There used to be two mainstream politicians with a spine in Canada. Svend Robinson from British Columbia was a member of the social democrat New Democratic Party (NDP). He visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories and was virtually alone in calling public attention to Israel’s atrocities there. He challenged Canada’s role in the coup in Haiti. He was critical of US imperial adventures. Activists got in touch with him when they wanted questions raised in Parliament. Then the poor guy stole a ring from an auction, turned himself in immediately, and retired from politics in disgrace, reducing the number of active Canadian politicians with some integrity by somewhere around 50%.
Carolyn Parrish is the one who’s left. She is from the suburbs of Toronto and is a member of the ruling Liberal Party, although that party’s leader, Prime Minister Paul Martin has publicly joked about how he and Bush want to send her to Mars. Carrolyn Parrish appeared on a Canadian political comedy show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, stomping on a little Bush doll and smiling. She’s called Bush ‘warlike’, said she was ‘dumbfounded’ that so many Americans had voted for him, and said that “that country is completely out of step with most of the free world.”
Nothing gets punished in politics like pointing out what is utterly obvious, though. So Martin removed Parrish from the Liberal caucus. The media are full of unflattering pictures of Parrish and accompanying admonishing editorials about her ‘anti-American’ behaviour.
The most craven figures in Canadian politics, found in the Conservative Alliance party, had slimy comments like the one made by Peter MacKay, a Conservative leader: “Think about the businesses in this country that are being affected and the families and the farmers and the forest industry.” That is what people should do before they think about the shredding of international law, the widespread use of torture, at least a hundred thousand killed, the desire to unleash new generations of nuclear weapons on the world.
Luckily Canada’s left political party leader found his spine – oh, no, wait, no he didn’t. Jack Layton did the same kind of disappointing politicking that is becoming his trademark, despite integrity being the only thing the NDP could conceivably have to trade on. According to CTV News:
‘Mr. Layton said he wants to have a meeting with Mr. Bush to raise his opposition to the missile defence shield – although such an audience would be a rarity. “We believe that that’s the way to go about it. I don’t believe the House of Commons is a place for disrespect,” he said. Ms. Parrish’s joke film, stomping on a Bush doll, is “sad,” Mr. Layton said. “It takes away from the issues that we should be addressing when it comes to George Bush, which is his policies on the weaponization of space, the growing arms race, the trade policy disputes that we have, the Patriot Act and its impact on Canadian privacy. This trivializes all of that, and I think that’s unfortunate.”‘
Layton apparently didn’t “think it unfortunate” that he couldn’t find the words ‘Haiti’, ‘Afghanistan’, ‘Palestine’, ‘Iraq’, ‘Fallujah’, or ‘Abu Ghraib’ in his list of “issues we should be addressing when it comes to George Bush”.
For the record, it should be acknowledged that Carolyn Parrish and the comedians at 22 minutes showed an appalling lack of imagination. Rather than stomping on the doll, Parrish ought to have assembled a half-dozen naked effigies of Bush and built a human pyramid out of them (that’s called ‘position abuse’, and apparently sexual humiliation really works well on ‘those kinds’ of dolls). She could also have, say, taken a Bush doll to an evangelical church, covered it with a blanket, and shot it in the head at close range. Or perhaps she could have let the Bush doll walk down the street, perhaps after doing some shopping, and blow it up with a 500-pound bomb.
The denunciations from Canadian politicians after those acts would at least have been less boring.
And all this in advance of Bush coming to Canada on November 30. No wonder politicians are so scared. They know that the Canadian population is a little less “out of step with the rest of the world” than they are, and they don’t want them crashing their chance to smooth things over with the emperor. That’s why none of them, not even Layton, dares mention Iraq, and that’s why Parrish had to be punished so severely.
Canada has a long history of complicity in US crimes. The Vietnam war was the worst example, though Haiti and Afghanistan are more recent and ongoing. Since 9/11, though, as United States foreign policy has gotten more aggressive and blatant in its violations of human rights and international law, it has forced other countries to decide whether they wanted to be vassals or pay some unspecified price. Most of the rich countries have looked on in uncomfortable silence, looking for cheap opportunities to make peace with the US on the bones of helpless peoples like the Palestinians or Haitians. The Iraq war, however, and the crazy nuclear schemes, are less popular even with elites.
Canada’s elite has always been split between a really craven bunch who want to become part of the US (Peter MacKay’s comment is indicative, as is his Conservative Alliance party or the daily newspaper The National Post on any given day) and a more ambivalent group who thought they could do better on their own. The independent-minded elite gets weaker by the day, but there are still strains of it even in the Liberal Party, where some know that even the most eager imperial stooges will have a hard time convincing Canadians to sign up (although now that Fox News is coming to Canada, maybe things will get easier for Bush boosters in Canada).
When elites are divided and unsure, protests can make a big difference. There is not a lot of time to mobilize, but people, unlike politicians or the media, don’t have selective amnesia and are capable of remembering strange concepts like ‘Iraq’, ‘Haiti’, and ‘occupation’. The bigger and more spirited the protests, the better. The United States is the most dangerous force in the world right now. Canadians know that, and will be sympathetic to protesters on this, as they were during the anti-globalization protests in the late 1990s. Canada signing on to the US project publicly and unconditionally, as Bush will try to get Martin to do, will strengthen US ambitions and help break the international isolation that is one of the only things that can weaken the US onslaught against the world right now. Canada moving away from its cozy complicity, on the other hand, and publicly distancing itself from the US, would be a significant help to beleaguered people in Iraq, Palestine, Haiti, Afghanistan.
Bush and Martin have handed us an opportunity. There’s not a lot of time, but there are a lot of people within a few hours of Ottawa (including Americnas, who are of course welcome!) who don’t want Canada participating in massacres and imperial adventures.
Various groups from Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, and from the vigil to the more confrontational, are mobilizing to meet Bush in Ottawa on November 30/December 1. If you can be there, be there!
Meet Bush in Ottawa Resources (updated daily)
Justin Podur will see you in Ottawa in a week and a half. His blog is www.killingtrain.com