Monday, August 27, 2007

Fear & Loathing in Montebello

Do you get the feeling that our so-called leaders are afraid of us?

That's the question that occurred to me as I watched TV coverage of the Montebello meeting of the Three Amigos.

The summit and its coverage were barely a blip on our consciousness. A few minutes on the nightly news. Commentary during the day. It's as if we hardly noticed that ordinary citizens voicing legitimate protest were assaulted by police. Here in the Peaceable Kingdom.

More than anything, this is what disturbs me. Leave aside for a moment the merits or flaws of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). It's that the people who ostensibly represent us hide behind a wall of police in riot gear, going so far as to invade (I'm tempted to use the term “desecrate”) a nearby cemetery; spray tear gas everywhere; mock the people involved; and pretend that it's just a casual, bureaucratic-type get-together – and we're not outraged by it. It's little more than an item on the national news.

Now, this may be mundane fare in war zones, or riot-prone countries. Not so unusual even in the US, I suppose, which has a history of sending in the National Guard. But here in the Peaceable Kingdom, I'd think such an event would rank fairly high on the outrage scale.

And it leads me to a question we have all had directed at us whenever one of our governments wants to do something that invades our privacy or our civil liberties: Amigos, if you have nothing to hide, what are you so worried about? Really! Why not let everybody see what boring stuff you're doing? Or is it that you spent two days playing on X-Box and don't want anybody to know?

I heard PM Harpie make fun of the protesters and citizens who have been expressing concern for months over this summit by citing the example of one industrialist attendee, a manufacturer of jelly beans. It seems the standards for jelly beans don't quite sync up between Canada and the US. How, he wonders, can discussion of jelly beans possibly be construed as a North American Unity conspiracy? My response to this is: What? You need a battalion of armed guards to discuss jelly beans?

OK, so I've drifted into the pros and cons of the SPP now. In fact, I reserve judgment on this issue. For the moment. I've been reading and hearing about it for months, and in fact intended to write a post about it quite a while ago but never got around to it. It seems obvious to me that the three countries that are party to NAFTA would want to harmonize some aspects of their trade and economic relations. Common standards for jelly beans, that would be a good thing. It's natural that we should agree on certain standards. In my view, though, the agreed-upon standards should be the highest standards, not the lowest. And if any one country cannot meet those standards, well they should not be included. Simple as that.

For example, it's been publicized that the US considers Canada's regulations about pesticide use on fruits and vegetables to be a restraint of trade, because they are more stringent than those in the US. Too bad, I say. The US should be forced to live up to the higher standard. The same goes for any regulation.

These are bureaucratic considerations. When it comes to things about true national interests, like water, oil, security, then I begin to think we are not necessarily obliged to be in lock-step. The SPP raises issues like harmonizing a terrorist no-fly list. We've all heard horror stories about innocent people ending up on such lists. I'm not in favour of bowing to the US on points like this, because I believe the US is still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and is not really thinking clearly about its security issues. And what they've managed to do so far is make us all a little crazy.

One thing that gives me pause in all this furor about the SPP is the strange bedfellows it has created. Here in Canada, the main opposition has come from the Council of Canadians which, by most standards, would be considered left-wing/progressive. Maude Barlow has been pushing the Canadian nationalist/beware the US message for a long time. Often she's right. But sometimes they're a little shrill and paranoid, I think. More so lately. But on the US side, who do we have? Most definitely right-wing Jerome R. Corsi, author of The Late Great USA, prime architect of the Swift Boat movement to defeat John Kerry in the last presidential election...a man who believes his government is leading the Murricans into a North American Union similar to the EU. This is a man who fits comfortably into the spectrum of opinion ranging towards the Michigan Militia and the anti-United Nations fanatics who think they are about to have their freedoms removed by One World Government.

I suppose you could say these widely-divergent world-views are united by a common element: the feeling that the sovereignty of their respective nations will be fatally undermined.

Or maybe two elements: that our governments are not telling us what they're really doing.

And I think that is dangerous.

Meanwhile, we were treated last week to the spectacle of Sureté du Québec officers dressed up in Halloween costumes and deliberately trying to start trouble where there wasn't any. Cops inciting a riot. All for the sake of discrediting protesters with legitimate concerns.

And the patronizing tone of all the leaders, insulting our intelligence and assaulting our fellow citizens. Mark my words...it's crap like that which foments unrest. And then maybe our leaders really will have something to be afraid of. Democracy.


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