On Brexit and the end of the UK

British voters have rejected the European Union, and voted to leave the organization irrevocably, as EU leaders have made clear will be the case. David Cameron, having recklessly gambled his premiership and his country on a risky and unnecessary referendum, has resigned in disgrace. He may well be remembered as not just one of the worst British prime ministers of the century, but very probably one of the last.

The Scottish National Party now has the perfect justification for a second referendum on independence, which they will almost certainly win. The Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland is threatened with collapse. Markets and the value of the pound sterling are in free fall. Euroscepticism has been vindicated, encouraged and inspired across the rest of the EU. The centrifugal historical forces that have been at work in the British Isles over the last half century are reaching their inevitable culmination; the end of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

An interesting side effect of the European Union and its promise of a federated continent of nations was the impact it had on the older multinational conglomerates of Britain and Spain. Both countries constitute multiple nations ruled by single monarchs, along the lines of the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Separatist forces in Scotland and Catalonia, always present, have been emboldened by the rise of an alternative narrative for their existence: as European countries. Not subjects of ancient crowns.

Now, for Scotland at least, which decisively voted to remain a member of the EU, the time may have come to free itself from an arrangement that no longer suits its needs, wants, or aspirations. In their upcoming referendum on independence, they will decisively detonate the idea of a united Great Britain, consigning it to the historical dustheap, and dissolving the state back into its constituent elements of Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland.

What often gets forgotten in discussions of Britain is how very, very new it is as an idea. It isn’t even more than a century older than the idea of America. The Act of Union that united, for the first time ever in recorded history, the peoples of ‘Great Britain,’ was passed by the Westminster parliament in 1707. That’s only seventy years before the birth of American nationalism in 1776.

Scotland and England had dwelt before then in a highly uneasy personal Union since 1603, sharing a monarch after James VI of Scotland’s accession to the throne of England, but very little else. James and the kings who followed him, despite their best efforts, for the most part failed completely in their efforts to unite their Scottish and English subjects within one state. Both countries retained their separate parliaments, churches, and legal and educational systems. Even after the union of the parliaments in 1707, the kirk and the educational system remained distinctly Scottish. Canada owes its university system, to take one example, to Scotland, not to England.

Only when the Scottish state was completely bankrupted by a failed scheme to colonize the isthmus of Panama in the 1690s in the Darien scheme were the conditions for a political union between Scotland and England even remotely possible. And even then, it was more of a hostile takeover than it was a genuine coming together. England agreed to forgive Scottish debt, largely held by English banks, if Scotland surrendered its sovereignty.

Ironically, what the Act of Union ended up meaning for Scotland wasn’t all that different from what the European Union means today to Greece, Portugal and other ‘peripheral’ Eurozone economies. It meant shotgun marriage, into which the weaker partner was browbeaten and threatened by her domineering new partner.

The people of the British Isles had never, ever been a unified political entity before 1707. The Romans, the Saxons and even the Normans had all failed to subjugate the entire archipelago and bring it under one political system. So the Stuart dynasty’s total failure to create a ‘British people’ was really only to be expected. Throughout the personal union, and for much of the political one, the English continued to call themselves English, and the Scots Scottish.

The Irish, until the very recent past, were little more than subject peoples in the context of the British state; violently conquered and widely regarded as subhuman papists well into the nineteenth century. Ireland’s narrative of national struggle actually bears a closer resemblance to those former British colonies in India, Africa and the Middle East than it does to that of Scotland. It is one of the ironies of British imperialism that it was never more cruel than when it struck closest to home.

British identity first came to mean anything at all to those English, Scots and Welsh who set out for the colonies; for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and what would become the United States. When confronted with the French, the Spanish, or the so-called ‘savages’ of India and North America, the differences between Welshman, Scotsman and Englishman began to seem trivial by comparison. And as the Empire grew and strengthened, with many Scots in particular at the vanguard of its expansion, people began to take pride in their Britishness, and not in their peculiar old nationalisms.

