Criminalizing Conscience

Perhaps in retrospect we’ll appreciate the sinister humour in the Harper government’s response to global warming of sending a chill throughout the activist community, but at present the tactic is too ominous for anything but gravest concern.

Security documents released in January show both the RCMP and CSIS now classifies any Canadian who protests against the resource-based economy, especially oil and gas production, as a national threat, describing such actions as “a form of attack”. Activism is now officially conflated with terrorism.

Since recent reports find there are virtually no domestic terrorist threats in Canada, no pretence exists to warrant such over-reaching authority–except for its intended effect of chilling dissent and protecting big oil from public scrutiny.

With this broadening of terrorism’s definition to include non-violent protest, have come reflexive invocations of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But commentators who rush to this rhetorical high ground miss the point that neither man would be arrested in Canada, for the simple reason–made clear in Canada’s Counter-terrorism Strategy–of being denied entry at the border.

The pretext of pre-emption has already been used to infiltrate a diverse mix of environmental groups, despite their public insistence of peaceful advocacy. Which raises the question of exactly which groups qualify for this northward creep of American-style surveillance and harassment. The definition is purposefully vague enough to ensnare community organizers, service groups, journalists, artists, students…

So it is a blunt tool, but with less than 40 per cent of votes cast in favour of the Harper government in 2011, it’s a tool wielded with necessarily delicate hands. Since the public would not tolerate the wholesale round-up of peaceful organizers, the government will instead foster an illusion of restraint and fair-mindedness from within a more pernicious policy of selective persecution. A prejudiced application of power that targets persons who are an annoyance to the government, or who threaten to marshal disparate causes into a popular movement. In short, the government will reserve the right to snuff-out protest for the very moment that protest becomes effective.

Grave concern, indeed.

There is another moment looming in the not too distant future. Think of it as a point on a graph. Two lines are escalating in tandem towards it: the worsening problems of climate change, and the persistent whittling of civil liberties. The two lines converge at the point on the graph when the climate is at its worst, and we are at our weakest. Unless of course, we work now to change course.


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