Harper transforming Canada into a nation of suspects & self-censors

By Michael Harris, iPolitics

IToldHarper1Thing_large Illustration by Franke James

As Stephen Harper transforms Canada into a nation of suspects and self-censors while holding a match to the Charter of Rights, the Conservative party robots are blowing their circuits coming up with justifications for Bill C-51.

Their excuses have gone from the lame to the ludicrous. Justice Minister Peter MacKay proclaimed that our allies are doing it, so we are too. (Pssst, Petey, did you hear that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently advocated the beheading of disloyal Arab Israelis? Israel is our ally, right? Thoughts? Should we be grinding the blade for Pat Martin?)

And then Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney declared that “the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers, it began with words.”

Two things come to mind. First, Blaney obviously has never read a history of the Holocaust. If he had, he never would have compared Canada’s minuscule terror problem with one of the greatest crimes against humanity in all of our bloodstained history.

Second, Jewish supporters of the CPC should reconsider their allegiance to a party that exploits their people’s devastating experience in Nazi-occupied Europe to advance a dubious political agenda in a country where ISIS will never be seen. Someone should tell Jason Kenney and his communications commandos that Islamic State has Toyotas, not Tornados. Ever try invading North America from the Middle East in a pick-up truck?

But my favourite line in defence of Bill C-51 came from LaVar Payne. He’s the Conservative MP from Medicine Hat who apparently needs a little medicine. He famously wondered in committee why anyone who was not a terrorist would be against anti-terror legislation like C-51. He proceeded to tell the head of Greenpeace, whose reasoned criticisms of the bill prompted his outburst, that he now wondered whether her group was a national security threat. You get the picture: all hat, no cattle.

Now this same LaVar Payne says that criticisms of sections of Bill C-51 dealing with information-sharing amount to “conspiracy theories.” You know, the stuff of paranoid pinkos weaned on the X-Files.

Payne would have Canadians believe that government would never use its new powers under C-51 against anyone but terrorists. It wants to stop the bad guys, not the dissenters. And there are checks and balances and oversight: there is SIRC, there are judges and thresholds, there are ethical walls, codes of conduct, professional standards … blah, blah, blah. Unhappily for those who get paid to lie for a living, there is also Edward Snowden.

How, I wonder, does Payne explain the cautionary tale, and utter disgrace, of CSIS pimping for the oil industry. Bad enough that Canada’s spooks are spying on native protestors and environmentalists, without a clear legal basis, because they oppose pipelines. But to share intelligence with the petroleum industry, including copies of notes and even recordings, is indefensible.

It’s just another reminder that, under this government, no agency can be trusted.

Which brings me to the saga of Franke James.

It’s a parable about government’s deep tendency toward deception and abuse of power. Franke is a world-famous Canadian artist, author and environmentalist. Back in 2011, she was planning a travelling exhibit of her work in Europe — a show aimed at providing climate-change education.


She even got $5,000 in funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Franke also had the support of Trade Commissioner Candice Rice. The plan was to hold a press conference at local Canadian embassies in the various European countries she was visiting. The artist was proposing to rent the public spaces there for her receptions.

Then it all went south. Franke was refused permission to talk about her exhibit in Canadian embassies. The artist complained to Canada’s Information Commissioner. Suzanne Legault eventually came up with an outline of what had happened.

After being approved for funding by DFAIT’s Planning, Advocacy and Innovation department, Franke had been done in by the same ministry’s Climate Change Office. Canada’s ambassador to the Baltic states, Scott Heatherington, delivered the rejection in writing on behalf of the government to Trade Commissioner Rice.

In part, the ambassador said “We did not feel comfortable supporting this particular initiative …”

The next part of the sentence was blacked out, but the ambassador did invite Rice to visit Franke’s website: Fat Cat Canada’s Giant Litter Box. No, it was not about Toronto. It was a satirical reference to the tarsands.

Interestingly, DFAIT used s.15(1) to redact the full content of Ambassador Heatherington’s rejection of Franke’s request. That is the section that deals with high level security exemptions. In Franke’s case, DFAIT claimed that if their past discussions about her art show became public, there would be “injury to the conduct of Canada’s international affairs.”

The test for invoking the section is supposed to be high. DFAIT had to prove that the “evidence of harm must be detailed, convincing and describe a direct causation between disclosure and harm.”

Were Franke’s marvellous posters really the art world’s equivalent of Reefer Madness? After one look at her work, would viewers become drug addicts, prostitutes or join the NDP? Would Canada go to pot if it became public why the Harper government had really killed her travelling climate change art tour — after partially financing it?

Ultimately, Foreign Affairs could not make that case. And that meant that the full version of Ambassador Heatherington’s explanation for turning down Franke’s proposals was finally handed over. Here is the complete text of the key sentence in his letter to Trade Commissioner Rice that originally had been partially blacked out: “… I have to say that we do not feel comfortable supporting this particular initiative due to controversial views on energy issues, particularly oil sands …”

The ambassador is clearly not a wordsmith. Franke James’ views on energy issues, and in particular the tarsands, were not “controversial” at all. If anything, it’s Harper’s take — and that of the government he runs — that is controversial, given the climate change science, and the views of most science-driven governments around the world.

Franke James was not sunk by Foreign Affairs for being controversial, but for “wrong-thinking,” a high crime in the deadly Harper orthodoxy that Canada has become. If the existing legislation can turn an artist into a threat, just imagine what could happen under C-51.

I’m thinking Neil Young will be pretty much done.

“Harper and his ideologue minions reason enough to fear C-51” by Michael Harris. Reposted with permission.

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.

What is Harper afraid of?


Related Links

Do Not Think

Do Not Think about Climate Change: Your views may be a threat to Canada’s security. s. 15 (1)

“The reason I was censored should make all Canadians angry”
Book 2013: Banned on the Hill: a true story about dirty oil and government censorship.
Video 2011: Banned on the Hill (and in Europe!)
Art show 2011: Victory! Banned on the Hill Opening in Ottawa
Media Campaign: Crowdfunding Puts Do Not Talk Posters Up in Ottawa, Calgary and Halifax. Banned on the Hill’s Indiegogo Updates 2013- 2014
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