The Anti-Thanksgiving: Criminalizing Dissent in Canada


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This is no day for thanks. It is neither glorious, nor free.

Canadian governments have criminalized dissent to the point where we have become a shell of a sensible democracy. And we, like the frogs [or beavers] in a slowly boiling pot, are too complacent to do anything about it.

I have already written about our governments’ political harassment of Alex Hundert and Betty Krawczyk. Below are some updates that should motivate you to realize that thanksgiving is not a passive holiday, but a call to action to protect what we are thankful for.

I don’t know Alex Hundert personally, but while his treatment encourages us to think he may be a criminal terrorist mastermind justifying his pre-emptive arrest at gunpoint before the G20 in Toronto, I seriously doubt it. $1.1 billion in security funding leads to surreal behaviour.

Last Wednesday was the beginning of his bail hearing to determine if the police were justified in re-arresting him last month for breaking his bail condition by appearing at public demonstrations. He was a member of a discussion panel at a public meeting at a public university. The police alleged that such an event constituted a demonstration. How absurd.

I know demonstrations. They involve signs, rallies, loud speakers, chants, marches, and the like. Public meetings at local universities or activist churches are meetings. Sure, dissent happens at both, but the first is an active assertion of attitudes designed to demonstrate to the public a certain political value. A meeting is a meeting.

I fully, yet it turns out naively, expected the judge to throw out the arrest within five minutes of the bail hearing beginning. Not so. His bail hearing will continue this week.

So the police have asserted a new definition of a demonstration. This is designed to chill public dissent.

What happens if a faith group invites a social or political activist to speak at a service or weeknight prayer group? Is that a demonstration?

I fully knew that 6.5 years ago I was conducting a demonstration when I organized the Vancouver chapter of Poets Against the War to protest the Iraqi invasion and occupation.

Today, attending such a demonstration could be considered a violation of someone’s bail conditions.

But what if I have a meeting in my house with 6 friends to discuss post-party socio-political mobilization? Is this something I should now be worried about?

This is a chill on public dissent.

What do you call societies that outlaw public dissent?

What do you call societies that issue bail conditions that prevent people from:

The answer:

“It’s an attempt to silence our voice. I don’t believe they are scared of what Alex and I will do … they are concerned about our voice.”

Naomi Wolff’s spectacular book about the rise of soft fascism in Bush’s America is useful here. It warns that we need to watch for signs that our open society is closing. Elements of numbers 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 have been in Canada since before the G20 in Toronto:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
  5. Harass citizens’ groups.
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  7. Target key individuals.
  8. Control the press.
  9. Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
  10. Suspend the rule of law.

We lost the rule of law when hundreds of people were arrested and abused, and released without charge or after being charged under non-existent laws.

Not all political dissidents are considered to be traitors right now, but the rhetoric is that they are anti-Canadian. How much more of this tone can we safely tolerate? None. We have already tolerated too much.

Key individuals, the protest “ring-leaders,” are suffering under conspiracy charges. Conspiracy has a connotation of doing something illegal or harmful. Protest is not illegal. But perhaps that’s naive too, now.

Arbitrary detention and release? Ask the hundreds of people rounded up in Toronto.

Harassing citizen groups is what happens when people who organize public meetings at public universities have one of their panelists arrested, or when a group of peaceful protesters met with a line of riot police in the street spontaneously sing the national anthem, only to find that the moment they finish singing, the riot police rush the crowd.

All I know now is that it is no longer as legal in Canada to hold a Poets Against the War reading at a restaurant as it was 6.5 years ago. I also know that organizing such an event with another person can lead to conspiracy charges.

Should I fear arrest if I book a lecture hall at a local university to discuss liberty and screen the film based on Naomi Wolff’s End of America along with some YouTube videos of protesters terrorized and snatched by riot police in Toronto during the G20?

Ultimately, the government is now asserting that this tone of terror created by the riot police, especially beginning at the 7:30 mark of this video [the most disturbing documentation of the G20 protests for me since I routinely bring my children in strollers to demonstrations], is a new benchmark for people to expect if we wish to express dissent.

So what can we do about these abuses and erosion of our social contract, democracy and free speech?

Firstly, the House of Commons Public Safety Committee has committed to an inquiry to explore the G20 abuses starting two weeks from today. They will “hear a maximum of 30 witnesses or groups on G8 and G20 issues on October 25 and 27, November 3 and December 1 and 6, 2010.” You can contact the updated list of MPs on this committee to express your commitment to democracy and the right to free speech and protest without government abuse.

You can follow the Committee meetings with live or archived audio webcasts, meeting minutes and witness testimony to hear which MPs and political parties support or obstruct an authentic inquiry into the abuses to democracy at the G20.

Secondly, challenge your favourite media outlet to cover this Committee inquiry when they inevitably don’t report on it, its potential for supporting democracy or implications if it is ineffective.

Thirdly, participate as a citizen. Research the Alex Hundert bail hearing this week to make sure you find out what happens. Talk with your people about what liberty and the right to protest means to you. Then be vigilant.

Democracy is a muscle. Not exercising it leads to atrophy.

We do not deserve a democracy we don’t fight for.

In an era where the stakes are insanely high [climate change, peak oil, peak water, crisis in capitalism, the simplistic and simple-minded lure of totalitarianism], we cannot afford to simply trust that our leaders are benign.

They’ve demonstrated that they are not the guardians of democracy countless times. For citizens to refuse to be the guardians is a moral crime unto each other.

We must expect more from ourselves and our peers.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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14 thoughts on “The Anti-Thanksgiving: Criminalizing Dissent in Canada”

    1. We’re a progressive congregation that is finding its way forward beyond “theospeak” and guiding ourselves with the values that are left over and that are shared with the other great faith traditions. My son was arrested and beaten at the G20 so the congregation, of which I am the minister, is aware and many have, throughout their lives been involved in dissent. My letter asking for full inquiry at my own site: http://www.grettavosper.ca So we could have an open meeting, bring in some speakers, engage in dialogue….

  1. As the US Empire begins to crumble, it invariably pulls down its cohorts in crime; enter Canada. And as an Empire’s ideology is about to die, history reveals how it will make a surge out of sheer desperation to cling to life.

    This is what we are witnessing in the US and in Canada. The noose is beginning to tighten and eventually nobody can deny what is very real.

    This scenario has played out many, many times before, and gives rise to the most brutal and inhumane crimes ever committed. But one example, as Nazi Germany came to know a victory in War was slipping through its fingers, the mass executions of the Jews escalated sharply.

    Hold on folks, for we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This Empire is the mightiest the planet has ever known, and it will not go down with a whimper.

  2. Thanks for posting. I have to agree with you – we must use every single opportunity to control our government and to let them know that citizens and civil society do not actually exist exclusively on the election day. Raising questions and demanding answers is our duty!

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