Earlier today, the Vancouver Mayor’s office posted an announcement on twitter that quite a few people were likely happy to hear: the proposed bylaw that would have charged people in Vancouver $200 plus a $1000 deposit to have a protest where a literature table or even a sign stuck in the ground was being sent back “to the drawing board.”
In the linked news article, Mayor Gregor Robertson posits that there ought not be fees attached to the right to have a protest with a sign, and that a better ‘balance’ can be found.
Sounds good, so far, right?
Well, a whole new bylaw is supposed to come back from the city by Wednesday. And it will be telling how much will change – that will tell us what’s more important to Vision Vancouver.
If you go back to my original piece on this issue, you’ll see that there were a ton of restrictions that the city wanted to place on protests with structures. They could only be up from 8am to 8pm. Only in certain parts of the city. (That particular restriction would have effectively completely banned the original protest that gave rise to all of this, the Falun Gong protest on southern Granville Street outside the Chinese consulate). The restrictions went on and on and on.
Effectively, it looked like getting the right to protest would have been almost as complicated as a building permit. All to have a tent. Or a sign stuck in the ground.
Well, Gregor’s promised a new bylaw. With a new balance, a new approach.
Will it still have onerous restrictions, but drop the fees? Will it still ban night-time vigils? Restrict tents to keep off the rain to 2m by 1m in size? Only one side of a block, to a maximum of 30 out of 60 days? It’s quite possible.
I have a perhaps modest proposal – the bylaw could be quite simple. Protests are permitted, as is our constitutional right. And if a protest does construct a structure that is somehow or in some way dangerous to public safety, the city can attend the site, and tell the protest organizers what needs to be done to fix the risk.
At a lot of protests, there are rally marshals. They organize the route. Keep people from getting lost. There’s often a police liaison who speaks with the police. Treat protest in Vancouver this way. Fix the problems as they arise, not create so many hoops that people outraged at the most recent stupid thing their government has done risk financial ruin or jail time because they didn’t fill out the 24th form or submit an architectural drawing of the folding table they’re putting the sound-system on.
But what’s more important in this respect: keeping the Falun Gong practitioners out of Kerrisdale, appeasing the Chinese consulate, Vision Vancouver saving face, or free speech?
As I said before, democracy doesn’t have a price tag. But it also doesn’t happen only between 8am to 8pm, one side of a block, and only 30 out of 60 days.
In sort of a break from the ever-so-boring federal election coverage that we’ve been bringing you lately, the City of Vancouver and its maybe-progressive governing party Vision Vancouver and former NDP MLA and now VanCity mayor (and Gordon Campbell endorser) Gregor Robertson have (almost) decided that any protests that have a literature table, tent, or even sign at them might well be charged $1,200 – a fee charged to citizens in order to exercise their (supposedly) constitutionally guaranteed right to assembly.
Sadly, it looks like the progressive Mayor Gregor Robertson is showing us what a Harper majority government would probably do to our “democratic rights.”
The country that has disappeared Ai Weiwei (艾未未) simply because he did try to exercise his (not guaranteed) free speech.
First, a bit of history. Those of you familiar with the city on the edge of Lotus Land may well remember the constant presence of Falun Gong protestors and their signs depicting the horrendous atrocities the Chinese government visits upon practitioners outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, which itself is situated in a residential zone. No one, as far as I am aware, is suggesting that the Falun Gong protest was violent or unruly. In fact, most Falun Gong practitioners I’ve known are calm, and quiet, and they almost, well, flow with the qi.
Well, one day the city decided to ban these protestors. They used a bylaw to prohibit any “structure” (the Falun Gong signs) on public property (the edge of the sidewalk) and evict the entirely peaceful protesters. Sue Zhang, one of the organizers, rightfully challenged the bylaw in court, and after a series of cases, the BC Court of Appeal struck down the bylaw, saying that blanket prohibitions were unconstitutionally restrictive on free speech rights and rights of assembly.
That being said, there’s a court order in place at the moment, preventing the Falun Gong protest from re-establishing itself, to allow the City to bring its bylaw to shape in order to pass constitutional muster. Effective April 19, the court would strike down the current law which bans any structure.
Let’s put this in plain and simple terms: charging $1,200 to have a table, or a sign, or a tent at a protest limits free speech. It restricts freedom of assembly to those who can afford it. There should not be a fee on democracy.
