There’s a famous quote from the graphic novel V for Vendetta, I believe it goes something like this: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Alan Moore wrote that. However, I’m not sure he expected to live to see the adage put into practise. And, put into practise, I’m not sure he expected to see the damage to democracy that can result when a governing party is as afraid of the people as Stephen Harper is afraid of Canadians.
A few days ago, 19-year-old London Ontario resident Awish Aslam decided to take a interest in this current election. As she was voting for the first time in her life, she set out to examine the parties closely, attend their rallies and speak to their candidates before making up her mind. Michael Ignatieff happened to come to town soon after the election was called. She came out to his rally, met the man, and had her photograph taken with him — a photo which appeared on her Facebook page. She also managed to get her picture taken with Jack Layton, but this didn’t feature quite as prominently.
Hearing that Stephen Harper was coming to town, she decided to attend his rally. With the help of a friend’s father, a card-carrying Conservative, she registered for the event. But when she and her friend showed up, she was in for a surprise:
About 30 minutes after arriving and signing in, the two girls were asked by a man to follow him out of the rally, Aslam said. Though confused, they complied.
In a back room, Aslam said he ripped off their name tags, tore them up and ordered them out.
“We were confused. He said, ‘We know you guys have ties to the Liberal party through Facebook’. He said … ‘You are no longer welcome here.’”
It’s important to note that this account is hearsay; for now, it’s her word against the rally organizers, although campaign official Dimitri Soudis has offered a pre-emptory apology. However, since this incident came to light, separate but similar incidents have also been reported, suggesting a pattern of behaviour within the Conservative party. At the same London rally, Ali Aref Hamadi was asked to leave simply because he had an NDP bumper sticker on his car (it’s not known whether Tory operatives confronted him as he left his vehicle, suggesting that they were stalking the parking lot for such attendees, or if it was the fact that his face was on another bumper sticker — he’s considering running as an independent in the upcoming provincial election — allowed the Conservative staffers to identify him in the rally itself; personally, I’m not sure which option is more sinister). In Guelph, students hoping to stage a non-partisan event (delivering a message saying “Surprise! Youth are voting!”) were also identified and asked to leave the venue. Another young woman, who said she just wanted to hear Stephen Harper speak, claimed she was turned away when screening by the RCMP turned up evidence of her work with the environmental group, the Sierra Youth Coalition.
The other parties are starting to make a lot of hay out of this, especially in light of the continuing scandal of Bruce Carson, an advisor to the Prime Minister, gaining access to high level documents despite convictions for five counts of fraud. The Prime Minister seems to like to keep his political rallies far more secure than his own political office, they said.
But the core of this story is this: you apparently have to register to attend a political rally held by the Conservative party these days, during a political campaign where, theoretically at least, Conservative politicians like Stephen Harper want to talk to Canadians to secure their vote. The Liberals don’t have this restriction. The NDP’s Jack Layton showed up with his bus in downtown Kitchener the other day, and I’m pretty sure that if I’d chosen to, I could have walked up, shaken his hand, and asked him a tough question about vote splitting.
(And, as an aside, it seems that should you register to attend a Conservative rally, your name is screened by the RCMP, which seems an odd use of government resources for a partisan politician event. Are the RCMP available for the other parties should they decide to institute such measures? Did taxpayers pay for these background checks?)
Now, this isn’t to make light of the security needs of the prime minister, or any political candidate, but there is a difference between protecting a politician from possible physical threats, and protecting a politician from ordinary Canadians who simply might not necessarily agree with the politician’s agenda and want to say so. This is, essentially, a criminalization of dissent. You’ve been seen photographed with opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, no rally for you! You’re a member of the Sierra Club, get off of our lawn! There is a chance — a microscopic chance — that you won’t be an obedient little lapdog who will stand up and cheer precisely when the prime minister tells you to stand up and cheer, so we don’t want to have to deal with your type.
Remember, this is supposed to be a time when Stephen Harper and his Conservatives want to talk to Canadians. They want us to listen to them and convince us that we should trust them with our vote. The election campaign is possibly the only time the average politician has any real respect for the opinions of Canadians. But while Stephen Harper might want us to listen, he doesn’t want to engage in the two-way street and actually listen back when we talk to him. Indeed, anybody who might try is deemed worthy of only contempt.
Sadly, it’s perfectly in character for Harper’s Conservatives. Couple this with Harper’s demand that he only be asked five questions by the media per day, couple this with his party’s stonewalling on the Afghan detainee documents, the true cost of the F35 contract, or how much Harper’s HST deal with Quebec will cost Canadian taxpayers, and you have to see that the Conservatives running this campaign haven’t changed; the mask has simply slipped away: Stephen Harper doesn’t care what Canadians think, unless they agree with him. On everything.
And if you disagree with Stephen Harper on anything, then you are not a normal Canadian in his eyes. You are something inhuman. You are an enemy. You are a threat. Your opinion is not to be respected, or even ignored, it is to be contained. A true lover of democracy, regardless of their political stripe, should be concerned by any politician who shows that level of disrespect to the basic right of an individual to have a difference of opinion.
The Liberals have never slipped to this level. No party has in my living memory, short of a dictatorship.
Remember the line: “We know you guys have ties to the Liberal party… …You are no longer welcome here.” Notice how similar it is to “We know you guys voted X this past election. You are no longer to be served by this government.”
Is this really the country we want?
A prime minister who refuses to answer questions is a prime minister who has no answers. A prime minister who hates differences of political opinions to the degree shown here hates democracy. A prime minister who fears the people to such a degree is a prime minister who simply does not deserve the role any longer.