Slow Death of Democracy in Canada

Freedom. Equality. Justice. These are just empty words with no serious commitment. Resounding words fall on deaf ears when weaponized to claim high morality and usurp the rights of others. After all, there is no more wicked tyranny than that perpetuated under the name of liberty; no treason more harmful than that under the cover of equality, and no personal ambition more grandiose than that concealed in the universal aims of justice.

Whether in France, where the so-called “democratic” anti-terrorism laws guarantee moralizing freedom and punish the Muslim minority. Or, in Israel – that bastion of triumphant democracy that Amnesty International has described as an apartheid state. Similarly, in Hindutva India, majoritarian democracy and “lawless laws” provide the cover to dispossess Kashmiris. Now, in Canada, there are fears of democratic backsliding. And these fears are not unfounded. There is less and less space for the political participation of assertive minorities who challenge the status quo. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the way the Conservative Party of Canada scandalously disqualified leadership candidate Patrick Brown. Apparently the problem was the strong support he had from Muslim Canadians and his commitment to repeal Bill 21, which is a law that “disproportionately affects people who are already marginalized.” Is the democratic space open to everyone except Canadian Muslims? Are we children of an inferior God?

Many years ago, I became the first Canadian-born Muslim candidate to run for a federal Liberal nomination and win. However, this experience quickly showed me the challenges faced by Canadian Muslims and other visible minorities such as First Nations and African Canadians. In fact, initially after the vote, the president of the Liberal Party of Canada informed me that I had lost. After asking for silence, he lifted a piece of paper in his hand and began to wave it frantically. He then said that I had lost the election and that “there would be no discussion”. Imagine that? Not only do we have to take his word, but we are not allowed to question his authority. So much for equality. Of course we protested and in the ensuing uproar he appealed for calm. However, we persisted. Finally, in a bizarre turn of events, he looked at the paper and grimly admitted that he had made a mistake. I had won the nomination. Welcome to Canadian democracy.

Today I remember that fateful day when I was cheated and an attempt was made to overthrow democracy. Why? Patrick Brown has been disqualified in a hotly contested leadership race in the frontrunner of the Conservative Party of Canada. Political insiders across the country are appalled. Aspiring Conservative leader Jean Charest demanded “transparency” from the party. Surprisingly, at a secret meeting of members of the Conservative Party Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC), the members decided to disqualify Patrick Brown without being given the opportunity to answer before the committee. This action is both reprehensible and undemocratic. Especially since his supporters claim he was fired because of Brown’s vision of a modern, multicultural and inclusive society, especially with strong support from Canada’s Muslim community. Was his disqualification the result of his ties to Muslim Canadians? Many seem to think so.

Vote in Canada

The slow death of democracy in Canada is clearly visible. Voter turnout has been declining for two decades. About 40% of people do not vote, which is expected to increase. Especially as the youth bulge enters the job market and their general pessimism about the political system increases. A recent Elections Canada study found that almost 70% of young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 37 do not vote. In the years to come, these voters will drive down overall voter turnout, further weighing on legitimacy and trust. The 2021 Democracy Index corroborates this sharp decline in the North American average score, explaining that democratic deterioration in Canada is primarily the driver. New survey data reveals a disturbing trend of disaffection among Canadians who feel they have little control over their lives. A feeling further aggravated by the restrictions on individual freedoms linked to the pandemic. Canada’s worsening score raises questions about whether it could begin to suffer from some of the same afflictions as its American neighbors, such as “extremely low levels of public trust in political parties and government institutions.”

Democracy is not limited to voting or majority rule. In order to be anything other than the tyranny of the Tocqueville majority, representative governance requires an obligation to a broader ethical agenda, including consultative process, value pluralism, and reciprocity. It signifies the value of “treating all people with respect and weighing their aspirations and ways of seeing the world”. In other words, it is the courage to allow others to live in their own way, as long as the rights of others and the law are respected. What happens when the gatekeepers of the political process discriminate?

Today, the weaponization of the democratic ethos to disempower, rationalize oppression and engage in gross violations of human and political rights is vividly seen all over the world, from Kashmir, Palestine, France, the United States United and Canada. Certainly, as Ferrara acknowledges, democratic regimes face “exemplary expansions of political identity in an effort to better accommodate hyper-pluralism”. Now, what becomes of democracy if it forces homogeneity or if it is no longer “open” to welcoming plurality? At this point, there must be a collective pushback. In fact, the democratic ethos is ethical as much as it is a political ideal. It defends the freedom of each individual to make their own decisions. It makes equality a central element of the democratic spirit since only free men and women are responsible for their choices. In fact, the human spirit naturally resists coercion and exclusion. And that is precisely what is happening in Canada: democracy is slowly eroding. Why? Because entrenched racist power structures tremble in the face of the political mobilization of marginalized communities of color.

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