This is a ridiculous concept. One, a lot of protests and rallies involve a table for literature or refreshments. $1,200 permit charge. Two, a lot of protests and rallies involve a tent to keep rain off of speakers and sound system equipment. $1,200 permit charge. And it rains a lot in Vancouver. If you happen to stick a sign into the ground, $1,200 charge. Imagine that you put up an installation art piece. $1,200 permit charge.
The Falun Gong protestors set up a series of signs and a rain shelter on city property directly outside the Chinese Consulate. They couldn’t put the signs on the consulate property – that would be trespassing. They used public property for their signs. The same public property we use every day to walk on, to protest on, to rally on. However, they put up signs. Here, the city is trying to ban protests that occur on public property unless you can afford to pay a $1,200 fee for a permit to actually hold a protest this way.
The City won’t tell anyone what they discussed with China, bastion of free speech, because they signed a “confidential agreement” about the consultations.
The city says that this wouldn’t restrict sandwich boards for stores. That’s covered under other bylaws. In fact, according to the city, this proposed bylaw only impacts “non-commercial installations.” So, not only do I need to pay one thousand two hundred dollars to put up a table and show off my “PROTECT FREE SPEECH” signs – the store down the way can put up its signs and/or kiosks hawking whatever it wants for free?
Whose free speech is being protected there?
The message box emerging from Vancouver council appears to be as such: currently, the city bylaw bans all structures on public property. No tables, tents, or structures used in a political protest are allowed under the current Vancouver bylaw. According to the city, the proposed bylaw would actually enable people to do things that have been illegal all along. Gracious move by the city to save us?
No. The BC Court of Appeal said that the prohibition was illegal and it will strike down the prohibition as of April 19. This talking point will be moot in exactly 11 days. It’s also incredibly disingenuous. Yes, the current (as it exists) bylaw bans ALL structures on city property. But yes – the BC Court of Appeal has said that’s illegal. So, Council, you’re not rescuing people from the vagaries of an unfair law – the BC Court of Appeal has already done that.
Could the same be said on April 2oth? Effective April 19, the bylaw that currently prohibits all structures is struck down, it ceases to exist. All structures would be legal. The Vision Vancouver councillors can get away with saying that this is a proposed bylaw that would enable people to protest, that would legalize protest, until April 19th. After that, they’re making a lot of protest illegal. Of course, any time you add opportunities when no opportunities legally exist, you’re adding. But when everything’s legal? Then you’re restricting.
Instead, the City of Vancouver is proposing that the following restrictions will apply to any protest that need a table, or a tent, or a free-standing sign:
Structures would only be permitted from 8:00AM to 8:00PM
There must be people attending the structure
Structures would not be permitted in areas of the city that are zoned residential or that have residential units on the ground floor
There could only be one permit per individual at a time.
There could only be one permit per ‘face’ (side) of a block.
You wouldn’t be able to get a permit for a kiosk and a sign and a tent.
Your permit would only be valid for 30 days, but you could only get a permit for an area for 30 out of 60 days. So, only one month out of every two. And once a protest has been permitted the same area couldn’t see a protest for another 30 days.
The size could not be larger than 2.1 meters high, 2 meters wide, and 1 meter deep.
It must be at least 5 meters from a building entry or exit, 5 meters from a bus stop, 5 meters from street corners, and 0.5 meters from a curb. A structure could not also cover more than 25% of the front of a building.
Interestingly, the area in which the Chinese consulate is located is in a residential area, so, of course, no protests with structures would be permitted there. Anywhere else where you can meet these proposed restrictions (that the City of Vancouver would likely prefer us to read as “enabling conditions”) you can:
Put down a $1,000 deposit
Pay a $200 license fee
Pay $25 for any renewals
And then you can put your sign in the ground.
The staff person presenting the report at the council committee meeting was very specific in saying that this wouldn’t prohibit protests where everyone held their own signs and banners, of course. This is because the city only bans structures at the moment, and this is what the court case centres on – Vancouver can’t constitutionally put a blanket ban on structures used for political expression. I also think that this restriction is in danger of being ableist – I’ve seen people with disabilities bringing signs and banners that are free-standing to protests. Do they need permits?
But what exactly is a structure? There was an interesting back and forth between Councillor Woodsworth and the city staff person presenting the report.
