If You’re Canadian – It’s Hard to Laugh


emperor HarperIt used to be so easy to mock the North American political process. Comedians had a field day, lampooning gaffes or silly political correctness amongst candidates and politicians seeking or in office. Most pols can be counted on to screw up at some point. The joker outing the naked Emperor poked fun without fear of reprisal.

That all changed for Canada, yesterday. Bill C-51 – the so called “Anti Terrorist Act,” was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate, despite vocal opposition from everyone from Margaret Atwood to Ralph Nader .

Harper secrecyOver nearly a decade, Canadians have seen Canada’s world image plunge from a once lofty high the envy of the free world, to a race to the bottom. Since 2006, the Harper government has governed with an iron-fist, hidden public information and political subterfuge in cumbersome omnibus bills or simple denials, and has become the most secretive administration in Canadian history.

How do you find anything funny about an increasingly militaristic and confrontational police presence that ‘serves and protects’ only those steely, unsmiling, hand-picked minions to the Prime Minister?

before-after-tar sandsWhere’s the laughs when our scientists have been muzzled, and precious and irreplaceable environmental books and documents have been trashed? Where’s the irony in watching the Boreal Forest, which represents more than half of Canada’s landmass, and which plays a critical role in mitigating global climate change, be threatened by logging, hydrodams, mining and the tar sands? (Industrial development and forest fires in Canada’s tar sands region has cleared or degraded 775,500 hectares (almost two million acres) of boreal forest since the year 2000.)

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt remained seated, silent, and cross armed while others broke out in a standing ovation at the conclusion of the six year study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the “cultural genocide” of Aboriginal peoples through Canada’s residential school system. The commission pushed for a national inquiry and adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and requested 94 wide-ranging recommendations. Valcourt seated

“Federal Conservatives have suggested they will reject calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for both a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and Canada’s implementation of a landmark United Nations document on First Nations’ rights.” (Huffington Post)

It’s very hard to find something even vaguely funny about such overt contempt.Harper editorial cartoon Jeep splashing natives

gmo_appleAs people become more concerned about the very food they eat, the Conservative Party continues to support genetically modified foods and Monsanto, fighting tooth and nail against every citizen action requesting even so much as the labelling of foods. (Canada and the United States are the only two nations in the Free World that do not require GMO labelling.)

And then there’s Bill C-51 itself, an act so heinous that everyone from former prime ministers, to constitutional lawyers – and hundreds of thousands of Canadians – have begged, cajoled and screamed for it’s demise.

C51 6 waysThe Bill allows the police to ignore Canadians’ rights, and rides roughshod over civil liberties. It eviscerates the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms, and inherently stomps on Canadians’ constitutional rights.

It defines ‘terrorism’ as “activity that undermines the security of Canada.” Those activities include advocacy, legal protests, threats to “public safety” and the “economic or financial stability of Canada.” It also creates a new speech-related criminal offence of “promoting” or “advocating” terrorism.

And it allows information sharing across very broad areas, from the Department of Immigration, to the financial sector, from the Department of Transport to your own doctor and Public Health, besides the usual suspects (the police, RCMP, CSIS, or Border Control.) Bill C-51 effectively neuters the core protections found in the Privacy Act, and also permits additional use and disclosure of information “in accordance with the law…to any person, for any purpose.”

Let me put this even plainer. If, for some reason, a conversation yoC51 Naderu have – in person, by email, or on social media – triggers the interest of ANY government official … or even a spurned lover or a miffed colleague with a grudge … you could be arrested and detained for up to seven days without charges on mere suspicion of future criminal activity.

“Bill C-51’s gives powers of “preventive detention,” which means jail time for individuals even when there isn’t any suspicion criminal activity has taken place.”

So, I’m finding it a little hard to laugh, or even smile. In what dystopia would these dictatorial and fascistic measures call for a chuckle?

Rick Mercer HarperOh, sure, we’ve got Rick Mercer’s weekly jabs and rants, but honestly – how do you poke fun at a Canadian government blindly led by an evangelistic dictator set on destroying the country he rules with an iron fist?

