November 9 in Canada

The thin margins in every state, the almost-equal doling out of the popular vote tell a terrible story; it’s the story I worried about for Canada a year ago.

What we’ve learned is that the rights we hold most precious, the rights we believe define us as a people, are in fact alienable, if we do not protect them with our strong voices and especially our strong actions. Our takeaway as Canadians has to be how we choose here in Canada to react, and how we choose to move forward. Don’t fool yourself: we’re not any better. Our election process last year was threaded through with racist ploys to win votes. I watched with horror as women were attacked on the street for what they chose to wear – because of a campaign promise from the man who’d already been our Prime Minister for years. Across the country we are watching right now as governments of every level ignore the rights of indigenous people to clean water, to their land, and to a real say in its use. Kellie Leitch, hoping to gain the federal leadership of the PC party, has already sent out a campaign letter promising to bring Trump-style politics to Canada.

What I’m saying is: Now is a good time to decide what is important to you. Now and for the next many years is the time to fight more starkly than ever for full and uncontestable equality. For women, People of Colour, indigenous people, LGBTQ people, for people of all religions, for citizens and for refugees.

A few days before this election, my daughter called me from the city where she now attends university, to tell me the details of how she peacefully protested DAPL in solidarity from here in Canada, how she walked into her bank– a major investor in the pipeline–  and demanded some accountability. I take heart in that. But we need people of all ages to participate, everyone.

There is no time left for complacency – even with a new Prime Minister, even with a new government in place. There is no time left to take anything for granted, because the wall that is really coming up is the wall of intolerance from the south. It has a fantastic media package. It will be hard to avoid being crushed.

For every one of us expressing these same thoughts, for everyone I can imagine nodding along as I type this, I also know there is another person, someone who is galvanized by this election result. Someone who takes it as permission.

I will not give that permission.

Why am I so afraid to write about this election?

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.

Taking Action

***Please be aware that this post discusses a recent violent crime. Details may be upsetting. images

As a woman in this country, sometimes I think the real question is: When do we start rioting? Earlier this week Ontario resident Bradley Barton was acquitted in the murder of Cindy Gladue, an Aboriginal sex worker. Gladue died four years ago, in a hotel bathtub in Edmonton. Barton is the one who called it in. He told 911 operators that he’d found an unknown woman dead in his hotel bathroom, but CCTV later revealed that Barton and Gladue had spent time together over the previous two evenings. In court, Barton pleaded that her death was accidental, a result of rough sex. Gladue bled to death, caused by an eleven-centimetre stab wound along the right side of her vagina. Acting chief medical examiner Graeme Dowling testified that considerable force would have been needed to cause the wound.

No one consents to that level of violence. Gladue, in fact, was not in form to consciously consent to anything — toxicology reports showed her blood alcohol level was four times the legal driving limit. The almost all-male, all-white jury took only a day and a half to come to their decision.

I hear news like this and get despondent. Cindy Gladue also had a life. She also had a story.

When asked point blank about the possibility of launching a public inquiry into the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women, Prime Minister Harper recently said “it isn’t high on our radar, to be honest.” This crisis is high on my radar: that’s why I’m asking you to add your voice to the growing demand for an appeal to this verdict.

You can help. Now is a moment where we can stand together and take action. Please help us urge the Crown to initiate an appeal. Crown Prosecutor Carole Godfrey has only 26 days left to initiate an appeal for a retrial. My understanding is that the appeal will have to be approved by Solicitor General Jonathan Denis. Please write to them both.

To Crown Prosecutor Carole Godfrey:  Please respectfully request that she initiate an appeal to retry Bradley Barton for the original charges of second-degree murder. The grounds for appeal include the gross miscarriage of justice; bias on a jury with few or no women and no people of colour. Express your moral outrage that Bradley Barton is free to go, after he left Cindy Gladue to bleed to death in a hotel bathtub.

Crown Prosecutor Carole Godfrey
6th Floor, J.E. Brownlee Building
10365 – 97th Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 3W7
Telephone: 780-422-1111
Fax: 780-422-9756
E-mail: edmontonprosecutions@gov.ab.ca

Write to Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis. Express your moral outrage, grave concern for public safety and the miscarriage of justice for Cindy Gladue. Tell him your letter is a vote of non-confidence from us, Gladue’s fellow citizens, in the verdict of not guilty for Bradley Barton, the man who caused her violent death.

Honourable Jonathan Denis QC MLA
Minister of Justice and Solicitor General
3rd floor, Bowker Building, 9833 – 109 Street.
Edmonton, Alberta, T5K 2E8,
ministryofjustice@gov.ab.ca
Phone: 780-427-2339
Fax: 780-422-6621

Twitter: @AlbertaJSG

Letters written on paper are more meaningful than emails. Write your letter and send it both ways, by post and by email. Media: Send your letters (or write new ones) to the editors of the Edmonton Journal, the Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Herald, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail. We can fight this verdict, and make our voices heard. No more missing women. No more missing girls.