Du sens, de la mémoire, s.v.p.! / Make sense, remember, please!

Nonsense, amnesia and other conventional wisdom are the targets here:
A critical look at media-political discourse in Canadian federal politics, notably but not only regarding the Quebec-Canada relationship. Also of interest: the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada, and Canada's place in the world. In early days, this blog will be tiny. We'll see if it may grow.

La sottise, l'amnésie et autre sens commun sont mes cibles: un regard critique sur le discours politico-médiatique en politique fédérale canadienne, notamment en ce qui concerne la relation Québec-Canada. Aussi: la relation entre les peuples autochtones et le Canada, et la place du Canada dans le monde. Ce blog commence tout petit. On verra s'il peut bien grandir.

mercredi 16 janvier 2013

The Hunger Chief and the GG: Why it makes sense

It's tempting to get annoyed at the insistence of Chief Teresa Spence, now in her second month of fasting on Victoria Island, that the Governor General be a full participant in top-level meetings with Canada's Indigenous leaders. Commentators of all stripes have duly noted that the GG can't get involved in political discussions, because his role is strictly ceremonial. If Indigenous leaders want meetings that will bring actual progress, therefore, David Johnston - Canada's current Governor General - needs to be absent. Insisting on his presence seems somehow perverse, naive, self-defeating; one might even say childish in its wrong-headed stubbornness - but that would be an awkward reminder of the ideological underpinnings of Indians' on-going subordinated legal status in Canada.

And it is easy to criticize Theresa Spence; pundits have certainly not been shy about it. But she is actually putting her health and her very life on the line. When have we ever seen such a thing in Canada? And the thing is, Chief Spence has got it exactly right with the Governor General. It is indeed a fact that in the ordinary course of Canadian politics, the GG is and needs to be an apolitical figurehead. And here's the rub: in the ordinary course of Canadian politics, nothing ever changes for the better for Indigenous peoples (judicial decisions don't count, being exactly that, judicial, rather than a part of the small-p political process). So, what's needed is to step outside of the ordinary course. How better to do that than to return to first principles - in this case, the Canadian state's existence within the British Crown's sovereignty?

With regard to the Crown and its Number One representative in Canada (the GG), Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sown the seeds of his own current troubles, and not just once. First, in the so-called "coalition crisis" back in 2008, he showed all Canadians that the Governor General actually matters, politically and legally. Harper obtained from then-GG Michaelle Jean that she prorogue Parliament in the face of his loss of the House of Commons' confidence, and that is how he got to remain Prime Minister. On this occasion, the Crown's sovereignty set itself squarely against the will of majority of the Canadian people's elected representatives. According to at least one of his former advisors, Harper was ready to appeal directly to Queen Elizabeth II if Jean was to turn him down.[1] So much for Crown's and the GG's apolitical role, especially in light of all that the Harper government has done since 2008. 

Second, the Prime Minister's Office pointedly corrected Jean on a later occasion after she had said that she was Canada's head of state: Harper's people made it clear that Canada's head of state is in fact Queen Elizabeth, and that the Governor General is merely her representative. Technically, the PMO was correct, but this was largely a distinction without a difference; the only reason for the rebuke was to humiliate Jean. Still, this was another way for the government to affirm the Crown's importance.

Third, it has become clear through numerous initiatives that this government is peculiarly infatuated with the monarchy. This extended, a year ago, to the unprecedented and inaccurate branding of a high-profile meeting between top federal officials and Indigenous representatives as a "Crown-First Nations Gathering" (see my blog post about this on January 29th of last year).

So, the Harper government likes to remind Canadians that we are all under the Crown's authority. And it likes to wrap itself in the Crown's gravitas. Let's bring in the Crown, then. But the constitutional fact remains that "the Crown," in Canada, is first and last the Queen, represented federally by the Governor General.

It has now been thirty years since the federal government stepped away, in rhetoric if nothing else, from its long-standing attempt at assimilating Indigenous peoples. But the old policy has not actually been replaced, as politicians (backed by the great majority of the population) can't be bothered to deal seriously with Indigenous claims. That is why the only way forward, sort-of, has been the courts. But this can only go so far: if there is to be reconciliation, a new deal between Indigenous people and Canada, it can only happen through political discussion. Given the general uselessness of politicians in dealing with Indigenous claims, then, why shouldn't Indigenous people turn to the Crown itself? Isn't this, in particular, a way to show that the PM has no clothes?

Such a strategy is inedeed especially relevant in the age of Harper. It has been more than a little distressing to watch the Idle No More movement develop, and Chief Spence's hunger strike add day upon day, and week upon week, knowing that they are facing the government most hostile to their aspirations in decades. The simple fact is that the Harper government is not going to change its stripes: there is just no way that Indigenous claims to sovereignty, to control over their territory and development are going to get any traction with this government. The Prime Minister did eventually agree to last Friday's meeting with Indigenous leaders, but he did so in such a way as to deepen divisions among them, and to make it impossible for Chief Spence to claim victory. As for the substance of the meeting, there was never going to be any.

Calling on the Governor General, which is to say "the Crown," to become directly involved amounts to calling all politicians' 30-year old bluff. It also says that talking to this Prime Minister, in particular, is not going to get Indigenous people anywhere.