Our only hope for a re-discovery of our political comedy mojo under such an oppressive regime is a resounding “NO!” to Stephen Harper and the Conservative Government in the coming election.

Defining Down


no meat on FridaysI grew up in a time when single mothers were scorned, when people who ate meat on Friday went to purgatory, when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the United States … My husband’s mother married a black Bermudian, and most of her family refused to speak to her for years. There were few visible minorities.

Gays did not only have no option to marry, they were closeted and lucky if they kept their sexuality hidden, tormented by local bullies, or prosecuted under archaic laws against homosexuality if found in compromising positions.

But times have changed. Change happens because you care enough to make a difference, when enough like-minded people decide that the guiding principles they’ve been following either no longer make sense, or are plainly unjust.

It’s frustrating to watch how slowly organizations and governments move to make change. The people speak, and when their voices shake society’s pillars, those who control power acknowledge a possible problem. In order to defer action until it’s decided if the issue is good or bad for those in power, comObamaSignsBillprehensive studies are done, dragging out the questioning still longer. When finally a solution is presented, it’s inevitably a compromise that makes no one completely happy, but which we all hail as a step forward.

There are downsides and upsides to expediting change. While it’s frustrating to wait for the wheels of progress to turn, lore tells us that slow change would be of a “sober second thought.” But in a world that regularly examines and attempts advancements based on new ideas and technological advancements, a less cumbersome process allows opportunities for change that really matters. And if the change is not completely positive, swift movement to curb or perfect that change should occur.

defining deviancyFunny how we absorb change. In 1993, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an insightful paper on how American society has coped with massive social change. When deviant behaviours – from births to unmarried women, to violent crime, to a simple rejiggering of our attitudes towards pornography – reach a certain level, we soothe ourselves by “defining deviancy down.” By declaring these behaviours normal, we take the stigma and the sting out of the action.

iatrogenic govtHe had another theory, of “iatrogenic government.” This proposes that some social problems may have been inadvertently caused by government; for instance, the conservative contention that liberal policies produce a culture of dependency. (In the medical field, an iatrogenic ailment is one inadvertently induced by a physician or medicine.)

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Politics is an argument about the future.

By defining deviancy down, those who prefer to live peacefully are kept lulled by what they are told by authority figures. While they may sense a problem, they are easily soothed when a mainstream media assures them that this is the ‘new normal.’

When it comes to social mores, they can safely quote authorities who tell them not to worry about the stuffy old ways of thinking they learned from their parents and grandparents; that’s ‘fuddy-duddy thinking now. All the cool people know what’s really happening, and it’s all just fine.

storming the castleHowever, there are bigger issues at stake. There’s a surprising lack of dismay over economic numbers that would have given our recent ancestors cause to storm the Capital with pitchforks. Those numbers get massaged until the public can be assured that all is well, despite what they’re seeing with their own eyes.

In the United States, the passing of Citizens United completely changed any sense of a level playing field in a democratic government.

“The Citizen United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads andcitizensunited other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.” (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/10/18/11527/citizens-united-decision-and-why-it-matters)

Flash forward just five years, and we have the Koch Brothers, the 7th and 8th richest men in the world, vowing to spend nearly a billion dollars on whomever they’ve decided to back in the next Presidential election. citizensunited 2

Welcome to the oligarchy. Most democratic governments currently in power already appear to be hamstrung by those who have exchanged campaign funding for a say in government policies. Citizens United simply made the manipulation more visible.

(As Katty Kay, journalist and lead anchor of BBC World News America, recently  said, “The Democrats would do it too, if they could. She added, “It is only going to get worse… If I invested $10 million in an election, I would want a return on my investment. I would want to make sure there were votes on the floor.”)

Our cultural instinct is to find those who think like us, a society where we are safe from having to be responsible for caring for all around us, since it’s difficult enough to get through our busy lives. Exhausted at the end of the day, we don’t want to feel obliged to think very deeply about a myriad of issues, each more convoluted than the next.