Q: Is it a structure if I stick a sign in the ground?
Q: What if I put a table on the side of the road and set up a tent around it?
In Vancouver, it rains. And most protests in Vancouver I’ve been to have a tent in case of that, to keep the sound system dry. $1,200 fee, only in certain areas. Plus, no bigger than 2m by 1m. You also won’t be able to set up a petition table at the back of the protest, without that fee and that permit. And only in certain areas.
One, that’s a pretty close interpretation of the COPE campaign during the Olympics that had t-shirts that read “I am a free speech zone.” Nice move, Vision Vancouver.
Two, Vision’s statement is kind of sad. It states that Vancouver is a free speech zone. Right, it is, under the constitution anywhere in Canada is. The statement says that the City is working to protect free speech, and that the party “will not accept changes to the law that restrict these critical social expressions.”
Here’s a key point, Vision Vancouver: no changes to the bylaw could restrict free speech any more than they already do. This is part of your message box – the bylaw right now simply prohibits structures as part of a protest, full stop. That’s why the Court of Appeal said it was unconstitutional. Very technically speaking, any changes you make – even if it were to only permit structures on the south east corner of the Art Gallery lot with a $1 million permit fee – would have the effect of “enabling” free speech MORE than is already the case.
With the logic that they won’t restrict free speech any more than it is already restricted, Vision could do a lot, seeing as how free speech with any structures are completely banned at the moment – until April 19.
Would the same logic hold up after that, when the law is struck down by the courts? Hard to say.
But again – charging $1,200 for any protest that would need a table isn’t democracy. Democracy doesn’t require an admissions charge.
Councillor Reimer and I had quite a civilized twitter chat, though she suggests that there’s a lot of misinformation and creative editing going on. I’ve given you sources for every claim I’ve made in this piece, and while all opinion pieces contain flair, I don’t think I’m going overboard. Ms Reimer even graciously acknowledged that her electioneering tent was on the street and 100% illegal.
I’ve offered Ms Reimer the opportunity to add comments, corrections, and even her own viewpoint on this article, which I will post directly at the bottom of this piece , without any editing. I’d invite any other Vancouver councillor to do the same, so that everyone in Vancouver can see what their elected representatives are thinking.
Now, Vision Vancouver is asking for public input on the proposed bylaw. I suggest that we all take the moment to send them an email with our thoughts, or send them a twitter message. According to their statement, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you do so, remember:
The official message is that any changes to the bylaws would be an improvement, because the current bylaw (which is unconstitutional) prohibits all structures. However, the quasi-emancipatory changes proposed by the City include a $1,200 fee for permission to have a structure – anything from a sign in the ground to a table to a tent – at a protest. Democracy doesn’t have an admissions fee.
All structures for political protests would be perfectly legal after April 19th – after April 19th, these proposed bylaw changes would be restricting speech that had been made free by the courts.
These restrictions only apply to non-commercial messages, because other bylaws already permit commercial (ie advertising, etc.) signs under specific conditions.
No function of democracy should have a price tag attached to it or restrictions as to when or where democracy can be practiced.
This isn’t just a municipal issue. It’s our right to free speech, with a table for our signs and petitions, or a tent for the rain.
Democracy doesn’t have a price tag. Certainly not one that is $1,200.
Here’s where I’ll add any corrections, clarifications, or comments from any Vancouver City Councillor who wants to clear up any ‘misinformation’ or ‘creative editing,’ and I’ll post them without any editing on my part. Post your comments in the comments below, or email me directly at email@example.com.
All right everyone, we’ve got an election. Let’s get our democracy on?
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll roll out of bed on May 2 (though I’ll likely sleep in), trudge over to the local school or church basement, wait in line behind everyone, argue with the poll clerk that I actually live where I claim to live (Ontario doesn’t issue identification cards with addresses that aren’t drivers’ licenses, so I’ll have to try to prove my identity with a credit card bill, passport, and a smile), I’ll be handed a little piece of paper with names on it and directed to a folded piece of cardboard with a tiny pencil behind it and I’ll have the chance to vote.
In all likelihood, while I’ll have a limited number of choices as to who I can gift with my little pencil-scratched ‘x’, I’ll likely end up voting for the least offensive candidate in order to try and avoid the most offensive government. It’s the Canadian way!
