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Harper the Video Game

Code of Terror 6.

PM Stephen Harper.

PM Stephen Harper.

Is it just us, or has the Stephen Harper government, ruling Canada ever since 2006 (it feels like ever since 1906), really gotten worse (and worse)? Certainly, our Facebook Feed is filled with FB “friends” alerting us to the latest outrages of the long-serving Canadian prime minister, often hysterically screaming warnings of “Fascism!”

We admit that most of our FB “friends” think sort of the same way we do, and sometimes we wonder why they expend so much energy persuading us of the evils of Harperism when we already believe it (what used to be known in more placid times as “preaching to the converted”) rather than figuring out how to, as they say in Facebookese, “un-elect” a government that only commands about 35-40 per cent of the vote at best. We suppose it’s easier to complain than to do something, and it’s probably “unpolitic” to point out the terminal stupidity of the combined electoral majority opposition unable to combine itself into a parliamentary majority (can you say “C-o-a-l-i-t-i-o-n”?).

The Harpstapo?

The Harpstapo?

We find the cries of “Fascism!” offputting, precisely because the Harper modus operandi is not a matter of the Harpstapo smashing down the door and stomping on your face with jackboots. Indeed, it’s the opposite. The method consists largely of bland, incremental, legislative chipping away at democratic norms and conventions rather than visible truly insane dictats. Whether it’s get-tough-on-crime bills, eliminating census forms, curbing the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer, and willfully ignoring or distorting the constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, it’s irritating but not draconian. So, in the past decade, we’ve had unnecessary crackdowns on miscreants when in fact crime has been in decline; less statistical information because of a paranoid desire not to have our privacy invaded by the census in an age of surreptitious total surveillance; a good deal of fooling around with democratic elections while pretending to defend democracy; and ignoring the court’s efforts to make the lives of prostitutes safer, and instead arresting customers and declaring sex services immoral, neither of which makes prostitutes’ lives safer.

The latest outrage is Bill C-51, the extension of existing anti-terrorism laws. It’s a response to the murder last year of a Canadian soldier outside Parliament (and a shooting up of the legislative chamber itself) by a mentally disturbed man who was shot and killed by the parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms. What’s objectionable about the bill is that it’s “overbroad” as is said in legalese: it gives the government too much power, the additional power is unnecessary, and is dangerous because the proposed law is written in such a way that it might incriminate perfectly legitimate protesters against, say, pipelines or climate change, who are clearly not terrorists. That is, genuine political protest might be curbed in the name of “terrorism.” That’s a bad idea.

Almost everyone, from the Globe and Mail editorial board to columnists in the Ottawa Citizen and National Post to old social democratic warhorses to Green Party leader Elizabeth May have run up the Mayday flag against the latest Harper overreaction. Citizen columnist Terry Glavin astutely notes, “It’s a bit of a stretch to say, as some people are sayng, that Canada is on the cusp of establishing a ‘secret police force’ to engage in surveillance, preemptive arrest and other such dirty work in flagrant trespass” of civil liberties. He adds, “But perhaps only a bit.”

The Globe and Mail editorial headline declares that the “Anti-terrorism bill will unleash CSIS on a lot more than terrorists.” (CSIS is the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.) “Why does the bill exist?” asks the puzzled conservative national newspaper. “What is it fighting? And why is it giving intelligence officers powers that are currently reserved” for the police? Senior NDP politicos Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow, former Sasketchewan premier, demand bluntly, “Parliament must reject the anti-terror bill… This bill should be withdrawn, or defeated in Parliament.” They call it “an intemperate terrorism bill that will remove reasonable restraints on Canadian security authorities… and [that] attacks the civil rights of all Canadians.” Green Party leader May says the PM “is now planning to concentrate the powers of the state into his own hands while converting the Canadian spy agency into a secret police with virtually unlimited powers.”

As the more temperate Glavin puts it, “This country is not about to be subsumed into one of the imperial provinces of Oceania from out of the pages of [George Orwell’s] Nineteen Eighty-Four. ‘But to be corrupted by totalitarianism,’ Orwell wrote, ‘one does not have to live in a totalitarian country.'” One doesn’t even have to live in a blow-‘em-up-good video game.

Oh, Canada.

Oh, Canada.

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