All took pride in their destiny as ‘Britons,’ and aspired to rule the world forever as such. The late nineteenth century was the high point of ‘Britishness.’ It is in this period, and only in this period, that it was possible for a Scot living in Montreal named James McGill to found a university in his name, and on his tombstone, to refer to the city of his birth as Glasgow, North Britain. It was a sentiment that would have been laughable, if not unthinkable, in earlier times, and which has become so yet again today.

After the Empire began its long decline in the aftermath of two devastating world wars, British policymakers tried, at first, to salvage some remnant of the world order they had once headed by devising the Commonwealth of Nations, which is still attempting to continue by free association the processes begun by imperialism. To this end they attempted, in 1962, to free up immigration from the ex-Dominions in order to give practical heft to the fine words they were speaking.

In order for this to make any sense, these policymakers were forced to resort to some expedients that they found rather distasteful. Most importantly, as the Labour opposition incisively pointed out at the time, if the citizens of Canada, Australia, and apartheid South Africa were truly still members of some kind of glorious British world-order, then so were the citizens of Jamaica, Nigeria, India and Pakistan. What, then, was to stop them too from immigrating to Britain to claim the prosperity that the elite were telling them was their birthright as inheritors of the imperial legacy?

Nothing at all, was the obvious answer. And so the definition of Britishness was at last expanded to include the subject peoples of the former colonies, opening the doors to the mass immigration that is at the root of Britain’s current national anxieties. Though Enoch Powell’s famous analysis of the problems this would eventually pose was and is deeply distasteful, coming as it does from a place of deep racism and bigotry, it also wasn’t inaccurate, as the history of British race relations in the twentieth century has amply demonstrated.

Then in the 60s and 70s, a succession of British Governments (both Labour and Tory) began resolutely turning away from their imperial heritage and any attempt to make the Commonwealth a viable entity. It was Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath, with his famous 1971 white paper, who would eventually bring Britain into the EU, and decisively reorient Britain as a European nation.

This came as a deep psychological shock in the colonies. In the words of the famous Kiwi historian JGA Pocock, ‘Mother Britain ran off and joined the EEC.’ The former dominions felt quite betrayed by this at the time, and a great deal of Canada, Australia and New Zealand’s postcolonial search for identity in the second half of the twentieth century has indeed been largely a response to ‘Mother Britain’s’ total failure to reciprocate their deep interest and sense of connection with her.

Britain continually betrayed and belittled the feelings of English Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and repeatedly demonstrated how little they really meant to her. The mother country’s lack of interest forced the commonwealth dominions to try and find some kind of identity that wasn’t rooted in Britishness and Britannic pride.In that context, it was possible for someone like Pocock to anticipate precisely the problem that is consuming Britain right now: In his famous lecture, he incisively noted, during a discussion of fellow historian AJP Taylor’s attitude to Scotland, that

If it has been psychologically possible for [the English, Scots, Irish and Welsh] to annihilate the whole idea of the Commonwealth, white as well as non-white, it is not altogether beyond the bounds of possibility that “United Kingdom” and even “Britain” may someday become similarly inconvenient and be annihilated, or annihilate themselves, in their turn….It is not inconceivable that future historians may find themselves writing of a “Unionist” or even a “British” period in the history of the peoples inhabiting the Atlantic Archipelago, and locating it between a date in the thirteenth, the seventeenth, or the nineteenth century and a date in the twentieth or the twenty first.

He gave this lecture in 1975, but it was barely noticed outside of academic historical circles.

Now that Brexit has arrived, and Britain’s political and economic ties with the European continent are up for review, the UK Independence Party, and the British nationalists it represents, have touted the Commonwealth as an alternative security alliance and market for a post-Brexit Britain. They are remarkably blind to the fact that very few people in the rest of the world, including the commonwealth countries, remember British rule with any fondness. The history of the British state’s interventions in world affairs is one of arrogant meddling in other people’s affairs, blithe rhetoric about their own racial superiority, and outright violent subjugation and rule. Brexiteers are living in a fantasy world, where the grateful Commonwealth will answer the call to come to Britain’s aid with a loud ‘Ready, aye, ready, we stand by you.’

