Every so often I wake up and think that today is the day I finally *get* mainstream Canadians. Been here for almost seven years now, and been keeping a close watch on them for a while, so I must have finally grasped them. And then suddenly, boom, something happens and I am caught scratching my head.
This happened to me early this week. Many of my friends and I received the now infamous email from Kenney titled LGBT refugees from Iran. I skimmed it, and deleted it.
As I told anyone who would listen, of course Kenney would data mine petitions to get people's emails and send then targeted emails. If only many of the groups I work with had the resources to do that. No biggie, case closed, I said.
Many other people I knew were outraged. The email seemed targeted to queers, and people wondered how did Kenney know they were gay? Two different groups of people that I knew talked about writing a statement before Johannah May Black's pointed and on-point open letter came out (which has since been shared 238 times).
Soon after the mainstream media cycle was in full spin and that was a surprise. Stories came out that he had mined the email addresses from a petition that was part of the Let Alvaro Stay campaign, the Privacy Comissioner was on the case and three days later Kenney's office is still backpedalling. As of now, there are 56 different mainstream articles that have been written on the mass email saga that I can find.
56 -- that's a lot.
Two days later Kenney put out a press release urging MPs to vote for Bill C-43, a new law that would give him the power to take away people's permanent status if they got sentenced to more than six months in jail for criminal offences, allowing him to add stricter conditions on people facing deportation, and taking away the temporary status of anyone on undefined public policy considerations.
Total number of mainstream articles on that: 2
Also on September 24 Kenney came out publicly in support of Bill M-312 that many fear is a backdoor attempt to reopen the abortion debate.
Total number of articles on that: 12 And now that the NDP has come out swinging, that number has tripled.
Still not anywhere close to the coverage of the mass email.
So what happened? Is the media maelstrom an understandable result of Kenney's strategy to reach LGBTQ communities backfiring? And Kenney getting more deportation powers is just not news anymore? Possibly.
There is another thing here.
For many of us, there is still a separation between personal and political space. We still believe that we have privacy. And that getting an email from a government minister, specially a government minister we hate sets off alarm bells. And when we can't remember sending him an email, those bells turn into loud clangs.
Fact is, Kenney is power hungry, dangerous and most importantly vindictive. He has personally gone after journalists, the federal court, lawyers who spoke out against him and immigrant rights groups like No One Is Illegal. No one wants someone like that to have access to their personal information (even when you send them the email in the first place).
Remember the online spying bill (#TellVicEverything) -- arguably the only piece of Conservative legislation that was defeated by a groundswell of public mobilization. The internet, it seems somedays, is a place simmering with revolt.
In an age where people will gladly post everything about their lives on Facebook and Twitter, where every email client has been known to give emails over to the government without question, where almost everyone has some points card which collects every bit of information on them -- it is at once reasonable and absurd that the sudden realization that those in power know anything about you gives rise to panic, that it is still news.
We have been eaten up the surveillance society; internalized it, but not fully digested it. When the carefully constructed bubble of individualism and separation breaks, people get upset.
Kenney is learning this lesson this week. But I think there are lessons in there for those of us resisting him too. At the very least we should send personal emails to friends about issues we care about, they are more likely to read that.
PS: Kenney is getting an honorary degree on Nov. 4 in Toronto. I hear that a protest is being organized. Perhaps "Don't Email Me" contingent is in order.
Thanks to Saku and MM for talking this over and editing.
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