That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the past few weeks.
And aside from a steady stream of cheerleader-type Tweets (V! O! T! E! What’s that spell?), I haven’t written a word.
Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog post that started with this line:
As a woman in this country, sometimes I think the real question is: When do we start rioting?
The post was written in response to what I perceive to be a miscarriage of justice – the acquittal of the accused murderer of Cindy Gladue. It was shared more widely than anything else I’ve ever said publicly. A few weeks later, I saw those words again, hand-painted on a stranger’s sign at the demonstration held in St. John’s in Gladue’s memory, part of a National Day of Action demanding an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. I was standing with co-organizer Jenny Wright, head of the St. John’s Status of Women Council. Wright leaned in. “You know,” she said. “Under C-51, we could all be arrested for that sign.”
Six months on, I recognize that not only could I be arrested for the implied threat my words carried, but as a dual citizen, under C-24, I could also be deported. (While I’m not a member of an international terrorist association, feminists do seem to scare the pants off this government.) Ironically, in the country to which I would be exiled – Romania – I am also a second-class citizen, an ethnic Hungarian.
What’s that? You think I’m being hyperbolic? Not so. The Harper government has shown, at best, disregard and at worst, true contempt for our rights and freedoms. C-51 was drafted in defiance of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and has attracted stern criticism from the UN. Yes yes yes, you say. But as a Canadian-born white lady, these laws are not aimed at you, Elisabeth.
Right you are: They are part of the new Canada. Harper’s legacy here is his anti-Muslim racist agenda. But I think that may be only the beginning.
In a shameful attempt to sway voters and divide the country, Harper hired Australian campaign maestro Lynton Crosby, known for cheap, racist ploys – and suddenly the election issue became, not the economy, social services, the environment, or infrastructure – but the niqab, a religious head covering that only two women have ever declined to remove during their citizenship ceremony. (To be perfectly clear, all potential citizens go through rigorous identity screening. All citizens must be identified by showing their faces in private meetings, prior to the ceremony. The ceremony itself is just that: a ritual, a special day. Like your wedding, or your college graduation.) After running a campaign where PC candidates were actually told not to discuss the issues with the press, Harper used the niqab debate to deflect attention from his government’s poor record and to fight lousy performance at the polls. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather talk about jobs and child care than someone’s hat.
The tactic did its work. In the past three weeks, we’ve seen Muslim women attacked in the street – one of them pregnant – and now these angry slurs sprayed on Liberal candidate Khalil Ramal’s election signs. We should all be embarrassed. Not only are Canadians knee-jerk racists, we will literally nod our heads along to whatever song the government is singing. Shame on us. I say, US. I say, WE. Because these are not strangers, perpetrating hate crimes. They are our neighbours and fellow citizens, our schoolmates and, maybe, our family.
There’s a clever meme out there, showing how Canadians are far more likely to be killed by a moose than by a terrorist plot. The hypocrisy of a Prime Minister who is low enough to make anti-Muslim racism an election ploy, yet had no trouble selling the Canadian Wheat Board to Saudi Arabian interests, does not escape me. Nor should it escape you. That’s because the niqab debate isn’t about simple racism. It’s about controlling the population. And when I say population, I mean you.
I can tell you that things are so bad, the whole world is now watching. Consistent problems with fraud in previous elections – including the robocall scandal—mean that an international human rights and democracy group has been sent in to observe and monitor our election proceedings. They arrived in Ottawa on October 5th. Media in the UK and the US have been sitting up and taking notice for months. What will it take for Canadians to follow suit?
About eighteen months ago, I lost my great-uncle Charlie. He was 102. Although he’d been living in New York for more than sixty years, like most of my family, he was born in Transylvania. During the Second World War, he spent two months in Budapest, detained at 60 Andrássy – then the headquarters of the Hungarian secret police. Today, 60 Andrássy stands as a museum of torture. We never talked about what happened to him there. But it’s what I think about, when I think about this government and the path Harper is choosing for us.
Earlier this month, the Conservatives announced their plan for a new RCMP tip line that Canadians could use to report on the behavior of their friends and neighbours. Tell me again how that makes us different from a fascist regime?
I grew up in the post-Trudeau era, firm in my reliance on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I’m a member of PEN, the international group that protects writers and freedom of expression. This is why I’m writing about my own fear today – instead of any of the many other important ways that the Harper government has damaged Canada: they have trashed the economy, irrevocably destroyed our national libraries, gagged our scientists, abandoned veterans, decimated our protection of the environment, sent the CRA after charities, defrauded our elections, and systematically eroded women’s rights and gender equality.
But here’s why I am afraid to write about the election:
Because if Harper is reelected, I believe things will get much worse. I believe the Harper government is inches away from taking away my right to free expression. My right, in fact, to say any of the things I’ve said here in this post. I wonder what will happen to writers and journalists on October 20th, if the Canadian people fall for him again.
I cast my own vote over a week ago, at one of the brand new pop-up polls that Elections Canada installed on university campuses this year. Advance polls are closed now, but by the end of the day on Sunday, October 11th, some 2.4 million Canadians had already voted. That’s a massive increase over previous years, and I think it’s cause for serious hope. But optimism is not enough.
If you haven’t voted yet, you’ve got one day only to do so: Monday, October 19th. Not registered yet? You have until 6pm today, October 13, to fix that. Register now.
You will be able to register at the poll on election day — but be warned, there may be long lines. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your right to vote.
Go vote. Don’t let Stephen Harper take our country away.