Originally published as a column in the AM News on March 13, 2015.
It is 11am and I am out for a run. I get to see far over the grasslands yet my eyes do not make it that far. A river of yellow air sitting on top of the downtown like a lazy impudent snake divides my running grounds from the distant grasslands. It is almost mid-March and there are already rumours of fire bans throughout the Thompson-Okanagan.
These days, bill C-51 is being discussed in Parliament. The two instances of life seem unconnected and yet the connection is as straightforward as it is eerie. Should this bill pass, we will see Canada equipped with a fresh organization capable of grabbing potential terrorists by the throat and stopping them mid-action.
Kind of a police force but with a different name and on steroids, since it will give 17 government agencies (14 of which are not subject to dedicated independent review) that oversee national security access to all information pertaining citizens like me and you. In other words, pray for mercy if you’re it, because this is one mean game of tag.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien (who was blocked from the committee witness list) points to this and more, adding his name to the the 100 plus academics’ who are urging the government to reconsider the terms of this anti-terrorism legislation that is presented as a tool against those who threaten our national security, but has the power to analyze our every bit of data, personal and otherwise.
Which, we are told, is a good thing, because it ensures our safety. If you get past the part where you have to define who the ‘us’ is and who will be cast as the ‘bad guys’.
Could the people who stand for their right to speak and act in the interest of democracy and other civil liberties that we proudly display to the world be labelled as terrorists? That’s one of the fears some of the MPs and independent observers have.
It is sunny and the sky is painted in clouds. It is beautiful, yet the yellow air feels heavy in the distance. I will be heading home soon to work on some articles about the continuous use of bisphenol A and flame retardants despite of their now clearly demonstrated albeit ‘invisible’ to the unaware consumer due to their hidden nature (literally) but also due to the reassurance people get and count on from their government.
Then I will be tackling the dilemma of trains versus pipelines. Just last weekend another train transporting crude oil derailed in northern Ontario, and that is just two weeks after another train derailment causing an oil spill in a close-by area. A bitumen spill in Alberta in the Peace River country makes one stop before saying … ‘so pipelines are safer.’ They are not. Nor are trains. Everything that we do involves risks and consequences.
The dilemma train vs. pipeline has been on the lips of many a citizens lately. Those who keep their minds open and are able to see that our world is undergoing some pains we may not be ready to deal with (on a local scale, imagine a long summer of wild fires and dwindling water supplies because other areas need water just as badly for their own fires) ask another question: if there are alternatives, why don’t we use them?
I have been researching the tar sands (and have so much to learn still) and when the news came that environmental groups are under surveillance and more, I had the uncomfortable feeling of reading flagged material. It made me think of the many stories I heard in my birth country about the government surveying people who believe in values that have no dollar sign attached to them
Will writing about this get me in trouble now or later? Will our collective children learn to whisper rather than talk because someone may be listening? Will we turn on each other to keep safe from powers we cannot see but who will be behind corners we turn every day? Am I overreacting? How 1984ish of me.
Democracy is a gift that a country offers to its citizens. It ensures freedom and rights. And freedom is a mighty big word that stands for a concept we need to keep around us like we need air to breathe.
Hence my parallel. The yellow air does not ensure freedom to breathe, unless we choose to close our eyes and see it as such. Unless we choose to be complacent about it. Watching over people to make sure their safety is in place is what we expect our government to do, but we expect them to do it right, in a way that does not impend on our freedom.
Much has been said about that since the latest sad incidents that saw two Canadian soldiers killed. Terrorism, mental health, lack of resources, the list could goes on, but pointing at them without acting to changing is a useless, redundant activity.
There will be threats, unfortunately, even more so in the context of increased world turmoil that transcends country boundaries and sees people enslaved to the wrong beliefs. Even more of a reason to approach a bill such as C-51 with caution and an open mind. And allowing all parties who stand for human rights and democracy to have a say and be listened to.
We cannot allow anyone for any reason to unravel the democratic tapestry our predecessors have fought hard to weave. So we have to strive to know how to prevent that, because knowledge is power. The good, we’re-in-it-together kind of power that allows you the freedom to look at the sky and wonder what can be done if the blue is no longer blue enough.