OTTAWA - Today is Day 31 of my indefinite hunger strike against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new draconian crime law, deceptively christened “Safe Streets and Communities Act”, formerly crime Bill C10. I’m an Occupy Ottawa activist and progressive political blogger. I started my hunger strike on March 14. I have lost 21 pounds since I started the peaceful protest. I want to thank all of you around Canada and the world for your continuing support. Please be assured that my life is not in danger.
My biggest concern at the moment is that the Parliament of Canada is yet to respond to my five demands. I communicated my demands to all MPs and senators on March 27. I have received generic acknowledgements from a few MPs, and one eye-opening response from a Liberal senator.
I’m worried that Parliament’s unresponsiveness replicates the anti-democratic tactics the Conservatives employed during the Bill C10 debate. The Conservatives shut out the progressive voice of ordinary Canadians, elected representatives and professionals who offered options to the harsh provisions of the backward-looking bill. I fear that this tyranny of silence will become the new normal in Canada under Harper. It wears down progressive opponents of ideology-based official policy, and discourages Canadians from engaging and questioning. It is cancerous to our democracy.
I have no choice but to escalate the hunger strike when MPs return to the Hill on April 24. I will continue the peaceful act of civil disobedience until all the demands are met. The demands are:
- The Parliament of Canada should repeal the Safe Streets and Communities Act in its entirety.
- Former Ottawa Police chief and newly-appointed Senator, Vernon White, should immediately resign.
- 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 aboriginal women and girls.
- The House of Commons should immediately institute measures to improve accountability and transparency.
- Harper and Conservatives must immediately stop their war on Canadians and Canadian democracy.
I urge the Parliament of Canada to give the Safe Streets and Communities Act the real second sober thought it desperately deserves, and repeal it immediately.
This law has no place in a real democracy. It is the centerpiece of Harper effort to shake up Canadian society and impose a right-wing worldview and oppressive petro-state. 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. 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”.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act would not have passed had Parliament upheld the sanctity of our democratic and parliamentary institutions, traditions and values. Harper used his acquiescing majorities in the House of Commons and senate to pass the bill without any substantial debate. This “rush job” deliberately sought to stifle inconvenient truths about the backward-looking law, which include:
- The law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly: the right to equal protection before the law; the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment; the right to liberty; and the rights of Canadians convicted overseas.
- The law weakens and undermines the Canadian judiciary.
- The law’s sweeping changes to Canada’s youth justice system forces us all to cannibalize the future by victimizing and punishing young and first time offenders with stiffer and mandatory minimum sentences. The changes will transform our youth into hardened criminals, instead of rehabilitating and reintegrating them into society. Even the victims of crime whom the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime agenda seeks to protect will not be safe.
- The law will divide Canadian society and erode the following Canadian values: compassion, respect for fundamental rights, inclusion, diversity and fairness. Already, the Conservatives routinely stalk the public’s irrational fear of terrorists, radicals, people who look different, criminals, pedophiles and foreigners. They seek to create a society that is cowed, uncritical, fearful, divided and susceptible to propaganda. They’re trying to force us into a state of permanent fear; a place from where we’ll clamor for protection from the state. Fear and terror create an intellectual and moral void. It disarms society of its power to question. And the moment the state takes away civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism or crime, the terrorists and criminals have won without shedding a single drop of sweat.
- There is an implicit yet undeniable racism embedded in the law. America’s “New Jim Craw” is coming to Canada. The majority of those who will face tougher sentences and violation of civil liberties are from historically disadvantaged racialized groups that are already over-represented in our prison system: blacks and aboriginals. Aboriginals constitute 4 per cent of the Canadian population, but up to 22 per cent of the country’s prison population. Canada experienced a 50 per cent increase of black inmates in the last 10 years. Most of the inmates are incarcerated for crimes rooted in poverty, economic inequality and historical prejudice.
- The law will introduce the so-called “war on drugs”, which has devastated the US, Brazil and Mexico.
- The law will create a prison industrial complex in Canada. The GEO Group Inc., a major player in the global private correctional services, lobbied for the new law. The company has profited from 9/11, the economic meltdown and recent anti-immigrant crackdowns in the US. It has profited from privatized corrections and detention operations in Australia, UK and South Africa, where it is also connected with the African country’s unveiling massive prison privatization efforts. In the late 1990s, GEO was involved with Australia’s notorious Woomera Immigration Detention Center, once described by UN officials as a “great human tragedy” and likened to a “Nazi concentration camp”.
- The law will not just cost Canadian provinces and taxpayers at least $19 billion to implement. It will also impose a huge financial burden on future generations.
This is not democracy.
My conscience and lived experience has compelled me to engage in this act of civil disobedience and resist our elected dictator, Stephen Harper. The hunger strike is a last stand on behalf of the progressive voice that the Conservatives showed nothing but disdain for during the making of the law. And yet, I’m demanding only the minimum of what Canadians should rightly be demanding right now. Harper’s undemocratic actions – from proroguing parliament in 2008 and 2009, through last year’s contempt of parliament, and the potentially-stolen May2011 federal election, to propaganda and draconian bills and laws – are impeachable.
Canadians must fight back against the Safe Streets and Communities Act and Harper’s assault on our democracy. We must push back by any peaceful and democratic means necessary. We must constantly remind ourselves that an injustice visited upon a single Canadian or community is an injustice visited upon all of us. We must insist on united and caring communities that encourage all to set aside differences and prescribed labels.
We must come together and build a society that nurture hope, instead of extinguishing it, a society based on these core Canadian values: compassion, understanding, inclusion, diversity, fairness, accommodation of difference, democratic governance, and respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law. Therein lies our collective security, not in the Safe Streets and Communities Act.