Crime bill hunger striker concerned about Parliament's silent treatment

Photo: Obert Madondo

OTTAWA -- April 13, 2012 marked the 31st day of my indefinite hunger strike against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new draconian crime law, deceptively christened "Safe Streets and Communities Act," formerly crime Bill C-10. I'm an Occupy Ottawa activist and progressive blogger. Last week I released a YouTube video, which can be viewed here.

I have lost 21 pounds since I started the peaceful protest. To all of you around Canada and the world who are supporting me, please be assured that my life is not in danger. My biggest concern at the moment is that the Parliament of Canada is yet to respond to my five demands. I communicated the demands to all MPs and senators on March 27. I have received generic acknowledgements from a couple of MPs, and one eye-opening response from a Liberal senator.

I'm worried that Parliament's unresponsiveness replicates the anti-democratic tactics the Conservatives employed during the Bill C-10 debate. The government shut out the voices of ordinary Canadians, elected representatives and professionals who offered progressive options to the harsh provisions of the backward-looking bill. I fear that this tyranny of silence will become the new normal in Canada under Harper. It wears down progressive opponents of ideology-based official policy, and discourages Canadians from engaging and questioning. It is cancerous to our democracy.

I have no choice but to escalate my hunger strike when MPs return to the Hill on April 24. I will continue the peaceful act of civil disobedience until all the demands are met. The demands are:

- The Parliament of Canada should repeal the Safe Streets and Communities Act in its entirety.

- Former Ottawa Police chief and newly appointed Senator, Vernon White, should immediately resign.

- The federal government should make a commitment to invest 100 times the cost of monitoring and dismantling Occupy encampments across Canada last fall to institute a national inquiry into the case of 600+ missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

- The House of Commons should immediately institute measures to improve accountability and transparency.

- Harper and Conservatives must immediately stop their war on Canadians and Canadian democracy.

I urge Parliament to give the Safe Streets and Communities Act the real second sober thought it desperately deserves, and repeal it immediately. This law is the centrepiece of Harper's effort to shake up Canadian society and impose a vindictive right-wing worldview and oppressive petro-state. We're already living our own Nixonian moment. All kinds of dirty tricks, including Gobbels-style propaganda, McCarthyism and cold-war-style red-baiting, are party of the political game. Dissenters, aboriginal groups, activists, civil society organizations and elected representatives opposed to official policy or dedicated to issues are targeted, demonized, marginalized, dehumanized and labelled "enemies of the state."

The cruel law would not have passed had Parliament upheld the sanctity of our democratic institutions, traditions and values. Harper used his acquiescing majorities in both chambers to pass the bill without any substantial debate. This "rush job" deliberately sought to stifle the following inconvenient truths about the backward-looking law:

- The law violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly: the right to equal protection before the law; the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment; the right to liberty; and the rights of Canadians convicted overseas.

- The law's mandatory minimum sentence requirements weaken and undermine the judiciary.

- The law's sweeping changes to Canada's youth justice system forces us all to participate in the cannibalization of the future by victimizing and punishing young and first-time offenders with stiffer and mandatory minimum sentences. It will transform our youth into hardened criminals, instead of rehabilitating and reintegrating them into society. Even the victims of crime we seek to protect will not be safe.

- The law will divide Canadian society and erode the following Canadian values: compassion, respect for fundamental rights, inclusion, diversity and fairness.

- There is an implicit yet undeniable racism embedded in the law. The majority of those who will face tougher sentences and violation of civil liberties are from historically disadvantaged racialized groups already over-represented in our prison system.

- The law will introduce the so-called "war on drugs," which has devastated the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.

- The law will create a prison industrial complex in Canada. The GEO Group Inc., a U.S. major player in the global private correctional services, lobbied for it.

- The law will not just cost Canadian provinces and taxpayers at least $19 billion to implement. It will also impose a huge financial burden on future generations.

This is not democracy.

And yet, my hunger strike is demanding only the minimum of what Canadians should rightly be demanding right now. Harper's undemocratic actions -- from proroguing parliament in 2008 and 2009, through last year's contempt of parliament, and the potentially stolen May 2011 federal election, to propaganda and draconian bills and laws -- are impeachable.

We must stop Harper by any peaceful and democratic means necessary. We must constantly remind ourselves that an injustice visited upon a single Canadian or community is an injustice visited upon all of us. We must insist on united and caring communities that encourage all to set aside differences and prescribed labels. We must come together and build a society that nurtures hope, instead of extinguishing it, a society based on these core Canadian values: compassion, understanding, inclusion, diversity, fairness, accommodation of difference, democratic governance, and respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law. Therein lies our collective security, not in the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

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