“Let's not talk about statistics. Let's talk about danger.”
Scary words from someone in charge of Canada's public safety.
Coming only days before Public Safety Minister Vic Toews lumped critics of his warrantless online spying bill with “child pornographers,” many thought that global hacker group Anonymous went too far in leaking his divorce papers on Twitter.
Today, Mr. Traditional Family Values (he's a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage) got an even nastier taste of privacy invasion. Several of my sources forwarded a Youtube video, in which Anonymous alleged the marriage-defending MP had a lengthy affair with his childrens' former (and much younger) babysitter, Stacey Meek, now a staffer for two elected Conservatives in Manitoba. VO became the first media outlet to report on the video. The smear is, of course, unconfirmed – and needless to say, the minister is miffed.
- Anonymous reveals name of Vic Toews' alleged mistress
- Government labels environmentalists "terrorist threat" in new report
- "Scary time" for Canada
Danger is a frightening word to be batted about by a government – one that has drastic consequences for freedom of speech and human rights in Canada. But with the stakes higher than ever – and the Conservatives seemingly unwilling to tolerate any dissent – perhaps Anonymous' attack is merely a symptom of increasingly desperate times.
As 2012 dawned, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives already had some draconian laws on the books. But locking up small-time pot growers for longer than pedophiles who force children to have sex with animals (Bill C-10) and tossing war-fleeing refugees into indefinite, automatic detention (Bill C-31, formerly C-4) evidently weren't enough to demonstrate their newfound might to Canadians.
This regime has now labelled its critics child pornographers, foreign radicals,"anti-Canada" – even Nazis.
Emboldened by their new, unstoppable electoral mandate – which, when tallied with voter turnout, actually amounted to only 24 per cent of Canadian voters' support – the federal Conservatives are now showing average Canadians their teeth with some seriously scary legislation on the book this spring, which undermine civil liberties and human rights.
Playing on irrational fears of pedophiles, foreigners, immigrants and terrorists – the government is no longer couching its agenda in moderate terms. They're making it illegal to prevent the national flag from flying, ratcheting up the penalties for damaging war memorials, banning face coverings from both citizenship ceremonies and demonstrations, and even comparing gun-control advocates to the Nazis.
The question is not whether Harper can achieve his vision to make Canada unrecognizable to future generations – that much, sadly, seems assured. A better question is, what will it take to stop him?
This is not to be hyperbolic. A glance at Harper regime's statements recently reveals the gloves are off – and, unsurprisingly, they're both right-handed. Last week, before his troubles with Anonymous, the public safety minister unveiled a report warning of “issue-based domestic extremists” promoting “various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.”
Toews had already been defending his government's wide-sweeping crime bill, which will impose U.S.-style mandatory minimum sentences (which corrections experts warn against) – despite the fact that statistics prove crime is on the decline. But statistics, it turns out, are irrelevant to the Harper government.
“Let's not talk about statistics,” he told a Senate committee, as he testified about the far-reaching crime bill. “Let's talk about danger... I want people to be safe.”
Even our natural resources minister, weeks before, got in on Harper's critic-slandering: accusing environmental “foreign radicals” of “hijacking” the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. When I spoke to a leading Cold War historian about the comments last month, he warned that the rhetoric of “national economic security” was distressingly similar to McCarthyism.
When I sat down for coffee with New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, he was even more uncompromising in his description of what's at stake.
“They're making it a war between civil society and government,” he warned. “These are not your grandparents' Conservatives.
“They're much angrier, more sinister about their politics. They see conspiracies everywhere, under constant threat even when they're in power.”
So what can we do?
First of all, we're not powerless. Let's remember that this is not Canada's first majority – nor Conservative – government. While the hope for immediate change seems dim, the courage and persistence of millions in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement are inspiring examples of people defying even the most unjust governments, and if Syrians can defy mortar shells, surely we can defy some nasty insults.
Secondly, we're not alone. Millions of Canadians – even some Conservative supporters – think the recent ratcheting up of government rhetoric is a bit much. We might not agree on everything, but there are a few common values most of us adhere to. Let's capitalize on those values, while pushing for something better than what was before.
Thirdly, real power in our world does not lie in parliaments or palaces. It lies with the people – no matter what autocrats and fundamentalists claim. Look at how much public flack the government has gotten over its online snooping bill. Toews is running scared and beginning to backtrack.
We need to start looking beyond reducing our opposition to smug talking points and political platforms, and see the big picture. It's not about 'this piece of legislation' or 'that outrageous minister's comment' – in this historic, global Age of Austerity and Time of Terror, we face a choice of what kind of world we want for future generations.
If Toews is correct in any of the nonsense he has sputtered recently, it is one thing: we do, in fact, need to talk about danger. And we are beginning to see where the danger lies.