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Over my shoulder: I see Stephen Harper

Crime fighter Stephen Harper says that Canadians deserve "to live in a country where they don't have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street."

Throughout the ages, fear-mongering has always been a weapon of choice of those we need to fear.

The theory that Canadians are afraid when they walk down the street is nonsense, of course. Having walked down the streets of Canadian cities and towns at all hours of the day and night for more decades than I care to confess, I have had few moments of anxiety, unless you include fear of dogs, cyclists on sidewalks and pedestrian-hating motorists. I once went for an early morning run at Lake Louise and the garbage cans with pictures of grizzlies on the lids did scare me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up at Dupont and Christie in downtown Toronto, a tougher neighbourhood than the one where Stephen Harper spent his childhood.

It's not exactly a secret that the crime rate has been falling in Canada for several decades but that doesn't stop Harper from promising to spend billions on more prisons, along with the billions he plans to spend on jet fighters, just in case the Americans, the Russians or the Danes (with whom we have borders) launch an air attack on us. I love the way so-called conservatives who claim to spend taxpayers' dollars with great prudence are always ready to squander billions on tough-guy outlays, while resenting the expenditure of a nickel to improve the lives of people.

It's not that hard to frighten people who watch a lot of TV and who seldom visit a city to imagine that downtown Toronto is a fearsome place. In fact, Toronto has a lower crime rate than the cities to the west of it, and they're not exactly terrifying either.

Locking up more people for longer won't drive down the crime rate -- witness the results of such policies in the paradises of the U.S. and China. Greater social and economic equality would help, to some extent, but crime is not going away, it's just not getting worse at the moment.

What I do fear is the fool's gold pledges of those who promise us something approaching complete security. And just as absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute security equals absolute tyranny.

When I look over my shoulders, what I see is Stephen Harper and his minions skulking through Facebook and the myriad other online activities of Canadians to find out what we're up to. That's how they draw up their enemies lists.

George Orwell understood all of this. Beware the half smile on the face of the man behind the glasses.

This article was first posted on James Laxer's blog.

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