On Thursday, while discussing the world’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I said, “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect.”
I need to correct that, as in fact, Mr. Harper did later add, “When a trio of hooded men struck at some of our most cherished democratic principles – freedom of expression, freedom of the press – they assaulted democracy everywhere.”
His original official statement released Wednesday morning, however, lacked those sentiments.
Which is why I was not at all surprised to hear that the Conservatives immediately doubled down on the macho, creating a web page that asked for Canadian support, i.e. a continued dependence upon the Conservative Party in general, and Stephen Harper specifically.
Against a background of sepia toned armed men, and headed “Standing Up Against Terrorism,” the message reads, in part, “Canadians can count on Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative Government to ensure the safety of Canadians while protecting their rights. Add your name to support strong leadership:”
Until Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau took to Twitter to complain that “Conservatives fundraising off an ongoing terrorist act is offensive and totally crass,” the page also included a large “Donate Now” button.
When interviewed, NDP MP Charlie Angus added, “They are using for their own political advantage the deaths of innocent people in other countries.”
The button has since been removed, “to avoid confusion,” according to Cory Hann, the Tories director of communications. “This was not, and is not, a fundraising campaign,” he added. “This was to inform Canadians about the Prime Minister’s strong remarks yesterday against the despicable terrorism in Paris.”
To be fair, both the Liberal and NDP main pages also featured donation request buttons above their leaders’ words on the tragedy, although those were quickly removed after the outcry. Yes, all three parties took the opportunity to beg for support and donations for their own cause as the world mourned the dead, and Canadian politicians pumped up their mailing lists for the next election.
But lost in all of the rhetoric over the tempest in a Twitter cup is the hypocrisy of the government in rushing to be seen to protect the rights of people anywhere in the world while denying those same rights to their own citizens.
Harper has consistently used the court system to silence his foes and critics, while implementing funding cuts to groups that would allow ordinary Canadians to have access to legal representation. The national press corps have been controlled and managed, and any dissenters that might shed light on opposing views silenced and arrested. His own cabinet know that to disagree with the Party is to court reprisal.
In 2013, under Harper, Canada removed Section 13(1), the anti-hate provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), which prohibited hate speech on grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., in the name of Freedom of Expression. Canada has stood by while the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled that Al-Jazeera Arabic TV could not be shown in Canada without a censorship mechanism to censor unacceptable or anti-Semitic speech, despite the fact that the service is broadcast in 50 nations, including Israel, without such restrictions.
In 2014, Harper addressed the Israeli Knesset, and equated criticisms of the Israeli state and its policies with anti-Semitism, which raises serious concerns about his government’s commitment to protecting political speech in Canada.
Under the Harper government, media policies were introduced to tightly control access to Canada’s federal scientists. Once allowed to openly discuss their work with the media and public, interviews must now be approved ahead of time, the scientists’ responses monitored, and in several documented cases, researchers have been prevented from giving interviews on the order of ministers office’s.
The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques won the 14th annual Press Freedom Award in 2012 for their work in exposing how the government has silenced scientists.
In Quebec, free speech is a joke under the guise of the Charter of Quebec Values. It’s the Canadian French as decided by the Parti Québécois Way or the highway.
For Harper to declare, as Canada’s representative, that he will fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, while denying Canadians such rights, is hypocritical and self-serving.
And ultimately, what is happening in Canada and around the world proves that it is the rich and the powerful that have true freedoms. Those vulnerable groups who need it the most just can’t afford it.
A shared fear.