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Why Canadian media won't call post-Brexit protests 'pro-democracy demonstrations'

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Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators protested Brexit throughout the United Kingdom yesterday (Photo: Twitter).

If there are riots in Britain after the hard Brexit that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative party cronies have scheduled for Halloween, will mainstream media in Canada describe them as "pro-democracy demonstrations" as they do when similar violent outbursts take place nowadays in Hong Kong or Moscow?

On the face of it, there would be a good case for such a description. Prime Minister Johnson, the entertainer formerly known as BoJo who got his job thanks to the vote of less than 2 per cent of Britain's population, has already prorogued the mother of parliaments to prevent the by now largely theoretical democratic mechanisms of the Westminster parliamentary system from upsetting his Brexit applecart.

To wit: there will be no time for a vote of non-confidence to bring down Johnson's government before Britain crashes out of the European Union, and even if there is one, the prime minister's strategists have a plan to ignore it, pretty well putting paid to everything we've been taught up to now about how parliamentary democracy is supposed to work.

Johnson did this, it must be noted, with the willing connivance of Our Sovereign Lady the Queen, nicely illustrating that notwithstanding the traditional folderol about the role of the monarch in a "constitutional monarchy," in the United Kingdom's version, ruling-class consciousness is thicker than water, and certainly has higher priority than the functioning of mere democracy.

Canada's fundamental law, slightly more enforceable than the U.K.'s because slightly more of it is written down, states that we will have "a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom." Think about that when you watch Johnson and the Queen channeling Stephen Harper and Michaëlle Jean using prorogation to thwart the will of their respective countries' elected legislators.

Of course, despite the apparent reasonableness of calling post-Brexit demonstrators pro democracy -- especially considering the obviously fraudulent nature of the pro-Brexit campaign in the U.K.'s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union -- we all intuitively understand that Canadian media will never do that, even if we haven't thought about the reason why.

It's the same reason Canadian news organizations never identify France's Gilets jaunes demonstrators as being pro democracy, though in most ways they are, or note the brutality of the assaults on them by French authorities, as they invariably do when the people wielding the batons and firing the rubber bullets are in China, Russia or any other country resisting parts of the neoliberal imperium.

Since the Gilets jaunes protests against President Emmanuel Macron's program of neoliberal austerity began in October last year, about a dozen people have been killed, 2,000 have been injured, close to half of them seriously, and more than 9,000 arrested. Some reports say French police have fired more than 6,000 rubber bullets and 1,500 shock grenades at protesters, with barely a mention in Canadian media.

It must be noted here that the French demonstrators, who have an almost classically Marxist analysis of the flaws of France's marketized economy, are a different breed entirely from so-called Canadian Yellow Vests, many of whom are outright neo-Nazis.

The reason for this schizophrenic coverage is that the people who run Canadian mass media do not define "freedom" the same way you and I do, and therefore do not define democracy the same way either.

To the market-fundamentalist cultists atop most Canadian political parties and the media-astroturf-academic complex that ensures the hegemony of their ideology, freedom means only economic freedom -- the "right" of the bosses' class to exploit workers, cheat consumers, avoid taxes and accumulate vast wealth. To them, democracy means only the mechanisms of the state that uphold such freedom.

Being pro democracy, in this worldview, certainly doesn't include the right of working people to bargain collectively, or necessarily even to elect leaders who might support such rights. Nor does it include the notion that, as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously put it, citizens have the right to freedom from anything, least of all fear or want!

If you are a worker who doesn't like the way your boss treats you, in this view, you have the freedom to quit. That is all. In other words, when they talk about freedom, as a friend of mine puts it, they're not talking about yours.

That is why, year after year, Canadian media happily parrot the Fraser Institute's fatuous claim Hong Kong enjoys more freedom than Canada. Of course, this is only true from this perspective when the men with the truncheons are defending the perfect market, not the goals of the People's Republic next door, which changes the spin dramatically here in Canada. (It will be interesting to see how the Fraser Institute deals with the conundrum presented by recent developments in its next "freedom index" this winter.)

This mindset partly explains the glee with the result of the Brexit vote by Canadian Conservative figures like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who distrust the European Union's instinctive tendency to let human rights trump economic rights for the same reason they dislike the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Kenney, alert readers will recall, tweeted on the night of the Brexit vote: "Congratulations to the British people on choosing hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world!"

If it turns out that confident, sovereign future includes food and medicine shortages, Scottish separatism, and the return of guerrilla war to Northern Ireland, as now seems likely, Kenney and his ilk will doubtless be delighted anyway. After all, it will nevertheless allow the return of unfettered Thatcherism to what's left of the United Kingdom.

Regardless, here is one more media question to ponder as we observe the unravelling of representative democracy in Britain:

In a rambling panegyric in Friday's National Post, Conrad Black, founder and chief ideologue of that organ, heaped praise on Premier Johnson's prorogation gambit for, of all things, its ingenuity. Given the status Black enjoys, this is bound to become the prevailing collective wisdom in Canadian media.

So will the Post and the others bestow the same assessment of democratic ingenuousness on the government of Scotland if it unilaterally declares independence in the wake of a Brexit catastrophe that wipes out 100,000 or more jobs north of a Hadrian's Wall?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.


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