Canada has had a shameful history of turning people away in times when they most needed help. Only 5,000 Jews were allowed into Canada during Hitler’s 12 years of terror. In 1945, when asked how many would be allowed into Canada, a Canadian official said, “None is too many.” But we also have a history of responding quickly, with generosity and benefitting greatly as a nation because of it. In less than a year, 37,000 Hungarians were accepted in 1957. In the 1960s, tens of thousands of Vietnamese were welcomed. In none of these instances was security reason enough to deny access to Canada and, from the evidence, most of those accepted, proved themselves productive, decent, loyal citizens. There is no reason to believe the Syrian refugees will be any different. In all likelihood, the vetting process will likely be more rigorous given ISIS and what happened in Paris. Even so, there is a probability of mistakes just as there had been in the past. No system is perfect and nothing can be guaranteed. That doesn’t mean one shuts the door; you do the best you can as securely as you can and as quickly as you safely can. To live in fear of what might be is not to really live. The world is full of terror and much of it in our imaginings. But this is no imagined horror: In Toronto, a Muslim woman waits for her children outside a public school. Two men approach, rob and beat her screaming obscenities and telling her to go back where she came from. She was born in Canada.
When the execrable Conservatives Jason Kenney and the defeated Chris Alexander were immigration ministers, only about 1500 (numbers vary, some say 2500) Syrian refugees were accepted over a period of three years. Both, Kenney as Minister of Defence, speaking for the Harper regime made clear their reluctance to accept refugees, particularly those from “safe” countries (the Harper gang, evidently ignoring historical reality, holding the belief that any nation with which Canada traded must treat its minorities as well and as kindly as does Canada). As a result, applicants were rejected and those considered illegal immigrants denied the most basic of healthcare. It should surprise no one that Harper had committed to a secret arms deal with Saudi Arabia a nation internationally condemned for its Human Rights abuses. For Conservatives, it’s just business, after all and has nothing to do with Human Rights. And it should surprise no one that Romas, persecuted in Hungary, considered a “safe” country, have been routinely rejected by the Harper gang which had even set up billboards in Hungary warning that Romas would be deported if they came to Canada. Why the Romas in particular? What was at play here? What did the Harper gang know of them and fear? Did they hold visions of an influx of horse drawn caravans travelling through the country, of colourfully dressed exotic women dancing as children moved through the crowd picking pockets and of swarthy moustachioed men sticking knives into ribs while others played gypsy music to drown out the screams of bloody murder?
The Conservative reluctance to accept Syrian refugees seems based on something similar, the reluctance made even clearer (not only by the small numbers accepted into Canada during their watch) and no less unpalatable when, speaking in code easily understood, both Kenney and Alexander made known their preference for acceptance of refugees saying they would “prioritize” persecuted Syrian religious and ethnic minorities. By that, of course, they meant Syrian Christians would be given the advantage of our hospitality and generosity. Recently, many state governors in the US made clear they were reluctant to accept Syrian refugees, some vowing to bar them from their state. A few even expressed the same sentiment expressed by Kenney and Alexander, albeit more directly than did the Harper crew: if refugees must be accepted, make them Christian refugees. They call it protecting America. I call it religious intolerance.
This from the land of liberty and opportunity. This from a nation founded by folks fleeing British religious persecution. Well, so much for the self-reverential delusion from which the Americans suffer. Clearly, we are not all that different. And Obama only wants to bring in 10,000 refugees! It’s astounding really that those governors are worried about a few terrorists slipping into the country when they have an army of gun loving whackos bumping each other off with guns to the tune of 32,000 dead a year! Fear and stupidity are an ugly combo.
