'The most important election of my lifetime'

A social media scan of the electoral race over the past month -- ShitHarperDid goes viral, with a graphite image of Harper as its icon -- drawn from an actual photograph -- strangling a kitten. The brainchild of Vancouver comedians, its Facebook page garnered 20,000 followers in its first few days of posting, and its website presents the bite-sized chunks of pithy critique that Twittersphere and Facebook groupies love.

Yoko Ono asks YouTube to take down the video of Harper singing "Imagine", not because of copyright violation, but in defence of John Lennon's right to having his song sung without hypocrisy, or contempt of Parliament. Imagine no possessions? Canada's natural resources are being sold off systematically to multinational corporate interests, so we can find out soon enough. $1.3 trillion international investment in oil and gas companies; $1.2 trillion of this is owned by multinational consortiums; $1 billion belongs to Canada. Thank you, Yoko.

And why is the mainstream media not enlisting constitutional experts, such as Peter H. Russell, as part of their reportage unpack what contempt of parliament means for Canadian voters? This is the first time this has happened in Commonwealth history, not just Canadian, and Harper has skated away from the dissolution of Parliament, with just a shrugged off wrist-slapping.

There was very little discussion of two of my pet concerns -- investment in arts and culture, and freedom of speech through the Internet. Both have been brought to light by two media pundits, CBC Q interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi, and Dr. Michael Geist, professor, and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at University of Ottawa.

In relation to arts and culture, Ghomeshi says it best:

"The arts and culture sector employs as many people as the combined sectors of agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil, gas and utilities, yet the levels of public money, industrial incentives and support, (and) tax breaks that go to culture are disproportionately low."

To add to this, supporting initiatives arts and culture has three times the return on investment of other sectors, builds a unique national identity, is the least-polluting of all industries, and is just downright fun. The Department of Culture has designed a campaign to incite artists to use their creative skills to get involved politically, and express a variety of political views and possibilities. Their call out asks "Are you anti-Harper, Pro-someone else? Do you have a vision for what Canada could or should be? Would you run things differently? Feel strongly about democracy?" Contact them if you are interested in taking part in their campaign, and exercise your power through creative means.

I lived in Montreal during the time Cirque du Soleil, Carbone 14, and O Vertigo were founded, subsidized through government funding. These companies put Montreal on the map, as a twin city to Bruxelles, as one of the most vibrant cities in the world for modern dance and performance, and Cirque du Soleil has become an internationally renowned cultural export for Quebec, with a greater return on investment imaginable. In the last election, it is no wonder that Harper's promise to cut arts funding sparked demonstrations in Quebec, and possibly cost the Conservatives a majority.

For those following the Conservative Facebook stalking of political science student of Awish Aslam, and removal by the RCMP from a Harper rally, Dr. Michael Geist, writes about Harper's omnibus surveillance bill in ‘The Conservatives Commitment to Internet Surveillance'

These four bills will be passed within 100 days upon a Harper majority, and reshape the Internet.

According to Dr. Geist,

"The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers.

The first prong mandates the disclosure of Internet provider customer information without court oversight.

The second prong requires Internet providers to dramatically re-work their networks to allow for real-time surveillance. The bill sets out detailed capability requirements that will eventually apply to all Canadian Internet providers. These include the power to intercept communications, to isolate the communications to a particular individual, and to engage in multiple simultaneous interceptions.

Having obtained customer information without court oversight and mandated Internet surveillance capabilities, the third prong creates a several new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data."

As Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing, points out:

"this bill has never been debated or had hearings or public consultation, includes massive, extrajudicial bulk surveillance over Canadians' use of the Internet."

So let's review the last two weeks. The Conservatives will ostensibly protect religious minorities internationally through a new office in the Foreign Affairs department, but are systematically undercutting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Canadians in the press, on the Internet, in universities and on the street. They are the first government in the Commonwealth to be held in contempt of Parliament, and neither Ignatieff nor Layton are forcing electoral repercussions for Harper because of this ruling as part of their platforms.

No party is doing a comprehensive financial accounting to show their support for investment into arts and culture as a significant part of the economy, green or otherwise, and only the NDP and Liberals have addressed Internet policy through their platform for expanding broadband networks. Harper's Conservatives want to enable Usage Based-Billing through their corporate patronage of the CRTC, thereby placing caps on data usage and social innovation, and will push through bills enabling live data surveillance, hidden carefully away in an omnibus bill.

In the National Post, rightwing commentator Rex Murphy has said that this is an unimportant election. Harper parroted this dismissive refrain during the televised debates. I beg to differ, and side with Ignatieff that it is not bickering, it is democratic debate, which determines the quality of life for all Canadians, especially seniors and children, as well as deciding the allocation of funds of billions of dollars to continue to support the oil industry, or to support universal health care, thus the environmental and social future of Canada.

This is the most important election within my lifetime. The speed at which the Conservatives wish to enact repressive Internet legislation, without full disclosure, is further undercutting our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Freedom of speech and the right to assembly are integral to our discussion of political matters in social media. Although the Conservative government is already monitoring Facebook, they will ensure that Facebook postings, tweets and email can have criminal repercussions, and that these three-pronged bills will enable the electronic wiretapping of all exchanges, without court order, and without disclosure to the citizen under surveillance. The "Hey Harper, Stop Creeping Me on Facebook" status icon has made its rounds already.

As the RCMP were enlisted, outside of their official capacity, to rip up the name tag of Awish Aslam, and forcibly remove her from the Conservative rally for her Facebook photograph showing her with Ignatieff at a Liberal rally, so will they be enlisted to blacklist those who dare to speak out in defence of our Charter rights online. And as Liberal MP David McGuinty pointed out, this Charter was intended to do for Canadians what they are pretending the Conservatives' proposed Department of Religious Freedom will do for religious minorities internationally -- protect the right to speech and assembly. It is not surprising to me that Awish Aslam was racially profiled by the RCMP through Facebook because she was wearing a hijab, but as an engaged Canadian political science student, she was doing due diligence by attending every rally to decide her vote. Harper waited three days to apologize; I doubt she will vote Conservative now.

Let's start at home to defend our rights first, rather than adding another level of bureaucracy through the Department of Religious Freedoms, whose rightwing mandate is suspect. To the multicultural Facebook generation, whom the Conservatives have angered by Aslam's expulsion, please vote, and support the petition against Big Telecom surveillance on the OpenMedia site. As those who live through cell phones and congregate through social media, you treasure your Internet freedom the most. Your rights to speak online will be put into question for the rest of your lifetime if you choose to sit out this election and do not vote for the right to speak openly, and with impunity through social media, with all the humour, rage and insight you can drum up collectively. ShitHarperDid.com was a great place to begin.

Part of the small group of concerned citizens who created the Canadians for Coalition media campaign, Elizabeth Littlejohn blogs at Railroaded by Metrolinx and is a professor of new media.

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