That was one way to start a conversation!
In a country with an electorate difficult to fire up (livid over raccoon abuse in Toronto, indifferent to Canada’s involvement in Libya, according to the National Post), Senate page Brigette DePape has certainly got people talking, and not only to condemn her actions, or at least the manner in which she chose to express herself.
The details of the event are fairly well known at this time: DePape hid a home-made sign up her skirt which read “Stop Harper,” which she revealed after the Senate’s procession had passed her. Without a word, she displayed her placard until the Sargent-At-Arms took her by the arm and quietly removed her from the chambers. No yelling, no physical protest: simply standing by her convictions.
Since it happened, everyone and their brother has weighed in on the appropriateness of her actions: not only her form of protest and the manner in which she demonstrated, but the very substance of her message. The National Post has had a field day with DePape’s suggestion that Canada needs its own ‘Arab Spring,’ arguing (and not altogether incorrectly) that
DePape called for a ‘Canadian version of an Arab Spring.’ That’s right, we should all take to the streets and demand free and fair elections — you know, like the one we had on May 2. Now you’d think that a college student would know that we enjoy the freedom and system of government that thousands of Arabs are fighting, and dying, to achieve.
And although the Post goes on to support the first-past-the-post system that I have argued elsewhere is tremendously inadequate in the 21st century as a tool for electing Members of Parliament, DePape has a point. I must say that the comparison she draws between what millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa are fighting for and what Canada needs in terms of a democratic renewal is an unbelievably false one. It was foolish and unrealistic for her to utilize the fight for Arab democracy in other parts of the world to make her point from the comfort of Ottawa. Perhaps if she had toned down her rhetoric and argued instead for a greater passion in Canada for our politics and a renewed sense of democratic accountability to the people, she would not have received such ridicule afterwards.
But to be honest, Jason Kenney probably would have called her a “lefty kook” no matter how she phrased her press release. And for more information on how other MP’s reacted to the display, Maclean’s has a good spread on the topic. My favourite is the response from Elizabeth May, who writes that
She didn’t shout. She wasn’t disrespectful. Clearly holding a sign up was not appropriate. She was in the wrong room…So I think that I, while understanding her reasons and feeling that that was a brave act, it was the wrong place.
When you strip down her message to its essentials, though, and lose the baggage about a ‘Canadian Spring,’ it does carry an important point for all Canadians. We have incredibly important issues to face in this country that we are simply not talking about, and everyone – left and right alike – needs to care more deeply about the critical matters at hand in Canada. And although we may disagree with what the roots of our problems are and how best to solve them, the solution begins with awareness and a dedication to changing something you are passionate about.
Argue however you like that the House of Commons was not an appropriate place for this kind of overt political demonstration, but give credit where credit is due: DePape had the strength of her convictions and the courage to make a bold and passionate appeal to Canadians to take action – and for her, that action was against the current Prime Minister.
I could not have done what she did: to be frank, I would have been too afraid to openly defy Parliament in such a way. So attack her medium and her message: but listen up, Jason Kenney – don’t be a douche and attack her character. Because that took guts.