By Gil Courtemanche Translated by Truthout Le Devoir 10/08/07

The two Thursday news items have no connection, and yet… In Winnipeg, at the Salvation Army local, Stephen Harper, first minister among all ministers, kinglet of all that happens in Ottawa, unveiled a new Canadian anti-drug policy. A 65 million dollar program that in more democratic times would have been announced by the minister responsible or in a simple press communiqué.

At about the same time, we learned that two American pacifists had been sent back at the Canadian border because their names appear on an American FBI list, a list that primarily includes the names of Mafiosi and persons suspected of terrorism, in other words, a list devoted to dangerous criminals.

One of them is Medea Benjamin, who truly has the profile of a woman dangerous to Canadian security. She established an NGO in the San Francisco region that tried to develop fair trade and organized socio-cultural trips to poor countries. Shocked and overwhelmed by the American mess in Iraq, she left that organization to join a group of pacifist women, Code Pink, that had set itself up in Washington and that one frequently sees demonstrating in front of the White House, which is forbidden. They are present for all the Congressional hearings at which the “progress” of the war is discussed and often interrupt the generals and officials by crying out to them, “Tell the truth!” Of course, then they are expelled, arrested, and sentenced to pay a little fine. After that, they come back in their pink suits and start shouting their discontent all over again. Let us say that these women are thundering pacifists guilty of the crimes of interrupting lying speeches.

At the beginning of the 1970s, conscientious objectors were otherwise more violent. In opposition to the Vietnam War, they burned the American flag and their draft cards on the steps of the Capitol. They became deserters in the eyes of American military justice and sought refuge in Canada, which politely welcomed them. Thousands of them still live today in Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal and have become good Canadian citizens. As for Mrs. Benjamin, if she wants to return to Canada, she will have to pay $200 for a three-day permit and submit herself to a “rehabilitation process” that includes a long interrogation on her “criminal” past and fingerprinting. In short, in this ever-more-American country, protest and pacifism have become crimes that interdict entry to the territory.

We also learned Thursday that Stephen Harper will keep his old Beatles records even if his children wonder about certain lyrics that sing the praises of forbidden substances. Here’s a wonderful example of the Prime Minister’s openness of mind, a tolerance that extends only as far as the words to songs. For the poor teens who might be tempted to follow the smoking trails of the Fab Four, it will be zero tolerance. We’re far from the time when the Chrétien and Martin governments pondered decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana. The times have changed and the police have clearly felt it. In 2006, in Canada’s principal cities, including Montréal, arrests for simple possession of cannabis have increased 20 to 50%, depending on the city. At the same time, a UNICEF study discovered that Québec is the champion of cannabis consumption among industrialized countries. According to that study, 40% of youth aged 11 to 15 consume some cannabis from time to time. These are not addicts, but occasional consumers. Nonetheless, under Mr. Harper’s ferule, they will be considered veritable criminals. That’s almost half our adolescents who run the risk of finding themselves with a criminal record. Mr. Harper also announced that we will establish minimum sentences for dealers. The teen who buys five joints and sells three to his pals will become a dealer just like some Hell’s Angel.

In its fight against drugs, in its fight against juvenile crime, in its approach to border security, the Conservative government has resolutely adopted the American approach of repression and ever-longer prison sentences. In the United States, this policy has not changed the crime rate and has had the effect of growing the prison population at a vertiginous rate. The United States is the country with the highest rate of incarceration among all industrialized countries. And, of course, the majority of that population is constituted of minority citizens and poor people who can’t pay for competent lawyers. That’s the road down which the Conservative minority government wants to take Canada. And meanwhile, in Ottawa, the opposition is desperately looking for a gimmick so that elections can be avoided and Stephen Harper allowed to pursue his Americanization of Canada.

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.