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Prime Minister Stephan Harper, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party Bob Rae, Leader of Liberal Party of Canada Louis Plamondon Leader of the bloc Québécois Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party All Members of the House of Commons All Members of the Senate of Canada
Re: Open Letter to Members of the Parliament of Canada Regarding my Indefinite Crime Bill C-10 Hunger Strike Honourable Members, what are you doing to Canada? I am an activist, progressive political blogger and permanent resident of Canada. On Wednesday, March 14, I embarked on an indefinite hunger strike to protest the new Safe Streets and Communities Act (omnibus crime Bill C-10). My five demands include the repeal of the Act, and the immediate resignation of newly appointed senator Vernon White. On March 13, I had appealed to Governor General David Johnston, to use the Crown’s reserve powers to either withhold or reserve Royal Assent to Bill C-10. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tyrannical will prevailed, just as it did when the Conservative majorities in the House of Commons and Senate brushed aside the diverse input of the opposition, experts and future victims, and passed crime Bill C-10. Today is the thirteenth day of my peaceful action. I’m undertaking the action from my apartment here in Ottawa and also engage in public actions. I humbly submit the following demands: 1. The Parliament of Canada should repeal the Safe Streets and Communities Act in its entirety. 2. Former Ottawa Police chief and newly-appointed Senator, Vernon White, should immediately resign. 3. The federal government should make a commitment to invest 100 times the cost of monitoring and dismantling Occupy encampments across Canada last fall to institute a national inquiry into the case of 600+ missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. 4. The House of Commons should immediately institute measures to improve accountability and transparency. The measures should include limitations on the governing party’s power to a) manipulate Standing Orders; b) evade opposition scrutiny; c) shut down debate d) silence critics; and e) run committees behind closed doors and prevent Canadians from participating.
5. The Conservative government must immediately stop its campaign against Canadians and Canadian democracy. This campaign currently manifests through a) the criminalization of dissent; b) promotion of a divisive agenda and attitude; c) whipping up of unnecessary moral panic; and d) using incendiary labels to stifle debate and criticism on its actions. My conscience and lived experience has compelled me to engage in this act of civil disobedience. The hunger strike is a last stand on behalf of the progressive voice that the Conservatives showed nothing but disdain for during the making of the Act. I was nothing when I arrived in Canada. I’m an offspring of these unparalleled Canadian values: compassion, multiculturalism, inclusion, diversity, fairness, democratic governance, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law, and accommodation of difference. In the summer of 2003, I washed up on Canada’s shores as a political refugee from Zimbabwe. The violence I’d experienced and witnessed in the Southern African country had mutilated me, physically and emotionally. But Canada embraced, nursed and healed me. Canada restored that which Zimbabwe and the US denied me for the first thirty-two years of my life – human dignity. Canada believed in me as an equal member of the human race. She encouraged me to unleash my passions in the service of my adopted country. In 2004, I volunteered for the late NDP leader Jack Layton’s successful run for Parliamentary office. Over the years, I’ve carved a unique Canadian identity as a globally-conscious, activism-oriented progressive political blogger. I’ve honed a passion for social justice, federal politics, diversity, progressive politics and Canadian foreign policy. Canada believed in my non-Canadian experience. I December of 2003, I signed up to volunteers for the Canada Africa Partnership on AIDS (CAP AIDS), a CIDA-funded and registered Canadian charity that supports HIV/AIDS work in Africa. From May 2008 to August 2010, I served as the charity’s executive director. Through these seven years of loyal service, I added value to Canada’s contribution to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Act now carries the preamble: NOW, THEREFORE, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows. In essence, Parliament is telling us that Queen Elizabeth II and the Great Seal of Canada approve: the tyrannical environment that prevailed during the creation of the Act; the undemocratic manner through which the Conservatives bulldozed Bill C-10 through Parliament; and the Act’s retrogressive impact on society and our core values. The inconvenient truth is that, since 2006, our parliamentary democracy has been hurtling toward the Intensive Care Unit. Our democratic institutions, traditions and values are under attack. Harper prorogued Parliament twice, in 2008 and 2009. He is the first prime minister to be found in contempt of parliament. Additionally, thousands of Canadians were deprived of their right to vote during the May 2, 2011, federal election. In fact, the Conservatives are manipulating and misrepresenting the election’s key message. That day, Canada experienced a thing of extraordinary beauty. The election validated our multiculturalism both in fact and its official commitment. Canadians extracted our politics from the octopus grip of the privileged class, and delivered them into the progressive arms of our youth, women and minorities. They set Canada on a path to a politics that embraces our diversity. That day,