I suppose my biggest difference here, as compared to my colleague Jasmin, is that I’ll likely be arsed enough to get out of bed and trudge over to the ‘democracy’-fulfillment station. That being said, I agree with the vast majority of what he writes when he says that the election is “a spectacle provided for the masses, a circus.”
So… if I agree with the vast majority of what he writes, why would I be arsed enough to get up on May 2 and actually vote? Who knows. Maybe I’m hopelessly optimistic. Maybe I’m deluded. But I’ll probably be voting.
I just won’t be overly happy with what I’m doing. But I’ll still likely be doing it.
Why? Because I really don’t want Stephen Harper to get a majority government, because I’m genuinely concerned about the havoc he could wreak with an unchecked hold on power. Because a Harper majority government could crack down on our already circumscribed ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’ even more than they already have. And because this would severely challenge everyone’s ability to organize and create a better world.
Sure, Harper is a boogeyman (full of boogers, I might add) and Ignatieff is the leader of the party that did most of what Harper is currently doing, but they did it with a red tinge instead of the blues. Layton, who looks like Lenin but certainly doesn’t act like him, can promise the world (but not socialism) because he certainly won’t be prime minister, and Gilles Duceppe (maintenant et toujours mon politicien préféré!) can act as both a comic relief and actually cutting critique of the whole charade at the same time.
But this doesn’t change the fact that the election will have very real outcomes that impact each and every one of us, whether we like the system or not. Admittedly, these outcomes will happen no matter who is in charge, but with any luck, they may not be as bad with Harper out of power and someone else – by default, Ignatieff, I suppose – in. Though I’m relatively confident that’s just wishful thinking. But I’m reluctant to simply not vote even though I know the system is broken and won’t get better any time soon.
There are three very simple reasons why I will not be voting, and they are as follows:
1. Our electoral system is broken, as such, my vote is meaningless.
2. The parties running are inept and/or disingenuous.
3. Continued electoral turnout on the part of voters is making matters worse, rather than better.
Right, right, and mostly right. So why vote? Because, in the system that we’re currently cursed with, that is, representative parliamentary democracy, the election is effectively the only time that we officially get to participate in democracy in the formal Canadian system. And while the system is broken, mostly because the parties are inept and disingenuous, it’s what we’re stuck with for now.
We can be – and we should be – working towards a better system. Towards a better democracy. Quite obviously, as we saw in British Columbia during the single-transferable-vote referendum, and in Ontario during their referendum on electoral reform, the system that we currently have is structured in such a way as to prevent this kind of change. The parties themselves oppose voting reform that would try to fix the worst problems of the electoral system. The parties themselves are broken, reduced from articulating demands and engaging people in governance to cultivating and grouping together acolytes who thoughtlessly repeat party lines and foam at the mouth at the sight of someone wearing another team’s colours. And while I’ll tentatively agree that turning out to vote does legitimize the system that we’re cursed with, I worry that if all of us who actually care about progressive ideas stayed home and didn’t vote that we’d get the worst possible outcome. But sure, like the Marxists say, maybe we just need to progress through even more bitter times before we get to that whole revolution bit…
Okay. We’re not going to be getting a better system through simple voting and electoral and parliamentary charades. But we’re absolutely not going to be getting there if we ignore the only fleeting moments of democracy that most of the people around us know, whether or not they like, approve of, or participate in them.
Most people reading this website will acknowledge that elections aren’t the only instances of actually existing democracy and politics in the world. A lot of people here are actively involved in their unions, in community groups, in student associations, in trying to make the world a better place. All of that is politics. All of that is democracy. of the opinion that democracy ought to be how we collectively discuss and decide how we’ll live together and work towards the future.
But this isn’t how everyone else sees these things. A lot of people out there see politics as starting on March 25th and stopping on May 2nd. Democracy is the process of scratching that little ‘x’ next to the least offensive candidate. This is their lived experience. And I question how much we’re contributing to the betterment of things when we dismiss this.
How many times have we gone to a protest rally and had handfuls of people on the sidewalks wonder why we’re doing what we’re doing? Wondering why we don’t join a party and change things from the inside? Sure, it’s pointless to actually do that – but maybe we can seize the opportunity of a general election as momentum towards building the communities of change that we want to see. People may not be more engaged in politics at the moment, but they’re at least aware that something is happening.