Outside a few paleo-conservatives, miles from the current of mainstream opinion on these issues, imperial sentiment in the former dominions has completely and utterly died. Even the Conservative governments of the recently deposed Stephen Harper in Canada, Malcolm Turnbull in Australia, and John Key in New Zealand, who probably do feel more nostalgia for the empire than most of the people they ostensibly lead, would find opposition totally insurmountable if they went too far in their efforts to restore their countries’ respective status as British colonies.

Stephen Harper, in particular, embarrassed himself with his ham-fisted efforts to restore the old imperial iconography here in Canada. Few people quite understand why he did it, let alone support the restoration of the monarchy and other British symbolisms to the Canadian state. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals almost immediately began the process of dismantling the old symbols upon their election last year.

If Britain really does decide to leave the EU and turn away from the European project, the question inevitable presents itself: to what precisely will she be turning? The old dominions are done with her, and have built postcolonial identities of their own. America has lost interest in any ‘special relationship.’ China, Russia and India are eager to humiliate her, and settle old scores.

Britain will likely discover that the era when it could go it alone, as a great power in its own right, is over. Maintaining the mere cohesion of the state itself will absorb most of a post-Brexit Britain’s energy. A robust presence on the world stage will be sadly beyond it.

The British state could only really have been preserved, like a museum piece, in the context of a united Europe. Together, Europe’s nations are the world’s largest economy and one of its most powerful diplomatic and military forces. Apart, and the ignominious exit of the UK from the Union may lead to still other countries departing, they are merely a squabbling collection of nineteenth century relics. The harsh winds of 21st century diplomacy and security realities will blow all the colder outside the warm, cosy confines of the EU; as Britain is about to discover.

 

 

Rob Ford and the Shaming of the Town Drunk

Well, shockingly enough, he’s off the wagon.

The latest video, of His Worship the Mayor of Toronto drunkenly ranting in Jamaican patois (impressive, at least) in a Rexdale fast food joint, lacks the mysterious allure of the infamous, and as yet unseen, crack video. It doesn’t have the voyeuristic, dangerous thrill of the rage-fuelled rant the Star unearthed for public consumption in December. It doesn’t even have the cringe value of the third, and least discussed, video that Toronto police continue to quietly hold in their evidence locker. (Which I have on good journalistic authority is a sex tape. Sorry for putting that image out there.)

It’s just plain sad.

I know I should be filled with righteous indignation. I’ve torn numerous strips off the guy in posts past. I’ve ranted, I’ve raved, I’ve torn my hair at the indignity of it all. I’ve demanded his head on a spike for violating all my bourgeois notions about how politicians should think, speak and behave. My most puerile rant, which is also sadly among my all-time most viewed posts, piously denounced him as a ‘complete sociopath…a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals.’

Strong Stuff.

He may be these things. He may be all of them and more. But at bottom, all he really is is your garden variety drunk. An addict and an alcoholic in the deepest, darkest funk of denial you ever did see. He’s slowly unraveling before our very eyes.

He’s not the first, nor will he be the last person to discover he has a problem with drugs and alcohol. The poor guy has just put himself in a position where he can’t work through this issue in private. Every lapse in judgement, every stupid decision is immediately posted to the internet for the mockery of the masses. Every slip is front page news from coast to coast. He’s late night comedy gold, and will continue to be so for as long as he remains in denial about himself and his issues.

And though the Toronto Star has simply been doing their job in exposing his weaknesses, frailties, and criminal behavior, there comes a point where they’re hurting, rather than helping their cause by publicly shaming the town drunk for weeks, months and years on end.

