Civil disobedience at its best

Civil disobedience at its best

Michael Moore gets it. But the sound of tsk tsk tsk-ing emanates from prim and pursed lips across our land.

"Best contempt of Parliament ever!" says Moore. On his website there is an image of parliamentary page Brigitte DePape and text saying, "Speaker of Canadian Senate holds DePape in ‘Contempt of Parliament’ – the same thing Stephen Harper’s government was charged with for lying to and concealing information from Parliament."

Parliament has never witnessed such excitement during what is usually a sombre event – the

Speech from the Throne, which outlines the government’s plans for the next session of Parliament, such as the Conservative scheme to cancel taxes for the richest and most powerful corporations. Reading between the lines, the speech also means that more Canadians will be imprisoned for what were once minor infractions in the relentless war on drugs, never mind that last week a blue ribbon panel, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, pronounced the war on drugs a lost war. More Canadians going to jail is just dandy since Harper intends to build spanking new prisons.

Picture the scene. Harper is a control freak and on that day he had total control. Control over the Commons because he won the election by splitting the opposition vote using the basest of Republican scare tactics. Control over the Senate because he appointed three Tory hacks who had just lost their elections, which gave him a majority of Senate seats. Control over the Governor-General. Former governors-general Michaëlle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson both maintained a certain regal aloofness from the governments that appointed them. Not Harper’s appointee, David Johnston. At his swearing-in ceremony we were witness to the extraordinary moment of the Governor-General giving a fist-pumping cheer to the new Conservative cabinet.

During the election campaign the Harper team used strong-arm tactics to keep university students away from Conservative rallies for fear they might heckle the Prime Minister. With total control of the scene, they were convinced there was absolutely nothing that could spoil their celebration of unrequited power.

Except a young woman holding up a sign. Her act was more effective than throwing a whole cart of rotten tomatoes at the Conservatives. Or shouting a slogan.


It was a transfixing moment. By making a quiet protest, Brigitte DePape put that opposition into two words and did so within the long and graceful tradition of non-violence.

For anyone who was absent from the planet last week, this is what unfolded. On Friday DePape, a 21-year-old parliamentary page, spiffy in white gloves and a black uniform, was ejected by the Sergeant-at-Arms for holding up a red poster in the shape of a stop sign. It bore two arresting words: Stop Harper.

For almost a year Brigitte DePape has had a front row seat watching the Tories make a mockery of Parliament. DePape is a University of Ottawa student from Winnipeg who decided to make a gesture of protest, and to use her position of privilege as a page to do it. Whether you agree with what she did or not, it took guts. She knew it would cost her her job. It did.

What is more reprehensible? Writing a manual for MPs about how to sabotage committees, as the Tories did, or dissembling about the real costs of fighter jets? How about falsifying government documents? Or blacking out thousands of pages of documents made public through access to information, thus defeating the purpose of the access law?

DePape stood up in the House and silently held a sign for about 20 seconds. She didn’t resist when escorted out. She did not make a scene. In its own way it was a very Canadian protest. Miss DePape broke the rules and defied convention. Indeed, she was grandstanding. But critical times require critical acts.

When Harper is in contempt of Parliament, he lies and says it was just "politics" by the opposition parties. When DePape is found in contempt of Parliament she loses her job and becomes the subject of all kinds of wild and nasty speculation, as well as finger-wagging admonishments.


The sign said "Stop Harper." It exhorts voters to actively oppose the Harper agenda. But it can also be read as a warning to the Prime Minister. Stop, Harper. Be careful how you go. Harper has boasted that Canadians will not recognize their country when he is done.

Now that Harper has a majority of Commons seats, he has accumulated almost tyrannical power. Lawrence Martin, one of the few mainstream journalists who comments on the Harper government in a consistently critical manner, recently quoted a historian to the effect that "democracy is what you can get away with." That seems to be what guides the Harper administration.

Here is what Miss DePape declared in her written statement. It is a quiet call to arms.

"Contrary to Harper’s rhetoric, Conservative values are not in fact Canadian values. How could they be when 3 out of 4 eligible voters didn’t even give their support to the Conservatives? But we will only be able to stop Harper’s agenda if people of all ages and from all walks of life engage in creative actions and civil disobedience," she says.

"This country needs a Canadian version of an Arab Spring, a flowering of popular movements that demonstrate that real power to change things lies not with Harper but in the hands of the people, when we act together in our streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces."

Too many of her generation failed to show at the ballot box during the May 2 election. They were the victims of voter suppression. Now Brigitte DePape has become a one-person vote mob, an incarnation of what the Canadian Spring might look like if those missing voters started showing up.

Oh, and Michael Moore has put his money where his mouth is. Calling her protest iconic, Moore has offered this Canadian protester a job.

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