At 12:01 am on Wednesday, March 14, I embarked on an indefinite hunger strike whose demand is: the Parliament of Canada immediately repeal the new Safe Streets and Communities Act (omnibus crime Bill C-10). Earlier, I had appealed to the Governor General of Canada, The Right Honourable David Johnston, to use the Crown’s reserve powers to either withhold or reserve Royal Assent to Bill C-10. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s tyrannical will prevailed, just as it did when the Conservative majorities in the House of Commons and Senate brushed aside the diverse input of the opposition, experts and victims and passed crime Bill C-10. The bill reportedly received royal assent Tuesday afternoon. I will now continue the hunger strike until the Act is repealed in its entirety.
I am an activist, progressive political blogger and Permanent Resident of Canada. Canada embraced me as a political refugee from Zimbabwe in 2003.
Honorable MP, the inconvenient truth about Harper’s Canada is that we’re already living our own Nixonian moment. All kinds of dirty tricks, including Gobbels-style propaganda, McCarthyism and cold-war-style red–baiting, are party of the political game. Additionally, the Conservatives stand accused of tampering with the May 2011 federal election. This is not democracy.”
The Conservatives are at war with Canadians. Since Harper came to power in 2006, our democracy has been hurtling toward the Intensive Care Unit. He has daily sought our democratic institutions with heat-seeking missiles. He prorogued Parliament twice, in 2008 and 2009. Harper is the first prime minister to be found in contempt of parliament. The list is endless.
Related: 10 reasons to oppose Bill C-10
The Safe Streets and Communities Act is the foremost of the Conservatives’ draconian agenda and posturing. Our unduly elected prime minister, seeks to radically engineer Canadian society – socially and politically – to impose an insidious, divisive, pro-punishment, poverty-ignoring and anti-minority right-wing worldview. The Act will expand state power, weaken the judiciary, divide society, take away Canadians’ rights and freedoms, create resentment of the “other”, and punish the weak and marginalized. Harper’s new Canada will obliterate these Canadian values: compassion, multiculturalism, inclusion, diversity, fairness, democratic governance, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law, and accommodation of difference.
Furthermore, the Act was birthed in an environment of tyranny where all Canadians were treated as potential enemies of the state. Dissenters, aboriginal groups, activists and civil society organizations opposed to official policy or dedicated to issues are targeted, demonized, marginalized, dehumanized and labeled “enemies of the state”. In the House of Commons, the Official Opposition is accused of being “anti-Canada”. Gun-control advocates are compared to Nazis. Opponents of the long gun registry are likened to Adolf Hitler. MPs opposed to the Conservatives’ new online surveillance bill are “with the child pornographers”.
A few weeks ago, we learned that the Harper government supports torture as a way to gather intelligence. Potential targets will include Canadians. The Conservatives new anti-terrorism strategy labels Canadians dedicated to causes such as animal rights, environmentalism and anti-capitalism “issue-based terrorists”, implacable adversaries to be monitored and battled.
To cap the Conservatives’ war on Canadians, now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment officers on Parliament Hill will start carrying the rapid-and-accurate-fire Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns as “secondary weapons” to their standard-issue semi-automatic 9mm pistols. Fear and terror, creates an intellectual and moral void. It disarms society of its power to question.
We do not discuss race as much as we should and the Conservatives seem take full advantage to practice a covert racism. I hope I’m wrong. But the Act will send to jail more racialized minorities, especially Aboriginals, who are already over-represented in our jails. During Bill C-10 hearings in the House of Commons and Senate, First Nations leaders crawled before our lawmakers and begged them to understand that the Act would “punish” First Nations communities, most of which already live under 4th World and colonialism conditions. It would perpetuate the legacy of residential schools, they said. But the Conservatives showed these voices the political middle finger.
Harper is slowly handing Canada over to corporations which: ravage our environment and First Nations communities, exploit and abuse Canadian workers, demand more and more tax cuts, and hoard billions of dollars in profits without creating jobs. In the search for markets for these corporations, the Conservatives are negating our moral fabric and hard earned values. Recently, Harper crawled before authoritarian China, the new colonizer, without questioning the country’s appalling human right record.