I oppose Ford politically, and look forward to his electoral destruction in October. But I also feel for the guy. He’s a sick, sick puppy, who’s refusing all help and continuing down a path that leads, in the end, only to jails, institutions and death. I feel no schadenfreude anymore. I just wish he’d take responsibility for himself and become a legitimate opponent once more.

Everywhere I go, I’m assured that there’s still a very good chance he can win in October. That the ravening hordes of Ford Nation will descend upon the ballot box and once again foist their man upon the rest of us, with all his powers reinstated.

I’m frankly not worried. Ford Nation aren’t stupid, no matter what the downtown glitterati believe. They know a train wreck when they see one. On the path he’s on, this can only get sadder and more pathetic. And a pathetic politician is a politician who’s career is over.

If he admits he has an unmanageable problem and seeks the help that is available? Then I’ll be worried. Because the guy has massive political strengths when he’s at the top of his game. He’s personable, he connects with blue collar voters, and he’s a true multiculturalist; capable of relating naturally and honestly with people that most of the downtown elite don’t even know exist.

When he’s drunk, he’s just another sad lunatic raving on a street corner. He just happens to be a famous one as well. And that won’t last forever.

Canada should Boycott the Sochi Olympics.

The world will converge on the Black Sea resort of Sochi; site of Vladimir Putin’s summer residence, for the Winter Olympics in 2014. The spectacle will be tremendous, and the coverage breathless.

I won’t be watching. None of us should. We shouldn’t send a single team. Neither should any other civilized country.

Canada’s absence would be noted. By more than one nation. Indeed, many countries might feel that we’ve set an example. These are our games. The ones in which we stand a decent shot at a medal count that more than rivals that of China and the United States. We expect the hockey gold as our right, and our failure to achieve it triggers bursts of national soul searching like that which followed the 1998 Nagano Olympic loss.

We shouldn’t compete for it next year.

Because what is happening in Russia to the LGBT community is barbaric. It is twisted, it is evil, and we have seen it before. The IOC feels obliged to reassure gay athletes attending the games that they will be safe. Which is a pretty good indication that they won’t be.

When 50 members of Russia’s LGBT community attempted to celebrate pride this year, they were attacked in the street with rocks, and then carted away by police. I honestly don’t know if they’ve been seen since.

Gay tourists have been told, quite frankly, that they face criminal prosecution if they show any affection, have any meetings, or even so much as display a pride flag.

Let me put it this way. Bryan Burke’s son would never have played hockey again after that became public knowledge. He would have been openly hounded in the street, and probably arrested.

Not a single gay NHLer, and I suspect there are more than one even now, should attend this. They will not be safe. If they want a precedent, they should think of 1936, when the civilized world should probably have not sent teams to the Berlin olympics. If you think this is an exaggerated comparison, I remind you that it wasn’t for any German Jew, Gay, Gypsy, dissident, or other minority. They probably watched those Olympics. And most of them were dead before there was ever another games.

No, I don’t make that comparison lightly, and yes, I think that Vladimir Putin is that evil.

No one is safe while this is happening. No one is ever safe while this is happening. If you think you are, I assure you, they will come for you too in the end.

Russians love hockey. They live for it as much as we do. They’ll feel cheated if we’re not there to beat. Like they haven’t really won.

We can make a difference by doing this. We can be proud of our country.

In fact, there’s already a petition. Please sign it. It’s the right thing to do.

#IdleNoMore: A White Man’s Conversion

I was born and raised in Canada. I love it viscerally. I have travelled widely, but life would not be worth living if I could never go home.

It is a beautiful land. Few places on earth compare. And the incomparable beauty of the land is matched, by and large, by the spirit of the people who live in it. Kind-hearted, generous, fair minded and decent. We have our share of clowns and shits, just like any nation. But our instincts are good. We want to believe the best in human nature, and we’ve been brought up to aspire to it.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m a WASP from Toronto; born into privilege and luxury, and the heart of the Canadian establishment. I try and excuse myself this through the fact of my rampant homosexuality, but the fact remains that by background and upbringing I am the quintessence of white.

