GARY FREEMAN: “The great failure of the 2015 federal election campaign is the absence of a big idea.”
Freedom is the power to define and determine your destiny, and your destiny is the fullest probable development an individual is likely to achieve.
Just governments affirm rights and remove obstacles to the fulfilment of rights. The Harper Conservatives, on the other hand, have used rights as a wedge when it comes to to the right of Muslim women to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies, even though numerous courts have ordained that right.
The ruling Conservatives have taken a similar tack on another issue with more than its share of racial undertones: mandatory minimum sentencing.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently deemed that law unconstitutional as it relates to gun crimes. In a 6-3 decision, the court upheld an earlier Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that described punishment meted out under mandatory minimum sentencing as “cruel and unusual.”
While that decision focused on gun crimes, the same could be said for mandatory minimums in general, which, statistics show disproportionately affect young black men, who already make up the largest proportion of Canada’s prison population.
Thought tendencies that divide people and create “others” remain pervasive in the peculiar world of Canadian federal politics. The worst example is carding and the failure to acknowledge that it is racial profiling in the raw, and a hate crime.
None of the three major parties has pledged to end this perverse practice or the disproportionate use of lethal police force against black people, or the victimization of blacks by a judicial system loath to acknowledge that the legacies of slavery and racial discrimination must be factored into the treatment of blacks in our courts of law.
In April the 13th United Nations Congress On Crime Prevention And Criminal Justice was held in Doha. Point 3 of the Doha Declaration, which was adopted by member states including Canada, committed governments to “holistic and comprehensive approaches to countering crime, violence, corruption and terrorism in all their forms and manifestations, and to ensuring that those responses are implemented in a coordinated and coherent way, along with broader programs or measures for social and economic development, poverty eradication, respect for cultural diversity, social peace and social inclusion.”
But while the issues of crime and punishment and terrorism have been front and centre in this election campaign – and are staples of the Conservative agenda – precious little has been heard from any of the contending parties regarding the Doha Declaration and how Canada will give it practical force.
The moral wasteland that is the current Canadian political scene makes even the left tread disjointedly.
In late July, Black Lives Matter, which signed on to the Leap Manifesto to end the exploitation of labour and the environment, staged a street demonstration protesting the police killings of Jermaine Carby and Andrew Loku. Commuters using the Allen Expressway suffered a bit of inconvenience.
Desmond Cole, a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter, had this to say: “This is not about people being inconvenienced for one night on the highway. It’s about almost 30 years of police brutality against one community. That’s how people should view this.”
There are important lessons to be learned from the murder or brutalization of black people by the police or those acting as anti-black vigilantes – for instance, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner or the nine who were murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston South Carolina. Their families all called for the same things: calm, and then accountability.
Fifty years is but a moment in the centuries-old black freedom movement. In the 60s it was quite clear what needed to be done. Black freedom activists in the U.S., Canada or the Caribbean knew that a protest rally is not a party, but that it should lead to a party – a political one. In the 2015 federal election campaign, the question is which federal party will commit to the removal of the obstacles to freedom.