Alter or Abolish: State Violence in Ottawa

Under cover of and enabled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s declaration of a state of emergency in Canada (the last Canadian leader to assume emergency powers was Pierre Trudeau, Trudeau’s father, in 1970), Ottawa police are now arresting peaceful protestors at gunpoint, zip tying their wrists and ankles and hauling them off to jail. Arriving in armored vehicles, with drones flying overhead and snipers positioned on rooftops, highly-militarized officers with batons have descended on protestors in the streets, blinding them with pepper spray and tear gas, tossing stun grenades into and driving horses through crowds with children, disabled, and elderly people present. The scenes are horrific. We mustn’t deny what this is. This is tyranny.

Canadian Mounted Police trample protestors in Ottawa Friday

The protestors—our fellow Americans to our north—are demanding with nonviolent acts of resistance an end to the authoritarian controls the state has unjustly imposed on their lives—and the state is meeting those just demands with more and greater violations of basic liberties and rights, using the same tools against citizens they have used against foreign terrorists. And now the state has turned to open violence. Justin Trudeau’s authoritarianism has sanctioned the exercise of naked power.

We are witnessing extraordinary political action perpetrated by a nominally democratic government on those it is in principle organized to represent, whose liberties and rights its officials are sworn to defend and protect. We must recognize this for what it is: an instantiation of the new fascism that is sweeping the West. This is the end of democracy. And, at a human level, while state violence is not unexpected given the irrational moment we are suffering through, it should nonetheless shock the conscience of anybody whose empathetic circuitry has not been disabled by fear or corrupted by ideology.

Police move in with batons and stun grenades to clear downtown Ottawa Saturday

This moment demands we testify to our choice of comrades. I am posting this today not only to alert you to the situation but to make publicly known with whom I stand and for what I stand. I stand with the protesters and for their cause. I condemn the actions of the Canadian government and call on the police to stand down and respect the human rights of those they are sworn to protect. And I call on Justin Trudeau to resign. He has betrayed Canada.

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien shows Winston the future: “There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless.” He then tells Winston, frighteningly: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Humanity has agency. So I leave you with these words from the Declaration of Independence by the British colonists in 1776, what Karl Marx correctly identifies in his sensational letter to Abraham Lincoln (on the occasion of Lincoln’s re-election to the US presidency 1864) as the first declaration of the Rights of Man:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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