And that whiteness has come with certain privileges. I grew up in a beautiful, upper-middle class part of North Toronto, attended elite private schools, and graduated from Oxford University not long ago; a place which, despite its best intentions to change, remains at bottom a proving ground for young members of the global establishment.

I have to face up to that. And writing this is, in part, an exercise in doing so. But while I’m perhaps an extreme example of white privilege, I don’t think I’m alone in needing to face up to the fact that my economic comfort and security comes from my background. I think a lot of us have a lot of hard truths to face, and a lot of serious thinking to do about the unique privilege of being Canadian.

A privilege for which we owe indigenous Canadians quite a lot.

Canada is the most perfectly realized colonial state in the world. Some may rankle at the use of the word, but it remains the accurate one. We are a settler colony of the former British Empire, whose founding, which we celebrated just the other day, dates from an uneasy accommodation of the interests of two different ethnic European groups; the French and the British. It was a celebrated bit of deal making, and it laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Our political instincts run to consensus and compromise. Indeed, those two things are necessary in order for us to get anything done in the system we’ve built. We have never succumbed to chauvinism, or denied our origins as a nation of migrants. We have kept the door open, and build a strong, multicultural community. And as a result, our immigrant society is peaceful, ordered, tranquil, and prosperous.

But it has never included aboriginal Canadians.

It’s patronizing to pretend otherwise. It’s our dirty little secret as a country. The thing we don’t often advertise, but the simple truth. The outright contempt for indigenous peoples that is rampant in the Conservative Party notwithstanding, the pious bleating of our two opposition political parties, which represent between them the decent majority of Canadians, can give a false impression of respect and deference for aboriginal peoples. and stunts like the appropriation of symbols like the Inukshuk for the Vancouver Olympic games, ridiculously inappropriate as it was, can give us the impression that we respect and value aboriginal culture. That we have atoned for the sins of our ancestors, and that our government essentially treats the indigenous population with dignity. The truth is rather different.

The truth is that, as Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox points out on the #IdleNoMore website, ‘for the most part, settlers simply have no clue, are not engaged in a relationship with Indigenous peoples, and assume that the government is following the rule of law and doing right by Indigenous peoples.’

The truth is that for most Canadians, the plight of aboriginal peoples in this country only becomes truly visible when they stand up and take action to shake us out of our indifference, like they did at Oka, or like they’re doing now with #IdleNoMore. Or when the mainstream media deigns to notice the plight of communities like Attawapiskat, and the scandalous deprivation that is their normal. And when they do intrude on our consciousness, the backlash of racism, contempt, and sanctimony that inevitably follows is as disheartening as it is insidious.

The truth is that Canada has a long way to go as a society before it can truly be said to include everyone who lives within its borders.

This is partly because of the fact that aboriginal Canadians make up a very small (albeit rapidly growing) portion of our national demographic. On the streets of our major cities you are unlikely to hear Cree, Ojibwe or Mohawk amid the babel of languages from every corner of the earth you can otherwise hear. Nor are our children likely to know their fellow indigenous Canadians in their classes and in their schools. I think few in urban, middle class Canadian life can claim that they have many native friends and neighbours in the big cities of Canada. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, as there are to any, but I doubt they are legion.

So I’m going to commit here to try and make myself an exception. I’m going to consciously make myself an ally of the First Nations, because we’re going to need more of them in the months and years ahead. Harper’s reign will continue at least until 2015. There is still room for him to do incalculable amounts of damage to our country. It is up to us to stand up to him.

This post represents my personal rejection of much of the conventional wisdom and easy complacency of Canadian life.

Indeed, when I first heard the words Idle No More, I thrilled a little. It was such a direct challenge. Such an inescapable truth.

