Canada: Strong and Free or Scared and Silent?

05/07/2013 05:25 EDT | Updated 05/07/2013 05:25 EDT
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Yesterday in the House of Commons, Jack Harris, Opposition Defence critic (NDP) said, "Last Friday was International Press Freedom Day and on that day, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence described journalist, Terry Milewski, as 'an old Trotskyite'."

In reply, Leon Alexander, the Parliamentary Secretary, did not deny making the statement and said, "There hasn't been any objection and you can probably see why."

Milewski was accused by the Harper government of getting the facts wrong on its arctic offshore patrol ship project, which according to Milewski, is costing more for Canada to design than other countries to build.

Is it odd that we have gone from being a nation that respects the impartiality of the press to one in which government has no qualms about personally bashing senior journalists when they deliver unfavorable news?

Or do the comments, on the part of Alexander, just illustrate a lack of respect not only for the press but for anyone else the government determines is in its way?

After all, this is the government whose House leader, Peter Van Loan, last December, stormed across the floor of the House of Commons to confront his opposition counterpart, Nathan Cullen (NDP), following the end of a debate, which was won by the government. Loan was described as "waving his finger and speaking in a heated manner." Loan's behavior was, to say the least, outside Canadian Parliamentary tradition.

Government leaders take note. You serve as an example.

The use of bullying and aggression by your words, your behavior in the House, your policies both here at home and on the world stage do not make Canada or the rest of the world a better place.

It will not help our youth battle the harmful effects of bullying online and at school. It will not bring back 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, whose story, rightfully so, is said to sicken our Prime Minister.

It will not help us on the world stage and bring peace to the Middle East. Siding on the part of naked aggression, as the Harper government has done by acknowledging Canadian support of the very recent Israeli airstrikes on Syria while the country suffers a brutal civil war, will not make the region safer. Nor will it make Canada safer.

Is the Harper government so myopic that it can't see how respect and fairness, expressed in words, behavior and policies, can promote openness, engagement and a better society both here at home and abroad?


After all, it, along with Justin Trudeaus' Liberals, recently passed The Act to Combat Terrorism (Bill S7), which "marked the return of controversial post-9/11 anti-terrorism legislation -- granting authorities "exceptional" abilities to detain Canadians, preemptively, for three days without charge, and imprisoning anyone for up to a year who refuses to testify before new "investigative hearings." The NDP Opposition, who fought the bill, calls the legislation a mandate for "guilt by association."

It is the same legislation which had been enacted in 2002, in response to 9/11.

The same climate of fear and disregard for human rights that enacted it, also threw innocent Canadians, like Abdullah Amalki and Maher Arar into a Syrian prison, in 2002, to be tortured.

Why are we going backwards?

The legislation until April 25th of this year had not been in effect for six years.

And in the meantime, Canadian law enforcement, through outreach programs, gained the trust of Canada's Muslim community leaders.

So when an Imam in Ontario was convinced that one of his congregants, Raed Jaser, sounded like an extremist and worried that Jaser could be plotting violence, he told RCMP. The Imam was right. The man and others were allegedly planning to derail a Via Rail train.

The tip by the Imam led to Jaser's arrest along with Montrealer, Chiheb Essaghaier.

Thousands of lives were probably saved.

(It is unfortunate that in the US, where anti-terror legislation has remained in effect since 9/11, that no such tips from mosques were reported to have been received by the FBI on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whom only months before the Boston bombing, heckled an Imam at Friday prayers for praising Martin Luther King Jr.. Tsarnaev was thrown out of the congregation.)

So what kind of Canada do we want?

One where we stand strong and free? Or one where we lie scared and silent?

After all, remember the fate of Trotsky. Lenin sent him into exile for his opposition and he died with an ice pick in his head.

Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index 2013