What Happened to Canada?

Chris Hedges writes on truth-out.org, on Monday 30 January 2012: **What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment. **

**But that was the old Canada. **

I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state.

Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation.

It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters.

And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist. The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan. “I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

Militant Suppression of Speech:

Palestine House has become the latest target of federal minister Jason Kenney‘s ongoing attacks on free speech rights and Palestine solidarity in Canada. Last week, Palestine House was informed by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, including its minister, Jason Kenney, that all funding for Palestine House’s immigration settlement program had been cut. Before Kenney’s announcement, department officials had praised Palestine House, a Palestinian cultural and educational organization based in Mississauga, for its highly successful settlement program. Kenney’s decision to cut funding is entirely political, and part of a broader pattern of government-led censorship and intimidation of anyone who is critical of Canada’s foreign policy, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine.

This is not the first time Kenney has targeted civil society groups in response to their political views. Other targets include:

  • The Canadian Arab Federation, whose funding was cut by Kenney in February 2009, in response to its criticism of Harper’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza
  • Former British MP George Galloway, who was banned from entering Canada by Kenney in March 2009, in response to his humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza.
  • Pathways to Peace, an academic conference at York University in June 2009, which had its funding threatened by an unprecedented intervention by a Conservative cabinet minister.
  • KAIROS, whose funding was cut by Bev Oda in November 2009 (Kenney later boasted to an audience in Jerusalem that the cut represented his government’s “zero tolerance” policy on anti-Semitism).
  • Rights & Democracy, whose Conservative-appointed board members cut funding in January 2010 to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that were critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
  • The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), whose funding was cut by the Conservatives in January 2010 (UNRWA administers health and education programs to 59 Palestinian refugee camps)
  • Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian democracy activist and former presidential candidate, who was denied entry to Canada for a speaking tour in March 2010
  • Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual campus-based educational conference, which was attacked by Conservative MPs, who attempted to condemn it in Parliament in March 2011
  • Palestine solidarity in general, which the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) attempted to equate with anti-Semitism, in its report issued in July 2011

These attacks represent a serious threat to free speech in Canada. Kenney’s attack on Palestine House also represents the loss of 22 jobs in the community, and all the services they provide. Kenney – and the rest of the Conservative caucus – must be held to account.

This approach threatens to dismantle the Canadian image as it used to be perceived.  Michael Harris, an intrepid reporter, explains how this will set back the honest reputation of Canada for decades to come: