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Day of Action against C-51: Reflections

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Ottawa, March 15: a cold, damp, freezing-rain day. Intrepid, element-braving souls showing the flag. A great speech by PSAC official Larry Rousseau, who presently holds my former job, and can not only do a barn-burner in both official languages, but can sing as well. If I were running against that guy now, I thought, I'd lose. He can keep that job for as long as he wants.

And another good one from former PSAC National President Nycole Turmel, now Chief Opposition Whip for the NDP, and more from a range of other speakers.

But, dammit, there were a few hundred people, out of a city population of close to a million. It was a demonstration like hundreds I have attended. Nothing set it apart. And yet it was a protest marking a democratic crisis in this country. A turning point. Our accelerating move into darkness. Where the hell was everybody?

Yeah, I'm going to rain on that parade. As if it hadn't been raining hard and cold enough.

CSIS (CSIS!) tells us that white supremacists are more of a threat than jihadists. Peter MacKay, on the other hand, says the neo-Nazis planning to shoot up a Halifax shopping mall weren't "terrorists" because their motives weren't "cultural."

C-51 specifically disallows murder and rape as CSIS "disruption" tactics. Relieved? Don't be. What is excluded leaves a lot included. Torture. Beatings. Let your imagination soar.

The NDP, principled throughout on this issue, is being derided by the usual Liberal suspects. Tom Mulcair says he will not repeal C-51, but eliminate the poison from it. Sell-out! Yet C-51 is not made out of new cloth. It contains current law mixed with amendments to it. Simple repeal means no law at all. And the NDP, unlike the collaborationist Liberals, will vote en bloc against the bill, taking all the political risks that go with that.

Yet the NDP is now openly divided on another (and I believe related) issue, that niqab thingie. Alexandre Boulerice says he's against the niqab, and so is his party; he suggests that we hold Bouchard-Taylor-like hearings across the country to establish the lines of "reasonable accommodation." Meanwhile the Bloc Québécois, manifesting the ugly underside of ethnic nationalism, asks: "Do you need to veil your face to vote for the NDP?"

As they say on Twitter, WTF? What is our country becoming? How many women actually wear the niqab in Canada? A few hundred? Will their daughters wear one?

Another ideological battle, then, is being fought on women’s bodies, a "site of struggle," to use the lingo. Niqabs are "anti-woman," says Stephen Harper, that fervent born-again feminist whose government crippled pay equity (with Liberal support) in the federal public service, and who opposes a national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women with all of his considerable might and main. "Anti-woman." Right.

"Mobilize against Greenpeace and the intellectuals of this world," thunders a star Conservative candidate. And Justin Trudeau wants to abolish free expression and social engagement on Canadian university campuses.

This is the political Theatre of the Absurd in which we now find ourselves immersed. And over it all hovers the spectre of C-51, the establishment, let us make no bones about it, of a police state: wide-ranging surveillance and licence to break the law, without any meaningful oversight since the Conservatives abolished the office of the Inspector General of CSIS in 2012. CSIS is already out of control. Now pretty well anything will go. Except, of course, murder or rape. Somebody must have gotten soft. Or maybe those terms, too, will get redefined, like "terrorism."

Even the faithful have taken to scratching their heads. Until they bleed, I hope.

A few hundred people, on a cold, rainy day in Ottawa, standing up for democracy. Symbolic, somehow, of the mess we are in.

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