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The Harper government: Greasing the slippery slope to dictatorship

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To move from a liberal democracy to a dictatorship isn’t always a matter of a coup d’état. Sometimes dictators rise to power because of a perceived national emergency; or they are installed by one great power or another to act as satraps and compradors; or they are voted in by a weary populace. In Canada, it appears, an incremental approach is at work. We're froggies in the proverbial pot, and I, for one, am beginning to find it uncomfortably warm.

The big problem here, even for me, is our collective capacity for denial. We can't bring ourselves to believe what’s been happening before our eyes. I wrote this piece on New Year's Eve in 2011, and, to be honest, I thought I was merely engaging in a little monitory rhetoric, not predicting, Cassandra-like, our inevitable future.

Now I’m not so sure I wasn’t being prescient.

Most of us are at least dimly aware of the additional attacks on basic democratic freedoms that have happened since that time. By mid-2012, we had moved further away from those freedoms. By mid-2013, we had descended even lower. And just look at us now. Parliament has long since been made redundant with massive omnibus bills and time allocation motions. Parliamentary committees proceed largely in secret, and not even the NDP, in a principled act of civil disobedience, is willing to break that silence. No less a person that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has been scurrilously attacked by the Conservatives when a mediocre Harper pick for the SCC bench was declared ineligible.

Unions, some of the most democratic institutions in Canada, have been targeted and subjected to withering legislative fire; First Nations have been belittled and further colonized; the environment has been effectively turned over to Big Oil to despoil; and progressive NGOs are being hounded by the Canada Revenue Agency (the latter, somewhat ironically, looking for signs of political activity). Dissent in general has been targeted and punished, well-documented in this report to the United Nations by Lawyers’ Rights Watch.

The politicization of the RCMP is also a continuing matter of concern. RCMP officers have functioned as Conservative Party bouncers at election rallies, and were deeply involved in the G20 fiasco in Toronto. But, in fairness, police of whatever stripe and jurisdiction are permitted to operate in Canada these days with virtual impunity, even turning a major Canadian city into a zone of exception. Ordinary citizens effectively lost their rights, they were beaten, humiliated and imprisoned, while political leaders at all levels of government, even the NDP mayor of Toronto at the time, welcomed our uniformed overlords. A culture of accommodation and obeisance has taken root.

Don’t look to the fresh-faced Liberals for a defence of democracy, by the way—they're joined at the hip with the Conservatives. Justin Trudeau, clearly bucking to be Harper with better hair, had his caucus vote with Harper's one to confirm the new Privacy Commissioner, a man whose entire career has been devoted to invading it. The Liberals also ganged up with the Conservatives to apply new rules retroactively to attack the Official Opposition, an egregious bit of political opportunism that further strengthens the hand of the ruling party.

Meanwhile, state surveillance of citizens is mushrooming. Activists are routinely spied upon by not-very-bright police infiltrators. Under the guise of attacking cyber-bullying, the Harper government intends to increase police powers to spy on us.

And now we learn -- surely this takes the mouldy cake -- that all federal departments have been ordered to track and monitor every single demonstration taking place anywhere in Canada. This will be coordinated by a mysterious outfit called the Government Operations Centre, which will feed the information to its "partners," whoever they happen to be. One shudders to guess.

Obviously this further develops the politicization of the public service, which has been proceeding for some time. It violates, as one astute Tweeter pointed out, most of the Treasury Board Values and Ethics Code, and, as the seasoned intelligence specialist Wesley Wark notes, it's illegal, too. But since when has that ever stopped the Harperium, with its high-level parade of perps?

Our democratic right to demonstrate our disagreement with the Harper regime will now be more closely monitored than ever. Most Canadians, of course, do not "dissent," in the sense of dragging themselves to a demonstration or a rally, or even writing a letter to an MP. With this latest revelation, though, how can any of us maintain our blissful state of denial, lulled by pundits and assured that it can't happen here? Indeed it can. Indeed it is. Take the red pill, folks. Surely the time has come.

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