Open Your Eyes -
Freedoms Evaporating
Fast In Canada
By Stephanie Fontaine <>

By Stephanie Fontaine < 11-18-99
November 12, 1999. Protesters, numbered fewer than 150, cold, tired, but not about to give up, made their way toward Canada's National Defence building in Ottawa. They were there not to destroy anything, or to harm anyone. They were there to make their opinions known. They were there to protest the rising rate of homelessness in Canada. Many of the protestors were themselves homeless, and were frustrated with the Government and its apparent lack of concern for the steadily-swelling domestic poverty rate. They were confronted by the police in riot gear and many were arrested.
November 18, 1999. Another protest, and this time they took it directly to the Parliament. There were 300 protestors, again many of whom were homeless themselves. They came bearing placards with slogans like "Homes, not Bombs". They were met by the RCMP, wielding pepper spray and riot clubs. They were beaten back and sprayed.
"About 150 RCMP officers dressed in the riot gear of helmets, shields and batons met them as they neared the Parliament buildings." - Canadian Press, Nov. 18 1999
We supposedly live in a Democratic society, and one of the tenets of such dictates clearly that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until he or she is proven guilty. Also, according to Canadian law, it is legal to protest an issue as long as no violence is incurred in the process of the protest.
"Everyone has the right to the following freedoms: (...) c) freedom of peaceable assembly; and d) freedom of association." Canadian Constitution, Part 1, Schedule B. Paragraph 2, Subsections c and d.
In both of these cases, the protestors were punished for participating in something that was not illegal. This is in direct violation of the Canadian Consitution which states that in order to be punished, one must first be convicted of a crime.
"Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned." Canadian Constitution, Part 1 Schedule B. Paragraph 9.
Arbitrary punishment is not acceptable. Furthermore, arbitrary punishment without a prior conviction or even accusation of a crime is a prime characteristic of an Authoritarian governmental system, or, in simpler terms, a dictatorship.
Where does it end? There is far too much power in the wrong hands, it seems. Jean Chretien, currently the Canadian Prime Minister, in February of 1996, grabbed a man by the name of William Clennett, by the throat. He was charged with assault. The Justice Minister, Paul Begin, had had the charges retracted within two hours of their being layed. If only you or I could count on such swift and ultimately effective protection.
Perhaps, I was wrong in believeing that Canada was one of the last of the truly free countries. Perhaps I was mistaken in believeing that my government was just. There is far too much evidence to contradict that belief. Time and again, Canadian citizens have had their opinions ignored, overlooked, or just plain scoffed at. The incidents I have cited here are the most recent, but are by far not the only ones. In the past few years, protesters have been clubbed and sprayed so many times it's a wonder they haven't developed an immunity to it. Only in extremely rare cases have I ever heard of violent protests taking place, and even in these cases, the violence only began when the police were dispatched to "take care of things."
I personally know a few of the people who have participated in these protests, and would like to have attended them myself. If it had not been for my work schedule, I would have been in the front lines, pepper spray be damned. You can almost expect it, here in Canada. It is, sadly, almost a normal thing.
Students, the homeless, activists, blacks, gays, the poor... the list goes on and on. What do they have in common? They've been victims of police brutality. And it isn't simply about protesting, though it does, certainly, form a part of the issue. It's about abuse of power. It's about the politicians who are completely ignoring our right, as concerned citizens, to speak out. It's about losing whatever freedom we have now. All of us. Even if you aren't Canadian. Coming soon to a government near you...
It's all been said before, of course. Someone, somewhere, is always complaining about how his/her rights are being infringed upon. And maybe they are. But the question remains... what are they doing about it?
It's about free speech, and your right to say what you feel, without having to worry about whether or not your government is going to try to silence you. It may sound paranoid, but I can't stress how important it is. Ignoring it in the incubation stages will only lead to growth of the problem.
We are lucky, in that the problem has not progressed as far as it could have. We are in better shape than many other countries around the world. I will be the first to admit that I have not done enough research as I probably could have, and therefore have not included as many incidents as evidence as I would have liked to, but I invite you - no, I beseech you - to do the research yourself. I have only scratched the surface here, but I promise you that there is much more to be found. Open your eyes.
In Argentina, in Brazil... In American, in Ireland, how many rights have they stolen from you today? How many will they steal tomorrow? Do you even know? It's about time you found out. Especially now, as the millenium draws to a close. It will be the perfect time for political groups around the world to call for a state of martial law, due to the Y2K problem, if indeed there proves to be one. You may go in, but you may not get back out.
The pen, as they say, is indeed mightier than the sword, and in any case, there is no way to win peace with violence. If you have something to say, if you are uncomfortable with some of the liberties your government has been taking, there are many ways to get your point across. Often, a single letter from a single person is not enough - but do not let this discourage you. A petition calling for an investigation may get the ball rolling, as may a rally or a protest. At the very least it will attract publicity, which will force the issue out into the open. 300 people made the front page news. Were you one of them? If you want to be, you can be.