In this day and age, when so many are in desperate need, can such sentiments be tolerated? Of what are the Canadians and Americans who would bar the Syrians afraid? Do they even know? I doubt it. They are informed by ignorance, they know nothing of the culture or the Muslim faith and they prefer to remain ignorant for it leaves their tiny minds unencumbered by the need to think. It is easier to scapegoat. And it is vile. This is fear and ignorance in full display masquerading as caution, the same fear and ignorance that the Harper gang fomented and exploited and that Brad Wall and others, with memory of Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks still fresh, now seem bent on exploiting even more. At the heart of it, of course, is plain, simple racial and religious intolerance. That is unacceptable and that is part of Harper’s legacy. This, too, is no fancy: Again, in Toronto, anti-Muslim graffiti is sprayed inside an apartment building.
There have also been calls from some that Trudeau reconsider the Liberal position on C-51 which he has promised to amend but which I believe should be repealed. As it stands, C-51 does not provide more security for Canadians or minorities and, if kept, even with amendments, may prove to be costly to Canadians in the long run. Read the Benjamin Franklin quote at the end of this post and ponder it. What kind of society do we want? As it stands, almost every dissenting voice could be a target for suspicion, any act of protest grounds for a charge of economic terrorism. I hope the Liberals scrap the bill but do not expect they will.
There have also been calls for Trudeau to reconsider pulling Canadian warplanes from bombing missions. Thus far, he has stuck to his promise saying Canada’s involvement in the war in Syria and Iraq will be in other areas for which we are better equipped and better suited. Among those setting off alarm bells is Rona Ambrose, Conservative interim leader, who has, apparently as have a good many other Conservatives, suffered something akin to a religious conversion, demanding of the Liberals what they, the Conservatives, refused to offer Canadians: accountability, transparency, honesty. Ambrose not only wishes Trudeau to commit to the war against ISIS with continued warplanes support, she joins the likes of Wall in wanting Trudeau to put the refugee plan on pause. That latter may happen on its own: the logistics of bringing in 25,000 refugees by year’s end may prove insurmountable. No one will fault Trudeau if he does not meet his target date which he well may not but he must meet the target numbers and as quickly as possible.
The response of the Conservatives since losing the election has been remarkable. Harper seems to have disappeared. Some of the Conservatives who have lost their seats behaved as they always did, blaming the media. Others have uncharacteristically fallen silent. Where is Poilievre, unwanted, unloved, unmissed by this writer? His re-election is difficult to understand and stomach and concrete evidence that the vile legacy of intolerance is thriving in some areas. Some have discovered a kinder, gentler version of themselves. They want to make nice. But where were they all the years they attempted to slip legislation into omnibus bills? Where were they when they reworked the Elections Act to disenfranchise voters? Where were those voices of reason when their own party and members attempted to subvert the democratic process during elections? The Harper era was one of the most secretive, corrupt, abusive, anti-democratic, partisan, vindictive, petty, and mean-spirited in Canadian history. Yet where were Rona Ambrose, Candace Bergen, Diane Finley, Rob Nicholson, Erin O’Toole, Mike Lake, Michelle Rempel and Denis Lebel, those folks who ran for the position of interim leader, when Harper, Pierre Poilievre and Dean del Mastro were smearing the Chief Electoral Officer or rigging the Elections Act or imposing C-51? They may want to convince us they are a nicer gang but they are still a gang, and still the same old Harper gang of thugs.
Sure, they are almost gone but not gone enough for me. So, from me, there is no “let bygones be bygones”. Justin Trudeau is the prime minister now and he, too, has a large majority. I hope he looks upon the Harper years and ponders on the corruptive allure of power. He has the majority and I hope he wields that power with more wisdom than did Harper and with a greater measure of fairness. We all saw how the Harper gang treated those weaker than themselves. That was not governance but despotism.
Trudeau is the new man. I did not vote for him. I harboured no hostility towards him, I just preferred my own party (and if you think it is the Conservative party, you have not been reading very carefully).