Our media knows that, dutifully feeding us mere tidbits of real ‘news,’ and filling the rest of the air time with feel good stories and barely concealed infomercials for the products of advertisers who sponsor the show. choose responsibilityWe can choose from a variety of consumer goodies, but are given only a tiny menu of pre-approved opinions and positions on the things that really matter – like how our countries are being run.

Because if we choose, then we are responsible, are we not? Better to define deviance down, to live with a new normal we feel powerless against, than to choose to make changes that matter.

John Baird – Bouquets and Brickbats


Political junkies were surprised and excited when rumours began that Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird would resign his position, effective immediately, and also resign as an MP, to take effect within days. Speculations as to woil prices cartoonhy, and especially as to why NOW, filled the mainstream and social media.

Was this the beginning of a Conservative meltdown, as oil prices tanked, the loonie dived, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sabre rattled and proposed new security measures accused of restricting civil liberties?

National Post columnist John Ivison speculated that there was a rift between Baird and Harper over Canada’s sanctions on the Russian government. Some wondered if being pelted with eggs and shoes by dozens of Palestinian protesters in January 2015 had shaken his resolve. (Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Baird Palestineperceived pro-Israel stance, and its opposition to a Palestinian bid to pursue war crime charges against Israel.)

Still others noted that, by not running in 2015, Baird also qualifies for his pension, of $100,00 per year, under an old rule, at age 55. Parliament increased the qualifying age to 65 years old but that policy only covers those who are elected or re-elected in 2015.

Or maybe it was just that, after two decades in public office, he’d simply decided it was time to seek other opportunities, possibly in the private sector. He is said to be finalizing two offers.

Mohamed FahmyOn Monday, Baird reported that Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is in jail in Cairo, would be released imminently, which would be his last diplomatic victory.

Although Baird’s stances were often provocative, even prompting Conservative colleagues to tease him of having a partisan nature, he was well liked by many in the other Parties.

“I quickly learned thoBaird resignsugh to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values,” he said in his resignation speech.

Since being named foreign affairs minister in 2011, Baird has spoken out against controversial issues at home and abroad.

In 2012, he addressed a British audience on human rights, saying that Canada would not stand by while its “Commonwealth cousins” criminalized homosexuality and ignored other fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women, minorities, and the right to practice religion. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of 54 Commonwealth member states.

child marriageIn 2013, Baird spoke at a United Nations session called “Too Young to Wed,” about child brides forced to marry. Baird said “It’s been felt that in some cultures, in some places, this was a social reality. And for the good of the conference, would I mind shutting up,” adding that forced marriage is “unacceptable” and can be ended within a generation.

But he’s made a few gaffes along the way – his request for gold-embossed business cards was outed and ridiculed. He was always on the move, traveled more often, and to more out of the way places than any Canadian foreign minister before him. To his credit, he traveled commercially, but some of his trips didn’t make much sense, and were thought to be a drain on taxpayer funds. He recently flew to Brazil for President Rousseff’s second term swearing in, and attended Persian Gulf conferences that were not important to Canada’s needs.

John BairdIn 2013, a scandal occurred when CTV News reported that Baird and six friends stayed for eight days at the official residence of Canada’s high commission to Great Britain, Macdonald House.

His diplomats were not fond of his frequent, high-maintenance visits. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of them either. In 2014, Baird quietly ordered his department to cut millions of dollars out of a foreign aid program and to call the cut a “surplus.” He blamed the cuts to the program on the bad performance of Canadian diplomats. Associate Deputy Minister Peter Boehm revised the figures in a May 13, 2014 memo, which read “per your instructions, $7 million was declared surplus.”

foreign aid surplusThe NDP Foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, felt the minister was being deceptive. “It’s what I would call a parlour trick, to make it appear like they’re sound fiscal managers, when in fact in this case, Minister Baird is trying to make people believe that his cut of $7 million is in fact a surplus. This is exactly the same thing that they did with regards to lapsed funding.”

Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, wrote  “The Conservative government has managed the austerity program launched in the 2012 budget with deliberate secrecy. They did not inform Parliament of the details of their spending plans…Austerity is difficult and they did not want to pay a political price for making difficult trade-offs…their strategy was to limit planning information to shut down debate and evade accountability.”

baird_IsraelDuring his time as Foreign Minister, his critics have also accused him of selling embassies and ­unflinching support for Israel, diminished backing for multi-lateral institutions and a “distinctly un-Canadian” stance on foreign policy.

