Awish Aslam and her controversial friend

Don’t let anyone tell you that “Photogate” was the work of an overzealous flunky. This one goes right to the top.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s security goons tossed two teenagers from London, Ont., out of a Conservative rally because one had her photo on Facebook with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, opposition politicians quickly noted the obvious contrast with the close friends the prime minister’s handlers don’t check up on.

“It’s certainly quite a dichotomy that someone with a Facebook picture that bothers the Conservatives isn’t allowed close to the prime minister but someone who is a convicted fraudster … is allowed to have the closest access,” NDP Leader Jack Layton observed during a campaign stop in Winnipeg.

Layton was referring to the contrast between Awish Aslam, 19, and her girlfriend, who got escorted out of a Harper rally, and Bruce Carson, the 66-year-old five-times convicted fraudster and disbarred lawyer with a 22-year-old fiancée with a colourful past, who apparently had no problems getting access to the PM.

Carson, for the moment anyway, is no longer welcome in the prime ministerial inner circle. Of him, Harper recently averred: “the fact is, I did not know about these revelations that we’re finding out today. I don’t know why I did not know.” Didn’t check, I guess — no need. He was one of us… Anyway, enough of that, the PM says he isn’t going to talk about it any more, and since we’re only allowed five pre-screened questions a day, I guess that’s it.

So Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff tweeted cheerily that he was in a Tim Hortons and no one would be checking the Facebook accounts of anyone who wanted to drop in and visit.

For their part, naturally enough, the Conservatives mumbled an apology and implied it was all a misunderstanding. Just a one-off little error, presumably made by that proverbial overzealous supporter. But that’s what people like the cadre around Harper always do when they’re caught getting up to mischief, isn’t it?

The fact this prime minister is obsessive about control is well documented, even by supporters and former friends like neo-con University of Calgary professor Tom Flanagan.

Not so well known — because it goes carefully unreported by the mainstream media — is the fact in all he does this prime minister draws heavily on Republican/Tea Party electoral strategies devised by characters like George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove.

And one of the key techniques of that gang was never, never, to let opponents of the candidate slip into rah-rah Republican election rallies.

So, for example, Oregon schoolteachers were thrown out of a George Bush rally at a county fairground in 2004 for wearing T-shirts that read “Protect Our Civil Liberties.” Other messages that got American citizens kicked out of Republican election rallies included “Give peace a chance,” “Empires Fall” and “Regime change starts at home.” Well, we can’t have that, now, can we?

But you don’t need to wear a T-shirt to be cast out of a Harper rally. At the same London rally, the PM’s goons tossed out a man who was spotted with an NDP bumper sticker on his car!

Back in 2004, the Mid-Coast Maine Times Record reported that “two Bowdoin College students who travelled to Bangor last Thursday to see President George W. Bush speak at a campaign rally were ousted from the event after another Bowdoin student recognized them as supporters of Bush’s opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry.”

Get the general idea? Like the “kettling” of protesters in Orwellian “free speech zones,” designed to suppress free speech, as at the G20 protests last summer in Toronto, and like the wedge issues designed to win by dividing Canadians, this Harper strategy comes straight out of the Republican/Tea Party playbook.

So Layton wasn’t so far off, even if he didn’t make reference to the pattern, when he said, “I think it says something about Stephen Harper and his administration, and it’s not pretty.” Or Ignatieff, for that matter, when he observed, “when you get to a situation where people can’t come to a public meeting in Canada, and get thrown out by two heavies because they have a Facebook friend from another party …you’re in a very un-Canadian place.”

As with so much of the Harper strategy, this brouhaha is eerily reminiscent of the Bush era in the United States, a very un-Canadian place indeed.

The good news is that this crude effort to control even the potential for dissent in London kept the Carson affair, as it were, in the news for an extra day despite the efforts of the prime minister’s men and their allies in the media to flush it down the Memory Hole.

Maybe it’s true: The person most likely to defeat Stephen Harper is Stephen Harper!

Regardless, one thing is for sure, this situation, and the toleration of others like it, can be traced right back to our prime minister’s authoritarian personality and his instinct to crush dissent.

As Globe columnist Lawrence Martin wrote in Harperland, “If the hallmark of democracy … is the toleration of dissent, the Conservative government was an embarrassment to the word.”

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

David J. Climenhaga

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...