“If I refuse to leave court today, bailiffs will come and drag me away, that is violence and that is coercive. Canada is not some oasis in a messed up world, Canada is a huge part of the problem.”
- Alex Hundert, community organizer and political prisoner
Has fear become a new defining characteristic of the Canadian public? If not, then the appeals to order and security used to justify the recent onslaught legislative measures taken by the Quebec and Canadian governments suggest a strong effort on the part of the nation’s political leadership to make it so. And the fear these governments wish to incite among the Canadian populace appears to target select groups: political activists, Aboriginal people, immigrants and refugees, environmentalists, senior citizens, and young people. It would also seem the neo-liberal policymakers elected to positions of power have resurrected neo-feudal approaches to governance by granting themselves ever greater authority to dictate and implement policy, while minimizing expert and public consultation, reducing public access to information, subverting formal democratic processes, criminalising dissent, violating citizens’ Charter rights, and expanding the lawful means through which police forces, criminal courts, and state security can spy on people and mete out punishment.
The list of ways that politicians are deploying the strong arm of the law is long and indeed truly frightful: there is Quebec’s Law 78, which restricts freedom of assembly in Quebec without police approval; the Safe Streets and Communities Act (formerly Bill C-10), which will ensure more people convicted of minor offenses go to prison and stay there longer; the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act (formerly Bill C-38), convoluted omnibus legislation which gutted the federal Environmental Assessment Act and forced through changes to over 70 federal laws despite much vocal opposition from parliament and the public; Bill C-309, which would amend the Criminal Code to criminalise peaceful protesters who wear masks; Bill C-30, otherwise called the Online Spying Bill, which will give police unprecedented access to people’s Internet activity; and the omnibus immigration reform legislation (formerly Bill C-31) and Bill C-43, which aim to make the immigration minister’s authority near absolute to deny refugee applicants on a number of grounds while deporting any “foreign criminals” sentenced to six months in jail, many of whom will likely be young or mentally ill immigrants serving time for minor offenses.
Setting aside suspicions that the PMO harbours a secret desire for autocratic rule, these government measures have been taken in spite of the outcry from both opposing political parties and the general public indicating that such policies shame Canada in the eyes of the international community and its own citizenry. Of course, the fastest way to prevent civil disobedience is to destroy civil society itself. And it would appear with these laws that the governments led by Stephen Harper and Jean Charest intend to do nothing less.
By Grace Pollock
Illustration by Simon Orpana