Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tiered citizenship

Stephen Harper is going to the Supreme Court to put the boots once again to an off-white Canadian.

Can anyone now doubt that the Conservatives have managed in a mere three years to institute a tiered, colour-coded notion of citizenship in this country? And by "Conservatives," I mean both our present government and its party base. If anyone doubts me on the latter, a good throat-gagging read of the comments collected by the major on-line media on the Suaad Hagi Mohamud case alone should put any lingering doubts to rest.

There is one level of citizenship for, say, a Brenda Martin. But there is quite another for Abousfian Abdelrazik, still unable lawfully
to find a job in his own country, or to receive any kind of social assistance. Or for Suaad Hagi Mohamud, Abdihakim Mohamed...

Or Omar Khadr.

Courts, the media and the public have managed so far to turn back some of the zealous excesses of this government to persecute, harass and maroon our duskier citizens. The Khadr campaign will play out with, I suspect, similar results. There is yet a core of common decency built into our lifeways and even some of our institutions that has thwarted, so far, the sketchier aspects of this government's agenda.

But those aspects keep erupting. The very notion of "Canadian" has been brought into question by the Harper administration. There are evidently degrees of citizenship
now. Born here, born white, you're at the top. But a recent immigrant of a darker hue? Or someone born right here, but of insufficient pallor?

The government will go to court to defend the proposition that it owes you no assistance abroad. You can be bundled off to other countries to be tortured.

You can be cooped up in an embassy, forbidden to return to your own country by a minister of the Crown. You can be called an "impostor" after a "conclusive" investigation by consular officials, and that same minister will wonder aloud why you haven't tried harder to prove that you're Canadian.

Arab-Canadians are targeted as "terrorists," and punished for exercising their freedom of speech. (Speech Warriors™, for the most part far-right conservatives, applaud.) First Nations Canadians are mocked or snubbed by the minister allegedly responsible for Indian Affairs, while Canada, tellingly, remains one of three nations in the world that have refused to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

And a former child soldier, very likely innocent of the charges against him, remains in the Gitmo hellhole where he was first brought seven years ago and interrogated with the active collaboration of our secret police, who simply ignored his human rights according to a recent scorching report.

Our Prime Minister and his government are battling tooth and nail to keep him there.

Shamefully, all of this is happening by default. There is no concerted political opposition to any of it. Former human rights advocate Michael Ignatieff is lying low, as usual. The NDP, along with the BQ, dipped its own toe in populist waters awhile back by supporting electoral legislation that would discriminate against Muslims. Since then, it's been a lot quieter than it should have been, with the honourable exception of the Abdelrazik affair in which foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar distinguished himself.

Hence we are left with an odd coalition indeed: the courts, ordinary citizens, and a handful of dogged journalists and editorial writers, to defend what shouldn't need defending in 2009, especially against our own government. That coalition, when roused, has been effective. But upholding human rights in Canada seems to be more a matter of chance and pressure than rule of law.

Perhaps more Canadians should be raising this at election time. Until then, the rights supposedly guaranteed by our Charter are a bit of a crapshoot, depending upon publicity, public discontent, lawyers
working pro bono and judges doing the right thing.

So far our fight has been successful
, one brown Canadian at a time. But why should we have to fight at all?

UPDATE: And a very nice catch by Alison. Go. Read.

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