Canadian democracy is a sham. Having had the privilege of having been born and raised in a country where military dictatorship once reigned gives me the perspective from which I can speak so bluntly. You might have thought that I would be more appreciative of the wider freedom that’s been provided to me in this country. You would have thought wrong.
Here you can get on your soap box and shout out loud your opposition to the government. As long as no one takes notice and you’re on the fringe, you will be granted your freedom. But when your idea is dangerous, when it starts to gain the ear of the masses, your freedom will be snatched away.
The recent removal of AGSEM’s posters per Provost Anthony Masi’s directions serves as a reminder to us about the true value of democracy in this society. The poster in question calls for the unionization of course lecturers – a right guaranteed to all workers. However, this unionization drive constitutes a real threat, not only to the University’s pockets, but also to the administration’s political domination on campus. It will cost the administration tens of millions of dollars to bring part-time teachers’ working conditions up to standard. Aside from that, unionized teachers will have real leverage to challenge the way our education is managed. Because of this, the administration cannot afford to grant the union freedom of speech.
This kind of peremptory tactic is not limited to McGill. A couple weeks ago, the CBC ran a documentary about PROFUNC, a top-secret government plan, maintained from 1950 to 1983, to arrest more than 16,000 communists and 50,000 communist sympathizers without trial, and lock them up in various internment camps.
The top-secret plan stipulated that in times when the Canadian government is in danger – i.e. when communism starts to penetrate the mind of the masses – the government would proceed to arrest prominent communists and leftists nationwide. Quebec also used to have the so-called padlock law, which gave the government the right to “padlock” any building thought to propagate communism or bolshevism in any way whatsoever.
Masi’s removal of AGSEM’s posters and the draconian PROFUNC plan might not seem comparable in scale. However, the danger posed by AGSEM today and the communists in that period is also different in its scale, and this dictates the extent to which the establishment reacts.
So, while we go about our business happily, thinking that we live in a nation that champions democracy, there is a disclaimer that we fail to read: our democracy is a conditional democracy. Our democracy ceases to exist when it becomes a threat to the establishment. This capitalist democracy is a fragile plant that flourishes only in the fertile soil of economic prosperity, fertilized by the sweat and blood of our brothers and sisters from the Third World. The relative comfort that most of us enjoy brings with it the curse of servility and resignation, and drowns dissenting voices into harmless chatter.
But what comes about must end. The age of austerity is dawning upon us. We are returning to a pre-Bismarckian era where it is increasingly being made clear to us that we will have to work until we drop dead. People will start to question the status quo, first in whispers, then in hushed tone, and before we know it we will all be thumping our desks and raising our fists. It is then that we will feel the wrath of state repression, for our democracy doesn’t sit well with the ruling one.