We have been idle, as a nation. We’ve been bought with comfort and easy living. We acquiesce in the destruction of our environment, the emasculation of our social programs, and the assault on our very democratic heritage by the neo-conservative Harper Government because we’re very well sedated by the pleasures of a fully developed and peaceful capitalist society.

#IdleNoMore represents a challenge to that society. A clarion call to all of us to rise from our apathetic slumber and do something to protect the land we love from those who seek to rape it.

Native Canadians are challenging the rest of us to live up to our own best instincts. To change the way we think. To acknowledge that there are some truths older than capitalism; firmer foundations for society than endless resource extraction; better ways to live than mad, unthinking consumerism, and that we ignore them at our peril

As Martin Lukacs put it succintly in the eminent British newspaper The Guardian, ‘finally honouring Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous legal debt to First Nations: it is also our best chance to save entire territories from endless extraction and destruction. In no small way, the actions of Indigenous peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet.’

I for one, accept that challenge. I refuse to be passive any longer. I refuse to wait on larger forces to get their act together. And above all, I refuse to be complicit in the crimes of my government against the environment, against society, and against democracy. I am Idle No More. From this day, until my last day.

The end of the government of Canada.

So it’s official. There is no longer a government of Canada. There is now the Harper Government. It’s appearing on the letterheads now.

Though Harper himself has proven unable, in the face of popular outcry, to push this through in its entirety, the fact remains that he has tried. And will try again.

I’m glad, in a way. It draws a useful distinction. It helps us remember that this isn’t our government. This isn’t the Canadian state. This is something else entirely.

For me, at least, It makes it easier to realize that this band of old creeps has nothing to do with me. Or my country. It helps me to look people from other countries in the eye and tell them the truth, which is that I increasingly no longer recognize my government. Not in some petty ideological sense, but in the most fundamental way. I want nothing to do with it.

I once dreamed of a career at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International trade. Of representing a country I was genuinely proud of. But that was a different time. I was young. Idealistic. I had faith that I would be doing something worthwhile.

Not shilling Alberta crude in Washington. Or working for John Baird. I’d honestly rather turn tricks. I’d feel less filthy at the end of the day.

Gradually it became obvious that government work in today’s Ottawa would be like wading knee-deep into congealing cement. Pointless, boring, and ultimately stupid.

I didn’t want to be so cowed by my obstreperous, rude, and in some cases clearly rather stupid political masters that I wouldn’t feel able to speak out against something like this idiotic name change  ‘for fear of retribution’ as the Globe and Mail rather drily noted that most civil servants are in today’s Ottawa. I value my  integrity and my pride.

I didn’t want to watch as my funding gradually receded under the unthinking axe of some idiot minister, enslaved by a paleolithic ideology, and animated ultimately by a contempt for everything I hold dear.

And above all, I didn’t want to help them do what they’re doing.

I didn’t want to help them build bigger and more expensive jails to hold the waves of new ‘criminals’ they’re incarcerating. I didn’t want to be party to the mass beating of the peacefully demonstrating citizens of Toronto in their own streets with the unthinking fists of thugs from out of town at the G20. I didn’t want to lie through my teeth to the rest of the world about the wonders of the ‘oil patch,’ or ‘ethical oil,’ or any of the other thousand and one euphemisms we’re now obliged to call the tar sands.

I’d rather work for the Government of Canada. I’d rather be an active citizen of a country I can still be proud of.

But I will never work for the Harper Government. Not so long as it bears this stupid name.

There’s so much we can be proud of as Canadians. We’re peaceful, we’re tolerant, we’re compassionate, and we’re friendly. We mean well. We really do. We just find it hard to care about politics right now, because they’re so dispiriting, petty, and low.

Which is, of course, something Harper doesn’t care about. Or at least doesn’t mind. The more apathetic and tuned out the Canadian public becomes, the more we are lulled and fattened by the gushing fountain of petro dollars keeping our economy afloat, the easier his job becomes.

The easier it becomes of him to rob us of our hard won social protections. Or to pointlessly glorify our military. Or to suck the damn oil out of Alberta as fast as he possibly can, no matter what gets destroyed along the way.

