Thursday, July 15, 2010

I've become political again

I'm not a perennial attendee at City Council meetings.  I haven't gone to a meeting held by a political party in 20 years.  Every so often, an issue comes along that penetrates my otherwise thick hide, and I feel compelled to act.  The abrogation of civil rights at the G20 is one of those issues.

In 1992, the last time I was involved in politics, I was chairman of the Yes Committee in London, Ontario.  Our London committee had a membership composed of members of all national political parties represented then in the House of Commons. It's a long story, how I came to be Chairman...I wasn't a member of any political party then.  London voted "Yes", Yes carried across Canada, and we held together as a nation.

Before that, I had been Executive Director of "Together for Canada - London", a national citizen-citizen communication push to address the alienation of Quebecers from the rest of Canada. Joe Clark and Peter Lougheed started it; I admired what they were doing, and volunteered to get a London chapter going.

Before that, it was the (1st) Persian Gulf War.  Once Canada had declared war on Iraq, I worried about Canadians of Iraqi origin in London...would their experience be in any way similar to the experience of Japanese Canadians and German Canadians in WWII?  To be sure it wasn't, I formed the London War Response Committee with friend Dr. Bhooma Bhayana.  Our mission was to facilitate communication between the various most affected groups in our community, addressing whatever issues might arise.  There were many -and absolutely not just for Iraqi families.  Leaders in the City, School Boards, Arab and Jewish organizations, the Muslim Mosque, the Canadian Military, all the mainline Christian denominations, and others (35 in all) each did their best to maintain community harmony, and it worked.

Before that it was Tien An Mien Square, in June of 1989.  I was a magazine publisher then, and a part-time student at The University of Western Ontario.  Seeing that brave, anonymous man step out in front of a tank and stay there...that tipped me over the edge - I had to do something, it felt my duty as a human being.  With a group including Amnesty International, the local chapter of Chinese Canadian National Council, and other UWO students, we organized a rally drawing 2000 people in calling for the killing to stop, supporting the students' human rights.  We were happy we got TV coverage across Canada  and in some other countries of the world.  Again we had all the national parties in Canada participate.  Yves Leger, our U.N representatives, na d Joe Clark, then Foreign Minister, wrote us letters read to the crowd.  Students from Beijing spoke, politicians...a folk musician played Give Peace a Chance.

Before that...The Meech Lake Accord.  I went to bat as much as a 25 year old could for the people of the Northwest Territories, who as Canadians not of provincial status, had not been consulted in the backroom deal cooked up by the Mulroney government of the day to change our constitution.

When it comes to matters of decency, of fairness - of what is right - of human rights, I do not believe there is another nation of people in the world that is as stubborn and faithful to those ideals as average Canadians are.  We were tough combatants in WWII for a just cause.  It might take a little to awaken us to what's the matter - our lives are so comfortable.  We have it good here in Canada.

In recent years my hackles have been rising, but no, I've done nothing, said nothing, I've gone about my personal business.

I was disturbed by the recent prorogation of Parliament, clearly a way for the Harper government to avoid a growing storm of criticism over Canadian complicity in the torture of detainees in Afghanistan. I said and did nothing except grumble to a few friends.

I was disturbed by the refusal of our Government to bring Omar Khadr back from Guantanamo Bay to Canada for trial, as ordered by our Supreme Court. I joined a Facebook group supporting his return to Canada...but really, did nothing.

I was disheartened to have Canada the pariah at the Copenhagen Summit - the rich country dragging its heels the hardest to slow progressive steps toward reversing the dangerous momentum of Global Warming.  What do I really know about it I said...I'm not an expert...I'll keep to my own business.

Now, the scenes of the G20.  Here is how it looks to me: young protesters' civil rights were trampled, journalists were jailed and beaten, while vandals were let to run riot burning and breaking things.  Later protesters were dismissed as "rabble" as if suspension of their rights and abuse of them was of no concern.

No to me.  I grew up believing in human rights - believing that Canada stood for decency and fairness.  I remember when our Constitution was patriated, and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms created.  I was proud then, and believed the Charter truly represented and described us.  High or low though you may be, 'hippy rabble' or Westmount Golf and Country Club member, you are subject to and supported by the same Rule of Law.

No, we will not have civil rights suspended willy nilly, and come to think of it, we will not have Parliament prorogued to avoid public debate on a matter embarrassing to the Government, we will not turn a blind eye to or support torture, we will support our Supreme Court and the separate roles of The Government, Parliament and the Judiciary under the Queen.  This is not a partisan political opinion - a broad swath of card carrying Conservatives, Liberals, NDPers and Greens would all stand up and salute to the principles at stake here.  A weakness of resolve has entered our houses of Parliament - we must stiffen their spines.

I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it any more.  Canada's reputation is stained. A 'stupidness' contagion appears to have been caught by some ill-advised members of the New Conservative movement in Canada.  Our Loyal Opposition, too, is in disarray. Ontarians have a meek "Chamberlain" in Queens Park who'll make deals to sell out democracy in secret.  Where are the Old Tories and Old Liberals I used to know, who would not for one minute tolerate this kind of un-Canadian policy?  On rights, the NDP still haven't changed their stripes.  We disagreed in the 80s and early 90s when I was involved in civic life, but were were all as Canadian as you can get when it came to our desire to do the right thing.

Harper's Tories must be called to account, and only the sleeping majority can do it, by waking up and calling Halt! to this slide downwards for democracy in Canada. Constitutional Rights are not just for a favoured few.

I am looking to find other Canadians I can join with in constructive action to ensure that our standard on civil rights remains the highest in the world.  I have no common cause with the lunatic fringe; responsible, caring Canadians - let's work together.

If you haven't done any research yet on what all the fuss is about, ask around.  There is real fire under all the smoke.


Louis Bertrand said...

Thanks for writing this. You have essentially written what I have been struggling to express personally. I did not go to Toronto to protest the G20 - it's a young person's game. But CBC TV had an online feed of raw camera footage and I watched the "kettling" of peaceful protesters. I could not believe it. Reading Steve Paikin's tweets and viewing his subsequent interview galvanized me. After an apolitical career as an engineer, like you, I have become political again. Please know that your sentiments are not unique.

David L. de Weerdt said...

Louis, thanks for the encouragement! I retired a few years ago as CEO of a medium-sized company. We need more people like you and me to speak up. The political left is of course up in arms. This will matter not a whit to either Premier McGuinty or Prime Minister Harper. In fact, I am sure it gives them some pleasure: "Let those lefties howl in outrage about "rights"!" When they see this is an issue for you and me, and hundreds of thousands more like us, they will change their tune.