However, he leaves behind many who say he played a large part in shaping Conservative foreign policy and personalizing Canada’s diplomatic relations with the international community

NDP MP Paul Dewar, his party’s foreign affairs critic, told Embassy that Mr. Baird brought the Conservative Party’s foreign policy “into the limelight.”

Canada in the world“John Baird made Foreign Affairs—for good or bad—relevant again within the Conservative government. Prior to that, it really wasn’t a portfolio that was important to the government because of the players involved. They didn’t have as much of an interest or an understanding of the role,” he said.

Harper has appointed International Trade Minister Ed Fast as the interim foreign minister.

The Politics of Terror


Harper new security Jan 2015“The world is a dangerous place and, as most brutally demonstrated by last October’s attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism.”

Or so Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed on January 30th, flanked by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, and the largest personal protective detail in the history of Canada.

It would seem that Harper sees himself as a ‘war-time’ leader, who, in the run up to the next election, wants to project a manly, statesmanlike image. While cultivating a culture of fear, he is appealing to those who traditionally will cling to the political status quo in times of unrest.

And in one swell foop, the man who spent the Ottawa siege in a closet ramped up the anxiety harper in closetand fear of a nation, while simultaneously putting into place measures that many feel will result in further loss of civil liberties and reduction of freedoms.

By no means am I minimalizing the two horrible attacks . They were horrific, and shocking to Canadians who rightfully believe themselves to be a part of the world’s peace keepers. But these attacks increasingly seem to have been the acts of self-radicalized, troubled and confused young men, with no evidence connecting them to ISIS. Harper’s proposal sounds less like a desire to protect the nation, and more like the fear mongering of a politician desperate to keep his seat in power. MuzzlingScientists

So much for his vaunted and pious defense of Canada’s Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech after the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France. Our Freedoms were already considered under attack, based on his own government’s track record of secrecy, muzzling, sneaky omnibus bills, a disdain for democratic Parliamentary rules, and the misleading of Parliament.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod called the proposal “the most dramatic package of new laws since the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001.” But .. hang on … who flew into our towers? Three misguided fools in Canada took it upon themselves to mirror the acts of other misguided fools in the Middle East, whom we’ve done nothing but publicize in the media. The same media that attempts to inflame viewers by ramping up anxiety about events in other parts of the world in hopes of getting higher ratings, and very often has the issues completely wrong. fox apologizes

Ironically, terrorism is most effective when it’s target reacts disproportionately to fear. Perhaps those sweeping powers would be better used in policing how media is actually romanticizing terrorism, and making it seem glamorous to impressionable and disenfranchised people who believe they have no voice or impact upon their own democratic governments. There’s a huge difference between planned, organized and directed attacks (terrorism) and a misguided fool whipped up by web sites designed to muster support for a cause.

No matter how often the Conservatives tell us that the attacker of Ottawa’s Parliament was linked to a terrorist network, we’ve still not seen follow up information, or the RCMP background video we are told contains proof of such a link. It’s the politics of fear and terror.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was right when he questioned why Harper is proposing new legislation with far reaching consequences without so much as consulting with opposition parties. Canadian rights, already being pecked away by post-9/11 laws, look to be even more constrained under a grantingcsis_record2 of extraordinary power to Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), with a mandate to “investigate and disrupt” terrorist plots. Canada’s police services will be able to go after online terrorist propaganda.

The line between being branded as an activist or a terrorist is already grey. With these proposals, that line could be even more abused than it currently is, and in fact, simply obliterated. Could a government with a long list of enemies, including labour and environmental movements, simply capitalize upon already existing powers such as restricting the right to remain silent, laws allowing CSIS to spy on Canadians overseas, detainment without charges, and arrest without warrants?