He thrives off the fact that we don’t pay attention.

So I will no longer ever refer to the Government of Canada in reference to the actions of the Harper clique. I will call it what he doesn’t have the courage to do. The Harper Government. Something distinct, alien, and terrible.

Not something that has anything to do with the country I love.

Trudeau, Harper, and how a real statesman treats terrorism.

This is how you deal with terrorism.

Openly, reluctantly, and in the broad light of day. In defense of the spirit of freedom.

Watch it. In it’s entirety when you have time.. He treats Canadians as grown-ups. As people who can understand his reasoning, and follow it. He explains that he is only shouldering the sweeping powers of the War Measures Act with the greatest reluctance, and will rescind them as soon as it’s within his power to do so. And he did.

Now with that in mind, stop and look at what the Harper Government has announced will be the next order of Parliament’s business.

It’s Bill C 7. It allows the government to arrest you before you’ve committed a crime, and to hold you for up to three days without charge or trial.

It also allows the government to hold you for up to a year without trial if you refuse to answer questions put to you by a judge in a so- called ‘investigative hearing.’

It’s a bad bill. It shouldn’t pass.

And nothing that has happened this week will change my mind. Indeed, if anything, I will note with gratitude that the RCMP seem perfectly capable of doing their jobs and isolating and apprehending terrorists without this legislation. They’ve done good work this week.

Though the Globe and Mail may, in the light of recent events, feel that somehow the situation has been changed politically by this attempted attack, and that Harper’s legislation is now praiseworthy and considered, I am less…malleable on this issue than they.

Proponents of the bill claim that it merely restores certain fundamental legal tools necessary if we are to combat terrorism. Tools that were originally passed into law under a Liberal government.

That’s true. I remember being aware of the debate at the time. I was 12, so much of it was over my head, but I remember where my sympathies lay then, too. And it wasn’t with the governing Liberals.

It was in the hysteria after 9 11. You remember those days. The fear, the hatred, the panic. Not one of us was thinking clearly. And even in our angered fervour, we still felt it necessary to sunset some of the more controversial parts of the legislation. Because we felt they were excessive powers that the state shouldn’t possess.

And I’m sorry, but two foreigners looking at a train doesn’t feel like a reason to give the state those powers.

Trudeau was faced with his friends and colleagues, in the case of Pierre Laporte, men he’d known all his life, being kidnapped. Unbelievable rumors were flying around Montreal. There was talk of more kidnappings, of a provisional government preparing to overthrow Premier Bourassa, of apprehended insurrection. If he had only believed half of them, he’d still have felt it was his responsibility to bring in the War Measures Act.

And, I repeat this, he rescinded the powers it gave him almost immediately after the situation had stabilized.

The Harper Government, and in fact most governments around the world at this moment in time, are bringing in sweeping powers to arm the government forever against a nebulous, abstract concept.

We always just seem to accept this. We seem to tolerate a definition of ‘terror ‘that could be, and indeed has been applied to a diverse group of peoples around the world, including the Irish, the Tibetans, the South Africans, and, indeed, the Canadians, who at one time or another, have resorted to violence to achieve an end.

Terrorism is unique, because it is uniquely a crime against the state. It is the state that feels most directly shaken by an act of random violence against the population. Because it undermines the essential claim the state makes; that it is there to protect its citizens. If it can’t do this, what’s the point in having it?

My essential point is this. In Trudeau’s Canada, rights were temporarily suspended to deal with an unprecedented and dangerous situation that threatened the very fabric of Canadian Confederation.

In Harper’s Canada, rights are joyfully stripped from the statutes under the pretense of defending us from the abstract concept of terror. From something that is always hypothetically possible, but which scares us so much we can’t be rational about it. And the government uses and exploits that fear to cow us into a scared silence as our rights under the Charter are taken from us.

There’s more than a cosmetic difference.