Nevertheless, I like some of what I have seen by Trudeau. It’s the small, but significant gestures I like. I liked that he took time out the day following his election to greet riders in a Montreal subway station. I liked that he has brought an end to branding of the Canadian Government: it is now as it should be, The Government of Canada. He has reinstated the long form census. Government scientists have been told they can speak up regarding their research. I like that Trudeau will scrap the F-35 jets for other, more practical jets. The Liberals have dropped the case against Zunera Ishaq bringing an end to the Harper gang’s war on her. That is the right, the decent, thing to do. There are other signs of openness and transparency, Trudeau making public “mandate letters” to his ministers outlining what he expects from them (http://pm.gc.ca/eng/ministerial-mandate-letters). How rare is that? How welcome. The ministers themselves have been allowed to speak to the media, and that is refreshing and promising. Thus far, I am, while disappointed the NDP did not win, favourably disposed towards Justin Trudeau; he appears to be one who will not be pushed or rushed into precipitous action; I really do wish him well and have no doubt of his desire to be inclusive. I do not know if I can expect this goodwill to last: that’s up to him. I will judge him by his deeds and not just his words. I am still troubled by the appointment of Bill Morneau as finance minister. I have no reason to believe him other than honest and honourable but his company, from which he has parted as executive chair, Morneau Shepell, one of the largest human resources firms in the country has had business dealings with the federal government. True, he has placed his holdings under a blind trust, but I am sceptical of these kinds of programs suspecting them of offering more optics than anything substantial to protect the public interest and Mr. Morneau at the same time; it’s a device, a tool, meant more to convince the public that things are on the up and up. In the end, we will simply have to trust Mr. Morneau to recuse himself in government decisions regarding matters of pensions, insurance and taxations. For now, it appears trust is all we have to go on.
Too, I am concerned by the appointment of Kirsty Duncan as minister of science, who, it appears was, and remains, a strong supporter of the so-called “liberation therapy” a discredited treatment for MS. If she still supports it, I have strong misgivings, for the evidence is out there: it doesn’t work, it’s junk science. What would her thoughts be of the smoker who discounts all the scientific evidence proving smoking causes cancer yet embraces the one study, by the cigarette manufacturer, that the evidence is still out?
Aside from the two appointments, which do raise red flags for me, I like what I see in Trudeau and his mostly young cabinet. I am also happy to see some older, more experienced faces in key positions. It gives this old fogey some comfort to know the youngsters, should they need to, may be able to call upon the experiences of Ralph Goodale, Stéphane Dion, Scott Brison, Marc Garneau and Carolyn Bennett. There is hope but, even then, another living nightmare pops up: In Montreal, a masked man is arrested for making online threats against Muslims.
Paris attacks notwithstanding we Canadians have many reasons for optimism. Hopefully we will never see another Harper gang. This is the promise of a new, young government. Let us hope Trudeau brings out the best in us and that we all discover we prefer that to partisanship, pettiness, meanness, and self-interest that has dogged us these many years. We are all part of the family of man and, regardless of what happens. In the end, we are all dead. So, for the time being at least, let us enjoy the promise Trudeau offers. I do believe we will, at least until the next election, see less vindictiveness, less fearmongering, less pandering to the worst in us, less posturing, and more of wisdom and hope.
Yes, Trudeau does have nice hair and it is clear he is popular with the young, particularly the women. That will pass, I hope. I did have my doubts, but with some experienced people around him, I see a young man who is ready.
In London, an elderly man pushes a Muslim woman unto subway tracks. She hits side of incoming train and bounces back on to platform. She survives.
We do live in a great country. But it’s fine to admit we may not be the best and it’s equally fine to know that we are not the worst. But not being the worst is not sufficient. It does not mean we should not strive to be better. It’s okay to be cautious. It’s not okay to live in fear and to allow our fears to dictate how we act.
But don’t quietly accept my inadequate words for what I believe to be true. Instead, I urge every reader who may not have heard of it to visit the following link and listen to the heart wrenchingly beautiful tribute Antoine Leiris, husband and father, made public on BBC as tribute to his wife, murdered in Paris November 13 https://www.facebook.com/antoine.leiris?fref=ts. To those who hate, open up your minds and hearts and listen to this grief-stricken man who knows about and the power of love. You may learn something and begin to believe there is more to life than hating others. The rest know that already, but they, too, should hear his message: it may reaffirm what they already believe: they are on to something.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.
They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin