By Nora Loreto
I suspect that the events of Oct. 22, 2014, will mark a turning point in Canadian civil liberties.
With downtown Ottawa back from lockdown and thousands who work in the core reeling, we are far from the dust settling on what has just happened.
I also suspect that despite this fact, there are some who are already planning how to use these events to justify certain political policies.
On hearing the news of the shootings on Parliament Hill, my first reaction was not fear but a deep sense of tragedy. Now, fear has started to sink in as well.
My fear doesn’t stem from the worry that I might die from a gun-toting man. No, I’m deeply afraid what the attacks in Ottawa will mean for civil liberties, our freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our ability to speak out and criticize the actions of our government.
Canada went to war in Iraq with very little debate on the subject. In fact, Canadian personnel were dispatched to Iraq before a debate was held. When a debate was held it was quick and mostly ceremonial.
Canadian Air Force personnel were sent from Cold Lake, Alberta, and will soon engage in an aerial bombing campaign that will kill hundreds. It is likely they will kill civilians along with ISIS fighters.
Days before the Ottawa events, someone who apparently supported ISIS killed a soldier in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Then the gunman ran through Centre Block while journalists were in a scrum with Steven Blaney, minister of public safety, talking about changing measures to address Canada’s new heightened terror level.
There was supposed to be a debate that afternoon on Canada’s gun laws, laws that the Conservative government is trying to loosen. The shooter used a long gun, the kind that was subject to the gun registry, which the Conservatives cancelled.
If history tells us anything, Conservative forces are going to use this event to further restrict civil liberties. We will enter a period of political disorientation. Canadians need to do what they can to resist government attempts to limit debate on these matters.
These events demonstrate the importance of public debate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed Canada to go to war in Iraq before holding a debate; before we had the opportunity to balance the dangers with the mission’s goals.
War is dangerous and terrible business. Declaring war against another nation or political faction like ISIS, cannot be done on the whim of a political party, especially as it will result in threats to Canadian life. We can only have these kinds of discussions when we encourage open and public debate.
Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine theory, that extreme measures can be imposed on people who would otherwise not consent in times of crisis, may give us a glimpse into the future.
For the North American left and Muslims in general, Sept.11, 2001, changed everything. Many people saw their civil liberties vanish. Many were unjustly jailed.
Canada participated in the invasion of Afghanistan, a military involvement that only ended this year. Social movements, especially the anti-war movement, were crushed.
In an era where many right-wing personalities and politicians regularly call social justice activists terrorists, we are potentially entering some very difficult times for state security and surveillance. In striving to capture people who are marked as potential terrorists, how many innocent people will be swept up?
Canadians need to resist the culture of fear that events like today’s breed. We need to condemn violence and we need to offer supports to people who are directly affected by tragic events.
We need to reject the politics of division and re-inject the love and social solidarity that has been eroded from within our communities.
Nora Loreto’s articles are made available by rabble.ca, a progressive Canadian online magazine.