39,9 percent of the electorate voted for a Conservative majority to continue on that path and to serve all Canadians. But the Conservatives interpreted their electoral mandate as an opportunity to implement a grant project of both social and political engineering. They see it as an opportunity to shake up our institutions, traditions and value systems, and impose an insidious right-wing worldview that is: divisive, pro-punishment, poverty-ignoring and minority-bashing. On March 13, the Conservative majorities in the House of Commons and Senate made a giant leap towards this anti-democratic worldview when they passed the omnibus crime Bill C-10 into law. The Act was birthed in an environment of tyranny where all Canadians and others were treated as potential enemies of the state. We’re already living our own Nixonian moment. All kinds of dirty tricks, including Gobbels-style propaganda, McCarthyism and cold-war-style red–baiting, are party of the political game. Dissenters, aboriginal groups, activists and civil society organizations opposed to official policy or dedicated to issues are targeted, demonized, marginalized, dehumanized and labeled “enemies of the state”. In the House of Commons, the Official Opposition is accused of being “anti-Canada”. Guncontrol advocates are compared to Nazis. Opponents of the long gun registry are likened to Adolf Hitler. MPs opposed to the Conservatives’ new online surveillance bill are “with the child pornographers”. A few weeks ago, the Harper government confirmed that it supports torture as a way to gather intelligence. Potential targets will include Canadian citizens and residents. The Conservatives new anti-terrorism strategy labels Canadians dedicated to causes such as animal rights, environmentalism and anti-capitalism “issue-based terrorists”, implacable adversaries to be monitored and battled. Every day, the Conservatives stalk the public's irrational fear of terrorists, radicals, people who look different, criminals, pedophiles and foreigners. They seek to create a society that is cowed, uncritical, fearful, divided and susceptible to propaganda. They’re trying to force us into a state of permanent fear; a place from where we'll clamour for protection from the state. Fear and terror create an intellectual and moral void. It disarms society of its power to question. And the moment the state takes away civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism or crime, the terrorists and criminals have won without shedding a single drop of sweat. To cap the Conservatives’ war on Canadians, now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment officers on Parliament Hill will start carrying the rapid-and-accurate-fire Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns as “secondary weapons” to their standard-issue semi-automatic 9mm pistols. On November 23, 2011, I tasted the wrath of the Canada the Safe Streets and Communities Act proposes. That day, Canada turned into a police state. I was part of eight unarmed and peaceful Occupy Ottawa protesters resisting the movement’s politically-motivated eviction from Confederation Park. Just after 2am, between 150 and 200 Ottawa Police officers descended on us. During the eviction, the police applied disproportionate and unnecessary force. I was subjected to cruel and unusual treatment. The police hurt my back, legs and left arm. I ended up in hospital. Why did the four police officers who carried me to the makeshift detention centre drop me three times during the trip? Why was I treated differently than my two white colleagues? One was also
carried by police officers but was not hurt. The other was driven to the centre in a police cruiser. At the centre why did the officers drop me onto the floor and leave me lying my stomach, a position that further acerbated my injured back and arm? Why did they ignore my plea for immediate medical attention? One key test of any society is how it treats the marginalized and most vulnerable. For the three-hour duration of the operation, the Ottawa Police Services spent $16 000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money. The police blew $16 000 to deliver eight $65 trespass tickets and evict protesters from a public park which, at the time, had no contesting use. At the same time, 600-plus Aboriginal women and girls are missing or murdered and the federal government remains unwilling to act. This is not how a fair and compassionate society treat its own? Newly-appointed Conservative Senator Vernon White was in charge of the Ottawa Police that morning. That’s why I’m demanding his resignation. I’ve nothing personal against the senator as a fellow human being, but that morning, a failure of judgment and Canadian leadership occurred. I strongly question the senator’s judgment in a situation that demanded the utmost in sobriety and a quick glance at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both crime Bill C-10 and the Safe Streets and Communities Act are the epitome of state abuse of power, democracy, the law and resources. From the first reading of Bill C-10 in the House of Commons, through to the final vote in both houses, a one-party-state tyrannical abuse of Canadian parliamentary process and democratic practice prevailed. The process was a triumph of spin over substance and deliberative democracy. Rather than explaining the straight facts to Canadians, the Harper government took a propaganda approach. It showed neither respected nor accommodated difference as is required in a democracy. At every turn, opposition MPs, elected by 60% of Canadians, and expert witnesses who attempted to input into the bills’ 208 clauses and hundreds of amendments, were shown the political middle finger. The Conservatives’ manipulated the Standing Orders. They shut down debate. They ran committees behind closed doors. In the Senate, senators chose to abandon their role as providers of the sober second thought that Bill C-10 deserved. Instead, they mounted an expensive, taxpayer-funded charade; they invited hundreds of witnesses and collected mountains of evidence, but made only a few terrorism-related changes to the bill. They simply rubber-stamped the bill. The Safe Streets and Communities is anti-democratic. It will expand state power. It weakens and undermines the judiciary. Mandatory minimum sentences take away judges’ discretion. They sent the wrong message to society. They give the impression that judges do not know how to do their job, and so they need political direction and oversight. Changes to the youth criminal justice system impose harsh punitive measures for crimes rooted in poverty, and drug addictions. The changes replace prevention and restorative measures that have proven to be more humane, effective and cheaper. The Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly: the right to equal protection before the law; the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment; the right to liberty; and the rights of Canadians convicted overseas. Young offenders will now spend months in custodial
centres before trial and if convicted, longer and tougher sentences. Stiffer sentences will turn them into hardened criminals, instead of rehabilitating. The lifting of publication ban on young offenders convicted of violent crimes stigmatizes them for life. We do not discuss race as much as we should in Canada. I wish I’m wrong to suggest that the Conservatives are taking full advantage to practice a covert racism. The Act will send to jail more racialized minorities, especially Aboriginals, who are already over-represented in our jails. During Bill C-10 hearings in the House of Commons and Senate, First Nations leaders crawled before Parliament and begged you to understand that the Act would “punish” their communities. As demonstrated by Attawapiskat, most of them already live under 4th World and colonialism conditions. It would perpetuate the legacy of residential schools, they said. But Parliament ignored them. The Act will cost Canadian taxpayers at least $13 billion. Surely, how can we agree to partake in the daylight robbery our education, healthcare and other social services to finance a law that will oppress us all and turn our jails into training schools for hardcore criminals? A government that rules through whipping up unnecessary moral panic fosters societal resentment of the groups it targets and demonizes. It divides society. A tyrannical government creates a society that is hostile to accountability. I’ve tasted the wrath of such a society. At CAP AIDS, I worked a punishing 60-80 hours a week. In May, 2010, I attempted to pursue accountability for part of the more than $130 000 in Canadians’ donations the charity misused. The charity’s board harassed me, and tossed me under the bus. It blocked my access to employment insurance and torpedoed my support systems as a new immigrant. I lost most of what I’d worked for all these years and ended up on the streets of Toronto. From June 15 to June 23, 2011, I walked almost 400 km from Toronto to Ottawa in protest. I demanded that the charity account for its misleading messaging and misused donations as required under the Income Tax Act. But I learned that when those of us on the margins of society challenge the wrongdoings of the privileged, it takes more than a 400km solitary walk to be heard. In Ottawa, I ended up on the streets. From June 23 to October 14, 2011, I slept in a crevice at Laurier and Bank Street. I ate from soup kitchens. I bathed and did my laundry on the Ottawa River. On October 15, 2011, Occupy Ottawa showed up in town and rescued me from the streets. The movement gave me a tent, a family and a platform to discuss, in the spirit of equality and deliberative democracy, the issues of our time. The movement helped me to overcome my immigrant innocence. It gave me the courage to stand up for Canada and her unparalleled values. On the night of the Bill C-10 vote, MPs from the Official Opposition New Democrats, Liberal Party, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party united against the bill. Many wore “Safer, not meaner” buttons. I applaud them! And yet, democracy demands that we continue to fight for a safe, not meaner, Canada. My hunger strike is a call on the Parliament of Canada to defend Canadian democracy at its greatest hour of need. Democracy should never yield to tyranny, especially not to elected tyranny. Our democratic institutions, values and freedoms must be defended by any peaceful and democratic means necessary. The fulfillment of my five demands would be a giant step back to sanity and respect for our democratic and legislative processes.
Canada is fast becoming an inverted totalitarianism presided over by a tyrannical petro-prime minister. Harper is slowly handing Canada over to corporations which: ravage our environment and First Nations communities; exploit and abuse Canadian workers; demand more and more tax cuts; and hoard billions of dollars in profits without creating jobs. In the search for markets for these corporations, the Conservatives are negating our moral fabric and hard earned values. Recently, Harper crawled before authoritarian China, the new colonizer, without questioning the country’s appalling human rights record. In fact, I’m demanding only the minimum of what Canadians should rightly be demanding of their leaders right now. Canada today faces a situation that calls on Parliament to reign in an authoritarian and dangerous prime minister. Harper’s undemocratic actions – from proroguing parliament, through last year’s contempt of parliament, to draconian measures, bills and laws – are impeachable. Now is the hour for Canadian leadership. It’s the hour for the Prime Minister, MPs and Senators to listen to and value the concerns of all Canadians. Giving up the fight against Bill C10 is a betrayal of those in our society who need protection from the excesses of state power. Now is the hour to build a society that nurtures hope instead of extinguishing it. An injustice visited upon a single Canadian or community, is an injustice visited upon all of us. We must insist on a united and caring Canada that without apology encourages all to set aside differences and prescribed labels, and come together to create a strong national identity based on these Canadian values: compassion, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law, multiculturalism, inclusion, diversity, fairness, democratic governance and accommodation of difference. Therein, not the Safe Streets and Communities Act, lies our collective security. I do not underestimate the odds I face. I’m a self-identified anti-capitalism activist in a moment the distinction between terrorist and legitimate protester is more than more than ever before blurred in Canada. Nevertheless, I’ll fight for a Canada I believe in. I leave you with the words of Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, whose voice, like many others, was ignored during the crime Bill C-10 hearings: “Are we going to be a compassionate Canada and look out for one another, or are we going to criminalize one another and send each other to jail? That’s the fundamental question that has to be answered.” We must love and look after each other. Respectfully,
Obert Madondo Activist and Progressive Political Blogger Tel: (613) 265 4295 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.canadianprogressiveworld.com cc: All MPs and Senators, civil society groups, media and activists
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