Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon

There’s a certain laugh-out-loud irony to the spectacle of the Canadian government, whose own police thugs beat peaceful protesters in the streets of the nation’s largest city last June, lecturing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the need to make his police take it easy on protesters in the streets of his country’s largest city just now.

Presumably Mubarak is too busy at this moment to point this out to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his sanctimonious crew, what with his unfortunately initialed National Democratic Party headquarters in Cairo going up in flames, but we can be confident that in the fullness of time someone from the region will.

In the mean time, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon’s office issued a statement advising the world that Canadians “urge all parties to refrain from using violence and the Egyptian authorities to respond to these protests peacefully.”

After all, he presumably meant, Cairo’s no Toronto, where the protesters are really dangerous!

Indeed, Cannon’s commentary was rich in irony — or simply the assumption that Canadian voters are all either idiots or Alzheimer’s patients incapable of remembering anything that happened more than 15 minutes ago.

“The issue remains an Egyptian decision,” the foreign affairs minister told the CBC. “We don’t get involved in, as you know, the internal sovereignty of a country…” Unless, of course, that country’s name happens to be Afghanistan. But never mind that just now…

The Canadian government’s equivocation about advising President Mubarak to step down, and Harper’s studied silence on the issue, should give us a pretty good idea where the our leaders really stand on this matter. Of course, that would be precisely where the only people in the Middle East our government listens to tell them to stand.

Can you imagine the racket that would be emanating from the PMO and Fort Pearson if the street demonstrations had been in Caracas, or God help us in Havana?

Meanwhile, the brave Egyptians continue their “very fine thing,” with thousands of protesters continuing to defy the government in Cairo and new demonstrations breaking out in Suez, Alexandria and other cities.

Indeed, some media reports yesterday even made it sound as if elements of the Egyptian army may be thinking about joining the revolution, as did the Gardes Françaises in Paris on July 14, 1789. This is never a good sign for a king or a dictator struggling to hang onto power in the face of a popular revolt.

We are taught that we are fortunate in Canada because, unlike the Egyptians, we have a system that allows us to choose our own leaders peacefully.

But we need to remember that our system of responsible government is an imperfect vessel, biased in favour of certain kinds of results and as capable of ignoring the true feelings of a people as any Middle Eastern despot. This is true when it is functioning as designed, let alone when its rules and conventions are being broken outright to steal elections and prorogue uppity parliaments.

That is why we Canadians need to remember, as we contemplate the very real possibility of electoral worst-case scenarios in both Ottawa and Edmonton, that even in a democracy, democracy is not simply a matter of voting.

When our system of government, whatever it may be, cannot reflect the will of the people, we the people have the right and responsibility to protest in the streets.

Indeed, this may be the only way that we can influence policies we cannot alter through the ballot box in an imperfect democracy with a powerful built-in bias in favour of the Party of Money.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...