Honorable MP, on November 23, 2011, I tasted the wrath of the Canada that the Safe Streets and Communities Act proposes. I was forcibly removed from Confederation Park as one of the eight unarmed Occupy Ottawa protesters peacefully resisting the politically-motivated eviction carried out by the Ottawa Police. The 100 to 150 officers sent in the hours following midnight applied excessive and unnecessary force. I was subjected to cruel and unusual treatment. The police hurt my back, legs and left arm. I ended up in hospital and still suffer physical pain because of their actions. Senator Vernon White was in charge of the Ottawa Police that morning, and that’s why I’m demanding his resignation. I’ve nothing personal against the Senator as a fellow human being, but that morning, a failure of judgment and Canadian leadership occurred. I strongly question the Senator’s judgment in a situation that demanded the utmost in sobriety and a quick glance at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Why did the four police officers who carried me to the makeshift detention centre drop me three times during the trip? Why was I treated differently than my two white colleagues? One was also carried by police officers but was not hurt. The other was driven to the centre in a police cruiser. At the centre why did the officers drop me to the floor and leave me lying my stomach, a position that further acerbated my injured back and arm? Why did they ignore my plea for immediate medical attention?
This is not what democracy looks like. It’s and an inverted totalitarianism presided over by a tyrannical petro-prime minister. No other Canadian citizen or resident should have to go through what I went through on the morning of November 23, and the pain I live with now.
I arrived at the decision to protest after months of agonizing soul-searching. My conscience and lived experience has compelled me to resist our elected dictator, Stephen Harper. At the personal level, my hunger strike is an act of civil disobedience. It is also a last stand on behalf of the progressive voice that the Conservatives showed nothing but disdain for during the making of the Act.
I’ll carry out the peaceful action in my apartment here in Ottawa, and will undertake public actions, including regular visits to Parliament Hill. I humbly submit the following demands:
1. The Parliament of Canada should repeal the Safe Streets and Communities Act in its entirety.
2. Former Ottawa Police chief and newly-appointed Senator, Vernon White, should immediately resign.
3. The federal government should make a commitment to invest 100 times the cost of monitoring and dismantling Occupy encampments across Canada last fall to institute a national inquiry into the case of 600+ missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
4. The House of Commons should immediately institute measures to improve accountability and transparency. The measures should include limitations on the governing party’s power to a) manipulate Standing Orders; b) evade opposition scrutiny; c) shut down debate d) silence critics; and e) run committees behind closed doors and prevent Canadians from participating.
5. The Conservative government must immediately stop its campaign against Canadians and Canadian democracy. This campaign currently manifests through a) the criminalization of dissent; b) promotion of a divisive agenda and attitude; c) whipping up of unnecessary moral panic; and d) using incendiary labels to stifle debate and criticism on its actions.
On May 2, 2011, Canada experienced a thing of extraordinary beauty. The election validated our multiculturalism both in fact and its official commitment. Canadians extracted our politics from the octopus grip of the privileged class, and delivered them into the progressive arms of our youth, women and minorities. They set Canada on a path to a politics that embraces our diversity. That day, 39,9 percent of the Canadian electorate voted Conservative majority to continue on that path and to serve all Canadians. But the Conservatives interpreted their electoral mandate as an opportunity to implement a grant project of both social engineering and political engineering to shake up our institutions, traditions and value systems.
But even more shameful is the fact that the Act now carries the preamble: NOW, THEREFORE, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows. In essence, Queen Elizabeth II’s esteemed name, and the Great Seal of Canada, is now appended to a law that will inflict a great injustice on Canadians.
I sincerely believe that Her Majesty would disagree with the tyrannical and undemocratic manner which accompanied the making of the Act. From the first reading of Bill C-10 in the House of Commons, through to the final vote in both houses, a one-party-state tyrannical abuse of Canadian parliamentary process and democratic practice prevailed. The process was a triumph of spin over substance and deliberative democracy. Rather than explaining the straight facts to Canadians, the Harper government took a propaganda approach. It showed neither respected nor accommodated difference as is required in a democracy. At every turn, opposition MPs, elected by 60% of Canadians, and expert witnesses who attempted to input into the bills’ 208 clauses and hundreds of amendments, were shown the political middle finger.
In the Senate, senators mounted an expensive, taxpayer-funded charade; they invited hundreds of witnesses and collected mountains of evidence, but made only a few terrorism-related changes to crime Bill C-10. Our senators chose to abandon their role as providers of the sober second thought that this bill deserved. They simply rubberstamped it.
Minimum sentences undermine our court system; they send the wrong message to society. They give the impression that our courts and judges don’t know how to do their jobs. Furthermore, the Act will cost Canadian taxpayers an estimated $15 billion. Surely, how can we agree to partake in the daylight robbery our education, healthcare and other social services to finance a law that will oppress us all and turn our jails into training schools for hardcore criminals?
Both crime Bill C-10 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act are the epitome of state abuse of power, the law and resources. We’re being called upon to defend Canadian democracy at its greatest hour of need. Democracy should never yield to tyranny. Indeed, it never has, never will.
