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Byelection in Ottawa-Vanier shows that Ontario politics is officially through the looking glass

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Image: Postmedia News/Jean Levac

Just after the dust settled in Toronto in July 2010, a broad coalition of community organizations and individuals came together to defend the right to free expression through protest.

The G20 meetings were over. Bruises were starting to heal and groups who had mobilized in the lead-up to the G20 now organized to condemn state repression. They were mostly comprised of social movement organizations, student groups and unions.

But there were two individuals in particular who became synonymous with defending our rights to protest.

The first was Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. In a Globe and Mail feature about Des Rosiers from 2010, she is credited with having, "...thrust her organization into the midst of the G20 summit; attracted a great deal of fresh, pro bono legal expertise to the CCLA ranks; and expanded its donor base - no mean feat at a time when the fight against terrorism has civil libertarians on the defensive."

The CCLA, and Des Rosiers were critical in opposing the oppressive laws that had been used to justify that crackdown. She co-edited an anthology called Putting the State on Trial; The Policing of Protest during the G20 Summit.

The other individual was André Marin, the scrappy former Ontario Ombudsman, with whose office I worked closely during my time at the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.

Marin's report G20 Summit: Caught in the Act was a comprehensive look at how law enforcement tried to justify its attack on our civil liberties, including the controversial use of a secret law to allow law enforcement to stop and search anyone. I spent more than an hour being interviewed about the various interactions I had with police during the G20 weekend. It was the only investigation that took my concerns seriously. My fight to hold the police officer to account who hit me to the ground went nowhere.

Marin and Des Rosiers now find themselves fighting over the vacant seat in the provincial byelection of Ottawa-Vanier. Marin is running for the Progressive Conservatives, a party who was implicated indirectly in the wasteful spending that stemmed from that weekend. Des Rosiers is running for the Liberals, the party that is to blame for giving law enforcement the tools to justify mass arrests, cracked heads and horse running-overs.

Donald Trump's victory has thrown the question of which political tendency owns what politic on its head and the longer I stare at the Ottawa-Vanier byelection, the more I'm ready to declare that Ontario too has reached post-politics, where nothing, especially not the past, matters. It's a disorientation that is as confusing as it is disenfranchising.

Things get worse when you bring in the NDP candidate. Up against two defenders of civil liberties, is Claude Bisson, a retired RCMP senior officer.

So, an RCMP senior officer and two lawyers walk into a bar and the punch-line has something to do with an election debate.

The Police Association of Ontario criticized the PCs for having nominated Marin, "...declaring that Marin had 'made his anti-police bias obvious' during his time as ombudsman and, previously, as director of the Special Investigations Unit, which oversees police."

The Liberals have made it part of their campaign to tie Marin to Donald Trump's politics.

David Reevely, writing for the Ottawa Citizen, summed up the race as being the human embodiment of each of Ontario's political parties, "So here's the good news: If you care enough to vote in the Nov. 17 byelection, you probably already know everything you need to know about the candidates. Vote by party and you'll get what you see on the label."

It's high cynicism but it's also probably true: forget everything about the individuals. Forget the fact that Des Rosiers is now jumping into a party whose attacks on civil liberties set a new watermark for protest repression. Forget the fact that the NDP chose an agent of a sexist, corrupt security force, also implicated in the G20.

And forget all the contradictions of Marin, the defender of people and their rights, running for a party whose approach to protesters and civil liberties is just as bad as the beasts he once fought.

Because this is Ontario: the height of cynical, crass and disenfranchising politics. Where all it would take is an authentic, audacious candidate to capture broad popular sentiment. Someone who thumbed their nose at politics as usual and fought for real, fundamental changes for communities. 

The terrain is ready for it. It's just tragic that the only party in a position to take advantage of the terrain, isn't ready.


This post has been updated to reflect that Bisson is a retired RCMP Senior Officer, not a former cop.

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Image: Postmedia News/Jean Levac

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