Fear and loathing in prime time

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Canada, I sometimes worry, has become a bad sitcom in the American style – its elected leaders more interested in their Ward Cleaver-cum-Richie Cunningham vacuities than in their duties to office in what was once a great and global democracy of truly nourishing values.

Shall we now “Leave it to Beaver” in the evermore of “Happy Days”?

Pierre Blais, a former federal Tory minister of public safety, thinks that’s just fine if it means expanding the Government of Canada’s power to spy on its own citizens. In a “loose-lips-sinks-ships” sort of polemic, the new honcho of nation’s Security Intelligence Review Committee told the Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview last week, “Terrorists, they don’t have borders. When they decide to put a bomb somewhere – the railroad or in Parliament – they don’t care. They just do it. Governments have to adapt to that with their legislation.”

In fact, he assured his interviewers, “We know that CSIS sometimes has to be more intrusive. And I think the Canadian population accepts that.”

In the same Globe piece, the country’s spymaster, Michel Coulombe was explicit: “It could go into disrupting a financial transaction done through the Internet, disabling a mobile device. . .and tampering with equipment.”

Still, who watches the watchdogs? What, exactly, justifies the Conservative government’s new Bill C-51 and all of its paranoiac rhetoric, except, perhaps, a heartfelt determination to pitch the body politic back into a 21st-century version of Cold War mania?

Are we, in this country, so threatened by enemies both domestic and foreign that we are willing to succumb? Have we finally filled that prime-time slot of fear and loathing in our own lives that we once assuaged with frequent viewings of the “Beaver”, “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Love Boat”, “Lost” and, more recently and perniciously, the poverty-porn of reality TV?

If Mr. Blais is correct (and I suspect that he is in more ways that even he appreciates), we have become willing supplicants to an exaggerated tale of woe and wobbly logic in this fine land of ours.

Fact: Violent crime rates hover at a 40-year low; in fact, it’s safer to be alive in Canada now than it was when I was a teenager growing up in Halifax.

Fact: Gun-play across the nation is down, as are break-and-enters and physical assaults.

Fact: Marijuana use has not produced a generation of drooling idiots; the laws against it have merely swollen the ranks of the incarcerated in underfunded, poorly equipped penitentiaries where (guess what?) the young apprentice at the feet of the old, unreconstructed criminals in their midst.

As for domestic terrorism and foreign insurgencies, law enforcement authorities, and their political masters, will argue that the threat is both eminent and imminent. Naturally, though, they won’t articulate their reasons. Apparently, our best interests are protected as long as we remain utterly ignorant of our surroundings and environment (cue: “The Truman Show”), and the rights and freedoms we are constitutionally owed.

One of these is the right to know the truth of our government’s activities, with or without our consent. Another is the freedom from unnecessary scrutiny by public agencies that fully adore their sanctimonious pronouncements about what is, and is not, good for the rest of us.

Our finest hour might arrive when our elected officials finally decide that they actually live in the real world, and not in some facsimile manufactured, like a bad 70s sitcom, for the camera and the boobs who are glued to it.

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