Saturday, April 23, 2011

Snuffing Out Dissent

The Conservative Party has an outside chance of forming a majority government. Canadians should consider the sobering truth that any such government is going to move aggressively to curtail or destroy outright any opportunity for dissent from the Conservative viewpoint. Under Stephen Harper, the Government of Canada—excuse me, the Harper Government—has move more aggressively to erode the protections of free speech than any previous government.

Gerald Caplan, writing today in the Globe and Mail, quoted the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

Over the past five years, exercise of the fundamental freedom of speech in Canada has been curbed and discouraged by a federal government increasingly intolerant of even the mildest criticism or dissent. Particularly affected have been organizations dependent on government funding which advocate for human rights and women’s equality. Their voices have been stifled, some completely silenced, by cuts to their budgets. Also financially throttled have been individuals and groups that speak out for reproductive rights, humanitarian immigration policies, and for changes in Canada’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

The Harper government’s now lengthy record of silencing – or attempting to silence – its critics also includes the removal of heads of government agencies, commissions, and tribunals who insist on making independent decisions. Academics who have spoken against government actions or policies have also been targeted.

This blatant suppression of basic human rights by a government constitutionally responsible for guaranteeing their expression is unprecedented in Canada’s history.

Journalists following Mr. Harper on the campaign trail were at first miffed that the former occupant of the PMO would not answer more than four or five carefully selected questions at press conferences. Near the beginning of the campaign, a reporter had the audacity to pose the question: “Why do you refuse to take questions?” Mr. Harper, of course, refused to acknowledge the question, asking, “Are there any questions?” When the reporter repeated the question, Mr. Harper ignored him.

Perhaps we were to understand from Mr. Harper’s rhetorical response an openness to questions, but his refusal to that point to address more than four or five questions was a well-established, repeatedly demonstrated fact.

Mr. Harper, to an extent unprecedented in previous governments—even Mr. Mulroney’s Conservative government, has been bent on muffling any communication that does not align perfectly with his vision of a free-market, diversity-poor Canada bent on destroying Aboriginal and women’s rights.

We already know the sorry mess caused by free-market individualism. The free market has created the most dangerous disparity between rich and poor ever witnessed in history. If you are unfortunate enough to visit a large American city, you run a fifteen-fold increased chance of premature death at the business end of a handgun compared to your odds in a comparably sized Canadian city. If you are stupid enough to visit Detroit, St. Louis, Washington D. C., or the south side of Chicago after sunset, your odds of violent death increase as much as 2100 percent, giving you a 315-fold higher chance of becoming a fatality. The “land of the free” incarcerates nearly one percent of its population—6.4 times the rate of incarceration in Canada. If we include people on probation or on parole from prison, over 3.5 percent of the American population is held in one way or another by the criminal justice system.

There is no freedom in Mr. Harper’s unwholesome form of governance. The muzzling of voices that should be heard, the arrogance at press conferences, and the elimination of diversity are the price Canada will pay should it decide to elect a Conservative majority. The price is too high, for the real cost is the destruction of those good and solid features of the social mosaic that define Canada as a tolerant and healthy civilisation. Don’t give the Conservatives a majority.

April 23, 2011

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