In 2012, Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, wrote an open letter to Canadians on the government’s commitment to the diversification of energy resources (i.e. the Northern Gateway, Alberta’s Tar Sands.) In it, he said “environmental and other radical groups threaten to highjack our regulatory system to achieve their radical and ideological agenda.” He claimed that these ‘radicals’ were employing AmeriJOE-OLIVER Natural Resourcescan tactics to “sue everyone and anyone to delay the project,” and that ‘slow, complex, and cumbersome regulatory processes’ were slowing down the government’s ability to push ahead their own unilateral decisions and agenda.

Those ‘radical’ environmentalists were concerned about 50 square miles of tailing ponds full of toxic chemicals, supposedly lined but actually leaking at the rate of 3 million gallons per day. (Pembina Institute.) Cancer rates are 100 times the norm for the First Nations living on the Athabaska River. Over 80% of BC residents have said NO to oil tankers on their coast, and coastal First Nations have declared a ban under their traditional laws. oliver oil sands copy-002Perhaps these are small concerns to Mr. Oliver, but they are of vital importance to those who actually live in the area.

These ‘radical’ environmentalists could now potentially be charged with terrorism.

(In March, 2014, Mr. Oliver was appointed Minister of Finance. Yes, the same Joe Oliver who recently had to delay our next budget, due to the unexpected downturn in the price of oil. The government had banked on a big payoff on the pipeline, but instead, low oil prices are going to cost provinces nearly $10-billion in lost royalties and tax revenue, and see the government lose $4.3 billion in expected revenues. )

Could there be a better time for the government to ramp up fear and politicize terror? Data Mining

When the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001 was due to expire, the Tories’ Combatting Terrorism Act of 2013 reinstated them, with yet more power, and this new legislation would continue to expand on an overbearing and intrusive presence by government controlled security forces , bringing us ever closer to becoming a surveillance state.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that it’s important “we maintain a proper perspective,” on ISIS, and that they are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.” He added that the U.S. needs to see the threat for what it is and respond to it in a way that doesn’t undermine American values. obama isis

“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears, because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military,” he said.

Contrast this with Harper’s “Stand Your Ground” stance on Canada’s presence in Iraq. As the opposition questioned if Canada was actually at war with Iraq, and what “advise and assist” actually mean to the Canadian soldiers “accompanying” Iraqi troops fighting against Islamic State soldiers, Harper said, safe_image.php

“Let me be clear. This is a robust mission. We’re there to make those guys effective so they can take on the Islamic State and deal with them and if those guys fire at us, we’re going to fire back and we’re going to kill them, just like our guys did.”

Look – I get it. We’re all scared. We’re afraid of ISIS and Ebola, of extreme weather and IEDs, of Monsanto and dirty bombs and oh my lawdy, what’s next! There’s too much crime, we’re told, and draconian systems of justice continue to be put into place at enormous cost, when in fact, crime rates are falling. While some American states legalize marijuana, those in opposition continue to pump out propaganda against pot, and institutionalizing people where the substance has not yet been legalized.

The truth is, “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” as Stephen Pinker concluded in his 2012 book The Better Angels of Human Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. terrorist attacks globally

Terrorism peaked worldwide in the mid-1980s, and in North America around 1970. If you live in Canada or the United States your chances of being killed by terrorism are almost zero. We’ve been sold an exaggerated sense of danger about conflicts and events in other countries, which has allowed those in power to divide and conquer it’s people, alienate North America from war torn nations, engage in wars that profit only those in the military trade, and snip away at Canadians civil liberties, eroding our freedoms.

There are those who will say, “What do I care? I’m not a terrorist! Go get the bad guys!” Those people should perhaps have a chat with the innocent citizens caught up in the police actions taken against the G-20 demonstrators in 2010. g20protestMore than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were involved in policing the protests, which at its largest numbered 10,000 protestors. Over a thousand arrests were made, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. There were no ‘innocent until proven guilty’ dispensations; in fact, Toronto Police and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the summit were heavily criticized for brutality during the arrests. harper controlling

You cannot hermetically seal a democratic society to protect it from violence; doing so actually reduces democracy. Despite the self-inflicted threat fear that Harper is trying to sell us, it’s our own government limiting our rights, not jihadists.