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Everything’s Harper: C-51 and the unmaking of Canada

Canadian Politics

Illustration by Hugh D’Andrade

Stephen Harper’s not-so-benign dictatorship is picking up speed. Bill C-51 is merely the latest sprint toward the Rule of Steve.

Here we have a piece of legislation that advances the prime minister’s favourite project: undermining the hated Charter of Rights that circumscribes his power and remains a monument to his most hated rival — Pierre Trudeau.

Which is why this PM despises the Supreme Court of Canada, why he continues to bombard it with unconstitutional legislation and provokes personal confrontation with judges. It’s the SCC and not the PM that’s charged with the momentous task of interpreting the Charter — and that’s what frosts his socks. If Harper can’t go through the Charter, he’ll tunnel under it until the underpinnings give way.

After this latest piece of “anti-terror” legislation passes, CSIS will join the Canada Revenue Agency as an organization not bound by the Charter. It will be restricted only by the vague words in the legislation that give the hush-hush boys extraordinary powers whenever the economic, social or political security of Canada is at stake.

How would you like to have Stephen Harper interpreting those words? Maybe you’re a union member out on strike, a scientist who wants to speak out, or an environmentalist who chooses to protest a pipeline. Don’t worry, though — it’s all covered by secret warrants. And they are expressly forbidden from killing or raping you.

Even the PM’s most ardent enablers must be choking on their lattes. They have to admit that the government has produced no evidence to justify the draconian measures contained in legislation it will not permit to be amended — unless, that is, they’re gullible enough to accept the government’s hysterical homilies about the battle against evil-doers. These days, Harper sounds like George W. Bush after the third martini.

Harper continues to concoct terror connections in the tragic deaths of two soldiers in Ontario and Quebec, and now people are reporting his confabulation as fact. What they should be doing is demanding a public inquiry to see if the PM’s terror claims are any more accurate than his account of the Wright/Duffy Affair, or the cost of the F-35 program. Whatever happened to ‘trust but verify’?

As thumbnail sketches go, there’s no better definition of Creepy Canada under Harper than this:

“I have always said Stephen Harper won’t be happy until we have been turned into Mississippi with lashings of Texas and Alabama: ignorant, poor and controlled by dingbats.” That was the reaction of a Montrealer responding to an article about the Harper government’s plan to “review” Canadian history. You remember that little venture? Conservative MPs were going to “investigate” the school curriculum with a focus on armed conflicts of the past.

Apart from the chilling prospect of having a committee of Stephen Harper’s Kool-Aid drinkers re-writing the Canadian history curriculum, there was the small issue of jurisdiction. Under the Constitution, education is the business of the provinces, not the federal government.

But Harper Inc. was undeterred; they insisted they would come up with “best practices” for teaching Canada’s history. They also said they’d find ways to improve “access” to our historical collections. Just how closing science libraries and consigning priceless marine collections to landfills accomplished that goal was never explained.

And then there was that little attempt by the Harper government to install high definition cameras and microphones at Canadian airports so that the Canadian Border Service Agency could eavesdrop on Canadian travellers. (Interesting note: Although its agents carry guns, there is no public oversight of CBSA, as there is for CSIS and the RCMP. There should be.)

It’s true that this fascism-friendly policy was withdrawn by the Public Safety minister of the day, but only after a public backlash. Vic Toews had to practise legislatum interruptus — and not for the first time. He was forced to do the same thing with the Harper government’s police state Internet surveillance bill … you know, the one where we were either with Steve or with the child pornographers.

But as C-51 shows, Harper Inc. never gives up. It just circles back and creeps up behind in softer slippers.

Dictatorships, benign and otherwise, are not big on debate — which explains how Harper Inc.’s flight into xenophobia over Muslims and veils took place. Former Immigration minister Jason Kenney banned the niqab at immigration ceremonies by personal fiat. The prohibition was never legislated, never debated — it merely appeared in a departmental operational manual. Kenney must have consulted his omphalos; he certainly didn’t consult Department of Justice lawyers.

One might have thought that a Federal Court decision striking this illegal provision down would have restored the matter to its proper perspective: Wearing a veil at a public citizenship ceremony is any woman’s right in a country where religious freedom is constitutionally protected, especially when she’s willing to establish her identity in private. Not so, said the PM.

Faster than he uses the word “clearly” to describe the mud-puddle of his often mendacious politics, Harper declared that he believed Canadians found the idea of veiled women taking the citizenship oath “offensive.” The PM has no idea, of course, what Canadians think, except that on most issues they are far more tolerant than him. Nor does he care.

But he does know what his base thinks. What he said on the niqab issue was both base and for the base. In a week where Muslims have been shot and stabbed in North America for being Muslim, he opened the door for further bigotry with his xenophobic musings. In classic Harper fashion, he used the bully pulpit to bully, not to appeal to the better angels of peoples’ natures, the way Barack Obama did on the same issue. If he keeps it up, he will yet turn that part of the population that supports him into soccer yobs.

Personally, I think a case can be made that Harper is drowning in his own narcissism. Most people have forgotten how Harper took down all the portraits of previous prime ministers from his party’s lobby room — including paintings of Sir John A. MacDonald and John Diefenbaker. What did he replace them with? Green Party leader Elizabeth May gives us the answer:

“Photos of Stephen Harper in different costumes, in different settings, dressed as a fireman, in Hudson Bay looking for polar bears, meeting the Dalai Lama … even the portrait of the Queen had to have Stephen Harper behind her.”

All Steve, all the time. Being PM is just one hyper-extended selfie. Perhaps that’s why he slandered CBC employees at Radio-Canada in the way he did. While campaigning in Quebec, he told a private radio station host that many people at Radio-Canada “hated” Conservative values. To what Conservative values was he referring? The ones held by Dean Del Mastro, Bruce Carson, Peter Penashue or Dimitri Soudas? The ones that gave us robocalls or the Senate expenses scandal? The ones that serve up omnibus bills and muzzle freedom of speech? Which ones?

The PM has not considered another possibility. Perhaps those Radio-Canada employees merely had questions about his policy or record. Perhaps they just don’t believe in wedge politics, perpetual war, cheating at elections, or duping people with wording. And perhaps that is how Stephen Harper defines ‘hate’ these days: as asking questions, or disagreeing.

If so, Bill C-51 could turn into Canadian democracy’s crown of thorns, and Ottawa our Golgotha.

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his “unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.” His nine books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies. His new book on the Harper majority government, Party of One, is a number one best-seller.

Readers can reach the author at [email protected] Click here to view other columns by Michael Harris.

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