Within touching distance

The National Post reports this week that police will not lay charges against two protestors who "came within touching distance" of Stephen Harper at an event in Vancouver.

The National Post reports this week that police will not lay charges against two protestors who “came within touching distance” of Stephen Harper at an event in Vancouver. Dressed as waiters, Sean Devlin and Shireen Soofi stood onstage beside the prime minister and held up signs demanding climate justice.

A Vancouver Police spokesperson told the press, “After consultation with both (the RCMP and the Crown), it was determined that it wasn’t in the public’s best interest to pursue an investigation into criminal charges.” At press time, the Nordicity research team was unable to substantiate a rumour that Department of Justice staff are working round the clock to draft a bill imposing mandatory minimum sentences for unauthorized proximity to the prime minister.

If there is any doubt that Canada needs a bill to protect the PM from unwanted closeness, surely it is banished by the case of Awish Aslam, a 19-year-old University of Western Ontario student who attempted to attend one of Harper’s 2011 election rallies. Fortunately, alert staff had taken the trouble to check Aslam’s Facebook page, where she had posted a picture of herself posing with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, and she was summarily ejected from the meeting.

A few days later Conservative staff were forced to remove a group of students from a rally at the University of Guelph after learning that they had earlier participated in a “vote mob,” a kind of student demonstration aimed at encouraging young people to participate it the election. Imagine the consequences if dangerous radicals such as these were able to enter the prime ministerial presence.

It’s one thing to encourage young Conservatives to vote, but given the fact that the young are disproportionately left-leaning, attendance at a vote mob is clearly a radical act. If given access to the PM’s rally, who’s to say the vote mobbers wouldn’t have held up signs calling for non-Conservative youth to exercise their right to vote?

The law as it stands provides no penalty for trying to attend a Conservative Party or government of Canada function without permission from the prime minister’s staff. If left uncorrected, this hole in the criminal code could open the door not only to inappropriate proximity, but also to the unbridled expression of unauthorized opinion.

All kinds of unsavory characters would like to gain proximity to the PM. Take Jim Lowther. Himself a veteran of two foreign wars, and the founder of the Veterans Emergency Transition Team, Lowther attempted to enter a Harper rally in Nova Scotia and was stopped at the door. In comments to the press, Lowther admitted that he hoped to meet with the prime minister and talk to him about homeless veterans.

Had Lowther managed to get close to the PM he might have used the occasion to point out that, while eager to milk the flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers for all the cheap jingoistic publicity they’re worth, the Conservative government has made a policy of screwing every dime it can get out of services to soldiers who survived. Clearly such radical fact-mongering can’t be allowed to proceed within the prime minister’s aura.

Chief among the Canadians whose access to the prime minister must be strictly controlled are the members of the media. While prime ministers before him braved the scrum on Parliament Hill, Harper accepts only five vetted questions per press conference.

During Harper’s 2013 Arctic tour, Li Xue Jiang of the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper, tried to squeeze in a sixth, unauthorized, question and had to be dragged to the back of the room by two members of the RCMP. A loophole in the law prevented the police from marching the miscreant off in handcuffs and tossing him in the deepest dungeon.

What’s to come next? Will reporters breach the prime minister’s ring of privacy and demand that he answer unscripted questions? Will they come within touching distance and raise uncomfortable issues? Will Canadians be forced to hear dissenting voices and witness real debate? In short, will the prime minister lose control of the message?

Probably not. According to the Hill Times, there are now 1,500 communications staffers working for government, 87 in the direct service of the prime minister. Add these to the Conservative Party and RCMP security staff who work together to protect Harper from having to answer to the media or the public, and it’s clear that access to Canada’s prime minister is as tightly controlled as it is to even the strongest of dictators around the world.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Premier Sandy Silver speaks to media after delivering the budget in the legislature in Whitehorse on March 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Territorial budget predicts deficit of $12.7 million, reduced pandemic spending in 2021-2022

If recovery goes well, the territory could end up with a very small surplus.

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Most Read