With Bill C-44, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorism Act”, Harper seeks to increase the authority of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to spy on Canadians and foreigners abroad, and to share information with foreign agencies – although that might expose innocent people to imprisonment and torture, as happened in the infamous case of Maher Arar.
In addition, the government proposes to give blanket anonymity to CSIS informants whose testimony federal prosecutors want to use as evidence, even though it would make it harder for accused people to defend themselves in court.
This is just the tip of the ice berg. Conservative Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney told Radio-Canada that the government may make it easier to arrest and detain people without charging them.
What’s next, making it illegal to support governments on a list of regimes labelled ‘state terrorist’ by Ottawa or Washington – like those in Gaza, Iran, Venezuela or Cuba?
Sadly, the assault on civil liberities is all too familiar to Canadians.
In October 1970 the Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. It suspended basic freedoms of speech, press and assembly after members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial cabinet minister, who was later murdered. Trudeau claimed that Canada faced “an apprehended insurrection”. The claim was proven false. And it also emerged that the RCMP had infiltrated the FLQ and pushed for violent actions.
The repressive measures implemented by the state, including the military occupation of Quebec and the arrest and detention of over 500 labour, political and cultural personalities who were never charged with an offense, backfired big time. The ugly sweep contributed to the 1976 election of the first pro-independence government in Quebec.
Unlike Pierre Trudeau (whose son Justin now leads the federal Liberal Party), Harper didn’t wait for an excuse to bring down the hammer. His Bill C-24, the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”, enables the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens – like those who demonstrate support for a foreign power Ottawa doesn’t like.
And in a related move designed to undermine social solidarity, the Tory regime has restricted the ability of refugee claimants to access social assistance. That followed its earlier decision to limit refugee claimants’ resort to universal, public health care.
The fact that the latest exclusionary step was buried in a government omnibus budget bill, containing hundreds of pages of unrelated measures, says a great deal about Harper’s modus operandi, and about the growing trend of capitalist rule that must be confronted and defeated.
Harper used prorogation in 2007, but subsequent moves to prorogue in 2008 and 2010 drew the most fire. In 2008, Harper’s minority government used the tactic to prevent the combined opposition from removing him and forming a coalition government. He prorogued again in 2010 in the midst of a controversy over the Canadian Force’s mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, and just prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver.
Before the summer break this year, Harper faced daily criticism in the House of Commons over the ongoing scandal involving the expenses of senators, including three Conservatives he had appointed.
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair accused Harper of shutting down Parliament to evade accountability and to avoid questions on the Senate.
“People aren’t going to be fooled. This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement. Stephen Harper refuses to answer legitimate questions from the public,” the NDP leader said.
Senate reform legislation is just one of several bills that will die on the order paper with prorogation. The government is awaiting a Supreme Court opinion on Senate reform that could come in Fall 2013. The NDP is presently conducting a commendable cross-country campaign to abolish the Senate.
Prorogation would not affect the Auditor General’s review of Senate expenses. However, the recommendations of a Senate report concerning Senator Pamela Wallin’s expense claims would be on hold until they are adopted by the full Senate. That can’t happen while Parliament is prorogued.
Other affected legislation includes changes to the Canada Elections Act to establish new rules for political loans, and a bill to change parole rules for offenders found not criminally responsible for their actions.
However, these bills can be reintroduced at their most recent stage in the House of Commons.
A private member’s bill that would require labour unions to publish detailed financial information, known as Bill C-377, would be restored to third reading, the last stage completed by the House of Commons.
The bill, strongly opposed by the Canadian Labour Congress and its union affiliates, had been the subject of heated debate in the Senate, where it was amended and sent back to the House of Commons. But prorogation would wipe the slate clean as far as the Senate deliberations are concerned, according to the Library of Parliament.
“Thus, the bill would be sent back to the Senate in the same state it had been when it was passed at third reading by the House in December 2012, prior to the Senate amendment,” the library said in an email to The Canadian Press.
“The Senate would then begin the process of considering the bill anew; the Senate may vote to pass the bill unamended, amend the bill in precisely the same way it had been amended before, or introduce entirely new amendments.”
Harper’s frequent use of prorogation does more than add an arcane word to everyday political jargon; it shrinks and withers bourgeois democracy so its henchmen can serve more ruthlessly the capitalist austerity agenda. This is what some call the new authoritarianism – replete with increasing state surveillance of the population, curtailment of the right to strike, arbitrary police beatings and detentions, expulsion of refugees, and strident promotion of the military. It must be stopped – not just the P word, not just Harper, but the system that drives this descent into a living hell for working people.
– BW, with notes compiled from Wikipedia.
Right wing governments in Canada seem to be on the ropes.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime is mired in scandals, the latest centred on a $90,000 payoff by his former chief of staff to cover-up misappropriation of funds by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy. Three Tory Senators accused of padding their expense claims now sit outside the Tory caucus as ‘independents’ while the RCMP investigates.
Toronto’s ‘stop the gravy train’ Mayor Rob Ford claims he doesn’t use crack cocaine. But two Toronto Star reporters, and the owner of U.S. web site Gawker, swear they saw hizzonner in a video sucking the smokey contents of a crack pipe. Five staffers quit the Mayor’s office in the two weeks after the news broke. Ford insists there is no such video, but according to inside sources, he confided to his staff that he knew the location of the hidden video. And one of the people pictured partying with Ford was found by police dead of gun shot wounds.
Montreal’s mayor, Gérald Tremblay, resigned in early November in the midst of an eyebrow-raising inquiry that revealed widespread corruption among city officials, contractors and members of organized crime. Just a few days later, Gilles Vaillancourt, the head of Quebec’s third-largest city, Laval, quit in the same context.
The Ontario minority Liberal government was rocked by revelations that it spent nearly $1 Billion to cancel the construction of unpopular gas plants west of Toronto, just to save Liberal seats in the Fall 2011 provincial election. After months of denial, and failure by former Premier Dalton McGuinty to release thousands of pages of incriminating evidence, new Premier Kathryn Wynne apologized for the wasteful fiasco.
Media pundits call it a right wing meltdown. It’s entertaining. It sells papers. In the case of Toronto, there was even a side benefit — it helped to kill a harmful downtown mega-casino project. But, looking at the big picture, scandal is no cure for austerity. Severe cutbacks and attacks on employment insurance, pensions, public services, environmental protection, scientific information-gathering and civil liberties continue apace. The fact is, such measures are integral to the corporate agenda in force, regardless the political stripe of the ruling party.
The situation in Toronto further illustrates the deeper problem. Liberals and social democrats, the main city council opposition to Ford’s wilting ultra-right wing, are chomping at the bit. They yearn to introduce new gas and sales taxes. They promote service fees, parking levies and road tolls to fund rapid transit projects urgently needed to relieve traffic gridlock.
Instead of proposing to tax big business, giant banks, wealthy developers, rich property owners and untaxed religious institutions, Ford’s opposition and the business media agitate for regressive taxes (the kind not based on ability to pay), which hit workers, seniors, students and the poor the hardest.
All of which goes to show what the real problem is. It’s the system. It matters little which eccentric leader, or authoritarian big wig, or capitalist party happens to be at the top.
Scandals are just a sign of divisions in the ruling class. They can be interesting, even mildly satisfying when they (however temporarily) humble the arrogant.
But scandal mongering is no substitute for mass action. Working class political action is what’s needed now to stop labour concessions, to reverse social cuts, to restore and extend democratic rights – in short, to win a Workers’ Agenda.