Honorable MP, now is the hour to build a society that nurtures hope instead of extinguishing it. It’s a moment to remind ourselves that an injustice visited on a single Canadian or community, is an injustice visited on all of us. We must insist on a united and caring Canada that without apology encourages all to set aside differences and prescribed labels, and come together to create a strong national identity based on these Canadian values: compassion, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law, multiculturalism, inclusion, diversity, fairness, democratic governance and accommodation of difference.
Therein, not the Safe Streets and Communities Act, lies our collective security.
This is the Canada I experienced the day I washed up on Canada’s shores as a political refugee from Zimbabwe in the summer of 2003. The violence I’d experienced and witnessed in the Southern African country had mutilated me. But Canada embraced, nursed and healed me. Canada restored that which Zimbabwe – and the US denied me – dignity.
Canada believed in me as an equal member of the human race, and encouraged me to unleash my passions in the service of my adopted country. In 2004, I volunteered for the late NDP leader Jack Layton’s successful run for Parliamentary office. Over the years, I’ve carved a unique Canadian identity as a globally-conscious activism-oriented progressive political blogger, with a passion for Canadian federal politics, diversity, social issues and movements, progressive politics and Canadian foreign policy. I contributed to Canada’s contribution to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic through my seven years of loyal service to the Canada Africa Partnership on AIDS (CAP AIDS), a CIDA-funded registered Canadian charity that supports HIV/AIDS work in Africa.
But I’ve also tasted the wrath of a Canada hostile to both accountability and the “other”. In December, 2003, I signed up to volunteer for CAP AIDS. By April 2008, I’d become the charity’s executive director and sole employee, working a punishing 60-80 hours a week. In May, 2010, I attempted to pursue accountability for part of the more than $130 000 in Canadians’ donations the charity misused. The board of the charity harassed me and tossed me under the bus. It blocked my access to employment insurance and torpedoed my support systems as a new immigrant. I lost most of what I’d worked for all these years and ended up on the streets of Toronto.
From June 15 to June 23, I walked almost 400 km from Toronto to Ottawa in protest. I demanded that the charity account for the donations received as required under the Income Tax Act. But I learned that when those of us on the margins of society challenge the wrongdoings of the privileged, it takes more than a 400km solitary walk to be heard.
In Ottawa, I ended up on the streets. From June 23 to October 14, 2011, I slept in a crevice at Laurier and Bank Street. I ate from soup kitchens. I bathed and did my laundry on the Ottawa River. On October 15, 2011, Occupy Ottawa showed up in town and rescued me from the streets. The movement gave me a tent, a family and a platform to discuss, in the spirit of equality and deliberative democracy, the issues of our time. The movement helped me to overcome my immigrant innocence, and stand up for Canada and her unparalleled values.
Honorable MP, my indefinite hunger strike is a call on you, our elected representative, to side with and defend Canadians against Stephen Harper. I’m demanding only the minimum of what Canadians should rightly be demanding of their leaders right now. Canada today faces a situation that calls on all to reign in an authoritarian petro-prime minister who has become a serious threat to both our parliamentary democracy and to Canadians. Now is the hour for Canadian leadership, a return by parliament to sanity and respect for our democratic and legislative processes. It’s the hour for our MPs to listen to and value the concerns of all Canadians.
I do not underestimate the odds I face. I’m a self-identified anti-capitalism activist in a moment the distinction between terrorist and legitimate protester is more than more than ever before blurred in Canada. Nevertheless, I’ll fight for a Canada I believe in.
Honorable MP, I leave you with the words of Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, whose voice, like many others, was ignored during the crime Bill C-10 hearings: “Are we going to be a compassionate Canada and look out for one another, or are we going to criminalize one another and send each other to jail? That’s the fundamental question that has to be answered.”
We must love and look after each other.
The Canadian Progressive recommends:
- Obert Madondo’s Bill C-10 hunger strike: Letter to Governor General of Canada
- Drug Policy as Race Policy: Best Seller Galvanizes the Debate
- What worries critics about omnibus crime bill
- Obert Madondo’s Canada Bill C-10 Hunger Strike: Day 2 Update
- Occupy Ottawa to protest Crime Bill C-10 on Parliament Hill
- Obert Madondo’s Indefinite Crime Bill C-10 Hunger Strike
- Ottawa man to go on hunger strike to protest Bill C-10
- Crime Bill C-10: Jack Harris’ Last Stand Against Stephen Harper
- Controversial crime bill to cost Canadians $19 billion: study
- C-10 passes in the Senate: Why the Conservatives’ crime bill is wrong for Canada