Might not we make Jamsin’s three-pointed argument about protest politics in Canadian democracy? They very rarely make any changes for the better, though they certainly try their most. Often, under state-sponsored and often precipitated conditions of ‘violence’ they legitimate state repression. They’re often insular. And continued efforts to block a street and smash a window sometimes – though certainly not always – seem to alienate more and more of the population from people who protest for very good and very important reasons.
I’ll take Jasmin’s point about needing to build communities of change. That is what we need to be doing. We cannot and should not be focusing on reactionary politics. We need to be creating the world that we wish to see. But how do we do this? Just as I think that politics is something that encompasses all aspects of collectively self-determining how we live together and go forward, I think that activism can encompass the full range of what we might think is political – from elections to anything.
Voting and actually effective political organizing and activism are not exclusive activities. We can do both. And perhaps we should. I can understand the logic behind boycotting elections because they’re relatively pointless, they mere change the colour of the people who rule us, and so on – but I don’t think that it’s hypocritical of me to desire substantive and progressive change in the political realities of where I live and to vote.
So, on May 2nd, I’ll trudge over to the church basement, credit card bill and passport in hand, smile on face, and I’ll go behind that little bit of folded cardboard and I’ll take that little pencil and I’ll scratch and ‘x’ on the ballot paper.
I’ll vote for the least offensive candidate in my riding, in the hopes of avoiding the most offensive government.
And I’ll continue working with my friends, my colleagues, and my comrades in activism, towards social change, towards political progress.
Because voting will only take 15 minutes of my day. And even though I live in a ‘safe’ riding, there are people out there who don’t. And if enough of us scratch that little ‘x’, then maybe we won’t have to spend months getting back to where we are now in terms of ‘rights’ and so forth. Or spend months defending the next right that Harper wants to take away from us – even though Iggy may well do the same thing. Regardless, fifteen minutes to vote isn’t much, and if it gives me more time to work for change, maybe it’s better. And if you’re particularly inclined, you can always spoil or reject your ballot, using the system to make a statement.
And then we can all go out and keep building communities for change. Sure, we’ve all got a raging election on. But it’s not our only political moment, nor is it a monolithic instance of democracy. And it’s not mutually exclusive with other forms of activism.
Another, better, fairer, more just world is needed. And we need to work for it, with it, with each other, in as many ways as we can.
While a justice of the peace foolishly agreed to draconian crown bail condition requests, a real judge has put a little judicial review on such abuses in the Leah Henderson bail conditions hearing. The rule of law may not yet be dead.
Many of these posts have key media links that carry many of the details of the surreal, Kafkaesque events that would fit in Gilliam’s Brazil.
It’s time to make time today to see what the House of Commons committee intends to do. If you get the sense from today that it will be a whitewashing, you need to get in touch with the MPs on the committee and light a fire under them. You can find out who they are here.
The G20 protests, bail, and rights restrictions: a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ society?
According to internet reports, after having been threatened with solitary confinement in the Toronto East Detention Centre’s “hole” (likely not a euphemism) without being permitted any communication and after having been refused contact with legal counsel, G20 arrestee Alex Hundert has been ‘released’ on bail. Alex’s bail restrictions are nothing short of incredibly restrictive: amongst other conditions, he is not to directly or indirectly post anything on the internet, he is not to associate or communicate with any number of fellow community organizers and activists, he is not to attend or plan any public meeting or demonstration, and perhaps most tellingly, he is not to express views on political issues.
Bail conditions and restrictions are supposed to be a way for someone charged with an offence to be released with a restrictions to prevent further alleged crimes from being committed. The restrictions in Alex’s case beg the question: what are the Crown prosecutors and courts concerned about?
Restricting Alex’s freedom of expression – taking away his human freedom, his human right, to have an opinion and share it – shows that the threat that he poses to the Canadian “public order” is not any action that Alex could take, out on the street with a sign, but his very thoughts and opinions.
Here’s what happens in an allegedly “free” and “democratic” society when your opinions and your thoughts and your political stances threaten the dominant order. You get your rights restricted. Speak truth about power? Now you’re not allowed to speak.
‘Constitutionally’ guaranteed rights?
Alex is not the only activist facing charges or restrictions of their civil liberties, but his bail conditions seem to be the most restrictive. Importantly, his bail conditions significantly infringe on his theoretically guaranteed rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – part of Canada’s constitutional law – notably those found under section 2, labelled as our “fundamental freedoms.” Alex’s bail conditions expressly and clearly violate his freedoms of opinion, expression, and assembly.
