A vigil for the victims of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik was resumed beneath the flagpole of the Elijah Smith Building yesterday, after being briefly evicted by security guards a day earlier.
Jean-Francois Des Lauriers had created a small memorial to commemorate the deaths of 73 adults and children, only to be told to move it off the federal government’s land.
He found an unlikely ally in his Conservative MP, Ryan Leef. Des Lauriers is a longtime trade unionist and no friend of Stephen Harper’s government.
But Leef leapt into action after hearing Des Lauriers’ concerns. He rang up senior staff in the Department of Public Works and, by Monday afternoon, received a commitment that the vigil would be allowed on government property.
Security at the Elijah Smith Building has been handled since the autumn of 2009 by SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec-based construction and engineering giant. The company requires groups that gather on the property to obtain liability insurance.
It remains unclear whether this requirement was always on the books, but never strictly enforced, or introduced after the company received the property management contract.
In either case, it’s only after SNC-Lavalin took over the building that nonprofit groups, such as Blood Ties Four Directions, began to be booted off the property for hanging posters and distributing pamphlets.
On Monday, the company took enforcement to new heights by removing a plaque – no more than a short plank of wood with holes drilled in it to support two small Norwegian flags – from beneath the flagpoles.
It still remains unclear what the threshold is for a gathering to require insurance. But Leef is promising to get to the bottom of it, “so we don’t have any more surprises about this.”
Protests are regularly held at Parliament Hill, and these groups aren’t required to obtain insurance, said Leef. The Elijah Smith Building should be no different, he said.
“Every Yukoner should feel welcome here.”
Unsurprisingly, the Conservative and the trade unionist have very different takes on the root problem at hand.
For Des Lauriers, it’s another case of the Harper government stifling public criticism, and of multinational corporations run amok.
For Leef, it’s another example of government red tape fettering individual liberty.
But both remained happy with Tuesday’s outcome.
Des Lauriers offered Leef kudos for sorting out the snafu. “I have to give him credit, he really went to bat,” he said.
By that morning, approximately 50 bypassers had written comments about the tragedy in a binder that Des Lauriers left on a folding table.
He planned to take down the vigil later that day, but it’s since been relocated to the foyer of the territorial legislature, where it will remain until August 5.
Des Lauriers has no blood ties to Norway. But he easily identifies with the victims. Many were members of Norway’s ruling Labour Party.
He also sympathizes with the parents of the many children killed in the attack. He has a grown son and daughter.
Des Lauriers blamed “the rhetoric of hate that’s been allowed to grow” following the September 11 terrorism attacks. The attacker’s stated goal was to provoke a violent backlash against the world’s Muslims.
“This has got to stop,” said Des Lauriers.
“Today we mourn. Tomorrow we build a better world.”
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