The above words, from our prime minister’s mouth, on April 4 2011, are supposed to spread fear in our souls, as Canadians. Fear of insanity. Fear of devastation. Here is Stephen Harper’s full quote: “It just emphasizes how crazy we would be to change direction. The idea that right now, when everyone in the world – the OECD, the IMF, everyone – says Canada’s on the right track, the idea of putting a ramshackle coalition in office whose only policy is to raise taxes to pay for things they can’t actually afford would be devastating.”
So the economy is fine, according to Stephen Harper. Not according to some of us, who can’t help notice the neglect of “things” like equality, justice, dignity, health, education, transparency, freedom of expression. Old-fashioned. Not lucrative. Unaffordable. Into the garbage can. End of story, end of history.
Social media however is useful for Harper’s team, not only to convey the leader’s vision, but also to identify malicious enemies trying to infiltrate his political rallies. Awish Aslam, 19 years old, was identified as such a threat. She is a political science student at University of Western Ontario, wears a head scarf and has a muslim name; but that’s only a coincidence, it seems. She and a friend negotiated passes for a local Conservative rally in presence of Harper. They were allowed in, but security soon kicked in. A RCMP agent asked them to remove themselves from the building and shredded their event passes to pieces. Why? They had been at a Liberal Party rally before, had their picture taken with candidate Michael Ignatieff, and uploaded it on their Facebook pages.
As aptly pointed out by SERAI contributor Maria Worton in ““The Revolution Will Be…Live.” and The Co-Creation of Value”, social media are great tools in the hands of today’s protest organizers and revolutionaries, but they can also be used for opposite purposes. The RCMP took responsibility for the student expulsions and recognized it had broken the rules, going beyond its mandate to guarantee party leaders’ security.
So elections provoke ejections, as even the Globe and Mail points out playfully. This is better than a few years ago when the same newspaper’s main editorial recommended readers to ultimately vote for Harper. No matter what the Globe concludes this time, we have infinite other sources of information. Mainstream media now acknowledges that information circulates beyond their grounds. CBC has a “community team” following threads on Twitter and discussions on Facebook: “Social Media: Students barred from Harper Rallies” was yesterday’s title.
There is a growing concern among progressives about freedom of dissent in Canada, based on a string of situations and events. According to Harper however, “everyone in the world (…) says Canada’s on the right track”. We recently heard the exact opposite from Amnesty International‘s Canadian Secretary General, Salil Shetty. On cue for the elections, Amnesty released a report called, coincidentally, Getting Back on the “Rights” Track: A Human Rights Agenda for Canada. It states: “Restoring Canada’s human rights leadership abroad is one half of the equation. The other half of what needs to be done is at home.” No stone is left unturned in the report: business and human rights, indigenous rights, the rights of refugees and migrants, protecting the rights of Canadians abroad, women’s human rights, dissent and advocacy. Those are the concerns addressed in the first section, “Global leadership begins at home”. The second section deals with Canadian foreign policy. Under “Standing up for rights in the Middle-East”, Amnesty criticizes the Harper government’s bias in favour of Israel, revealed in the way Canada now votes in United Nations forums and how it reluctantly dealt with the Egyptian popular movement’s push for change.
On March 22, an open letter was sent to the five federal candidates by Voices-Voix Coalition, signed by 25 representatives of Canadian organizations, expressing their collective concern about the state of democracy and human rights in Canada. They are alarmed by the shrinking ‘space for voices of dissent and advocacy’ and by seeing organizations and individuals ‘punished, maligned, fired and silenced’ for expressing points of views that do not coincide with government policies. Among the cases of concern to the members of this Coalition: the defunding of Kairos (1), an inter-church human rights organization; the overtaking of Rights & Democracy (2) by board members who are in line with Harper’s Middle-East policy; the shameful treatment of Omar Khadr, still jailed in Guantanamo, by Canadian authorities.
If any doubt is left, The Canadian Charger published “Ten critical reasons for getting rid of Harper’s Conservatives” and “20 reasons to say NO to Harper“. Ten or twenty reasons lead to the same conclusion, and those who live in critical ridings but are not sure how to help defeat the Conservatives can visit the Catch 22 website. Otherwise we will soon be collectively paying for 65 stealth fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, at 148$ million a pop. And according to Winslow Wheeler, of the Centre for Defence Information in Washington, “You’re getting an underperforming airplane for a huge amount of money”.
As much as we celebrate the free zone of internet, we can’t downplay the power of mainstream media to block or promote change. Egyptian blogger, Zeinobia, who posts on Egyptian Chronicles, was jubilatory about the March 2 2011 evening broadcast, when a real debate took place unexpectedly on Egyptian TV, for all to see and for the first time: PM Ahmed Shafik was confronted by two passionate advocates of the January 25 rebellion that toppled Mubarak. And then: “After (?) a stormy TV show like we have not seen before in the Arab world on night-time TV (?), we found out in the morning that Dr. Ahmed Shafik resigned.” TV participated in a process of liberation.
As written by others for SERAI, we were glued to our “televisions”, meaning our computer screens: Democracy Now, Al Jazeera, The Guardian online updates, You Tube, etc. Tunisia was the spark. Our dreams of overthrowing dictators were coming true in a beautiful way, and liberation was broadcast “live” across the internet.
Egypt shows us that beyond the cyber world, change ultimately happens in the streets, the avenues, the central squares, the work places, collective meetings and debates. Decisions become practice in public places such as Tahrir Square, that in turn become spaces of collective decision-making. ‘Come on, put your hands into the fire’, to quote the lyrics of “Into the Fire”, by Thirteen Senses, the song chosen by Tamer Shaaban, a young man in Atlanta, for his poignant and compelling remix of scenes from the Egyptian revolt, gleaned from the internet.
While we can’t expect any revolutionary process here in Canada for the time being, or mass movements in our city streets, we can at least vote for the opposition to win, and dream of a “ramshackle coalition” instead of Armageddon.
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(1) Kairos affair: For more details about this amazing story, read this article: “Oda has thrown away her credibility” (The Star, Editorial, Tue Feb 15 2011). What few articles point out is that Kenney’s statement in Jerusalem points to a blatant case of mistaken identity: Kairos Canada (Canadian ecumenical justice initiatives) has no link at all to the Kairos Palestine Document, “A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”, a thoughtful and compassionate text written from a spiritual point of view, that calls on the international community to put into practice the non-violent action of BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) as a form of pressure on Israel to respect Palestinians’ rights. On the other hand, Kairos Canada has been very cautious in how it deals with BDS. Beyond the Palestine-Israel issue, the following article raises yet other troublesome questions about why the government denied funding to Kairos, connected to their educational campaign on Canadian mining activities in Mexico and Guatemala and the need for corporate social responsibility: “Did KAIROS defunding come down to mining interests and one hand-written note?” (By Lee Berthiaume, Embassy, October 27, 2010). Another interesting ramification. This story deserves a thorough investigation.
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Tories can take a bow over economic growth
Toronto Sun, April 5, 2011 By John Robson, Parliamentary Bureau
Harper campaign screening ‘un-Canadian’: Ignatieff / Conservative leader says staff handle events
CBC News Apr 5, 2011 9:53 AM ET
Conservative tactics keep campaign off Main Street, on script
Steven Chase, Tamara Baluja, Jane Taber, Globe and Mail Apr. 05, 2011
RCMP admits it overstepped bounds by ejecting people from Tory events
Steven Chase, Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail, Apr. 06, 2011
Social Media: Students barred from Harper rallies
CBC April 5, 2011, By Community Team
video-montage by Tamer Shaaban to sound track INTO THE FIRE (by 13 SENSES)