At first blush, readers would be forgiven for wondering just how the courts could impose such restrictive conditions, especially restrictions that so clearly and flagrantly violate fundamental freedoms. Especially those that are supposedly guaranteed under the constitution of our country, which takes great pride in publicly trumpeting its fairness and its democracy to the rest of the world.
Well, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms opens with an important clause: all of the rights contained within are subject to “such reasonable limits, prescribed by law, as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” So, folks, your rights contain a very important expiry clause in the fine print.
“It’s basically putting a gag order on a citizen of Canada, when it’s not clear that the gag order is at all necessary to protect public order,” he said, of Hundert’s restriction from speaking to the media.
“People have to be able to air grievances, and the media is a primary tool in which people can air grievances effectively.”
Young called the strict bail conditions “astonishing” — something unheard of in modern-day Canada.
This means that the government and the courts can – and do, regularly – infringe on your rights. In order to do this, they just have to plan to meet what’s called the “Oakes test,” judicial jargon for an analytical test applied to the situation to see if the restrictions are permitted under the constitution.
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 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?
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:
Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
Set up an internal surveillance system.
Harass citizens’ groups.
Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
Target key individuals.
Control the press.
Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The National Post appears to have begun supporting Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan beyond the end 2011. Don’t expect us to leave. At all.
Do you remember when we were absolutely, positively going to leave by 2009? So naive. And do you remember that we went there to catch that Osama bin Laden fellow?
This week we see the jingoistic tone emerging in the National Post which can create cover for a decision by an imperialist Harper and a likely nod of support from his Con-Lib coalition co-leader, imperialist Ignatieff:
On Tuesday we read on the front page, above the fold, that a mother of a dead Canadian soldier wants us to keep fighting. [see below]
In the same article we read the word “adamant” to describe Harper’s commitment for our troops to withdraw before the end of 2011. Adamant makes Harper look like he doth protest too much.
Also, a couple months ago in McLean’s we read about some key cracks in our commitment to leave next year, and their resulting developments:
The March 2008 motion is for Canadian troops to leave Kandahar, not Afghanistan.
Ignatieff is suggesting we leave some troops behind to train Afghans, and I suppose quietly “advise” them as well.
Peter McKay called that idea interesting, but in an attempt to appear to disagree with those Liberals, he says the government will respect the “letter of the motion” which, again, only requires us to leave our mission in Kandahar.
Ultimately, expect NATO or Karzai to request that when we leave Kandahar we step up to some new mission elsewhere in the country. And please be disabused of the notion that we’re actually committed to leaving. It just means you’ll be dizzy from the spin.
Consider the excerpts from those two stories below [emphasis is mine, unless noted]
The mother of a soldier who died in Afghanistan made a poignant appeal yesterday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to keep Canadian troops here beyond next summer.
“I think the military is doing a fine job and he should reconsider pulling out next year.”…
The mission in Kandahar is scheduled to end in 2011. The deadline was set in a March 2008 vote in the House of Commons. Nothing in the House motion would prevent Canada from assuming a different military mission elsewhere in Afghanistan, but until now the Prime Minister has been adamant that all Canadian troops will be out of the country by the end of next year.
The Liberals propose ending the Kandahar combat mission as scheduled, but leaving some of our troops to train Afghan forces elsewhere in the country.
MacKay allows that the Liberal idea is “all very interesting.” However, he stresses that the government remains bound by the March 13, 2008, House of Commons motion that set that 2011 exit date in the first place. “We’ll respect the letter of the motion,” MacKay says.
But the letter of the motion, it seems to me, is often lost in this discussion. Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggests the House demanded a complete end to the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan. Harper reiterated that by now familiar interpretation as recently as June 4.
That’s not what the motion says. Its key clause dictates that the government must “notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011, and, as of that date, the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar and their replacement by Afghan forces start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by December 2011.” (My emphasis.)
As far as I can see, there’s nothing in the motion that says Canadian troops must clear out of Afghanistan altogether, just Kandahar. If the government plans to “respect the letter of the motion,” then, that would seem to me to allow a fair bit of flexibility.
De-Spinning the Political and Re-Spinning it for Social, Economic and Political Justice