[1] I have written about this crisis in the 2010 and 2011 editions of The USA and Canada. Europa Regional Surveys of the World (London, Routledge / Taylor & Francis). Lawrence Martin  has written about the claim by Harper's former aide in his book, Harperland. The Politics of Control (Toronto, Penguin, 2010).

vendredi 30 novembre 2012

Bully Baird, Badass Canada

What can possibly be the motivation for John Baird to go to the United Nations General Assembly and attack not only the Palestinian Authority but also the General Assembly itself? Canada's Ambassador to the UN could easily have registered the country's "no" vote - one of only nine to go against the resolution granting Palestine the status of "non-member observer state" - and be done with it. There were very few speeches on the resolution, from either side.

Baird's speech focussed on the "unilateralism" of the Palestinian initiative - unilateralism, so called, but backed by 138 members of the General Assembly (with 41 abstentions). But this is precisely the problem, for the Minister: by supporting the resolution, he argued, the Assembly turned its back on its history of discouraging unilateralism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Never mind that Israel acts unilaterally on a routine basis, setting back whatever peace process had been agreed to (let's see: the continuing development of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the building of the separation wall, etc.). Baird concluded: "As a result of this body's utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps." (Baird, Nov. 29, 2012)

"All available next steps:" that's a pretty broad notion. Reflecting on Baird's threat, Canadian media have pointed to the possibility of Canadian retaliation against the Palestinian Authority; might they have been briefed, off the record, by some Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) minions? But as the speech is as much a condemnation of the General Assembly as of the Palestinians, "next steps" may well involve further attacks on the United Nations. The Harper government is remarkably hostile the "venerable organization" (Baird's ironic words), and its failure to gain a seat on the Security Council last year cannot have mellowed its outlook. A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Harper made a point of not showing up at the opening session of the Assembly... while he was in New York anyway to receive an award recognizing (among other things) his rock-hard support for Israel.

So, what was the point of the Minister of Foreign Affairs making the trip to New York to insult and generally antagonize the vast majority of Assembly members? Obviously, Baird was not expecting to move anybody to his point of view. Rather, he was going to make a lot of governments (not to mention people) unhappy with Canada. What good can possibly come of this?

It seems to me that the answer to this last question is rather obvious: none. But I can't say that I have much of an answer to the first, and main one. Just voting "no" would have made the point, again, that the Harper government stands with Israel. After Baird's statements supporting Israel's military offensive against Gaza over the last two weeks, hardly anybody needed reminding but, whatever. But just voting "no" was evidently not good enough. Giving this speech at the General Assembly podium seems mostly like another salvo in the Harper government's anti-UN campaign. And what does this do? Well, it reaffirms its alliance with the American anti-UN hard right, which was well represented among Mitt Romney's advisers and is rather disheartened right now. The speech may be useful on this front, coming the day after the Canadian government announced that it will follow the Obama administration's lead in raising sharply fuel efficiency standards over the next decade. Then again, it's perhaps only a matter of helping the world remember that Harper's Canada is no longer mister-nice-guy. Don't be distracted by fuel emission standards. Canada is badass.

jeudi 19 avril 2012

While we’re at it, let’s blame the unions too

Oh boy, it wasn’t a one-off.

Over the past few days, Stephen Harper has been blaming Quebec for his own lack of enthusiasm regarding the Charter’s 30th anniversary (see my post from yesterday).  Now, Treasury Board President Tony Clement is blaming the unions for the government’s secretive ways with massive job cuts in the public sector. And he’s doing it while attending a conference on “open government” in Brazil!

In last month’s budget, the government announced that it’s cutting 19 200 public service jobs over three years, but it won’t release sizeable chunks of information on what’s being cut until… spring 2013. Clement claims that he has no choice, but this is patently nonsense. And we already know (see the same G&M article linked above) that the initial plan by the bureaucracy was to release the information in May of this year; but this was overruled by Treasury Board, which instructed departments to withhold the data.

So, here’s today summary: the government cuts jobs (unnecessarily, by the way) and hides the information; the minister blames the people being cut while claiming to be all about open government.

It’s sick. Worse, there’s a method to their sickness.

mercredi 18 avril 2012

Blame Quebec, really: Harper and the Charter's anniversary

You have to admire the shamelessness. To hear Stephen Harper explain it, His government is not marking the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so as to avoid offending Quebecers. A nice thought, recognizing that the Quebec government still has not signed the patriated constitution, of which the Charter is a part, and that Quebecers are not pleased with this situation. But it is also a fact that in every poll dealing with the issue for at least the last twenty-five years, Quebecers have been saying that they like the Charter. So, mister Prime Minister, what gives?
It’s no secret, really. Harper and his people hate the Charter for two reasons: first, because it’s a Liberal creation, which would be enough to earn it the hyper-partisan Conservatives’ enmity for ever; second and most importantly, because, for all its faults, it is intellectually and socially progressive (to a degree). Over the past thirty years, the Charter has been a key instrument in advancing the equality rights of women and of an impressive range of minorities: ethnic and racialized, sexual, disabled, linguistic, and I’m probably forgetting something (sorry). In Canada today, law and policy cannot be justified on the basis of such things as tradition, religious belief, or some arbitrary preference of the government of the day: they have to be grounded in the universalist languages of Reason and of human rights .
The list of things that social conservatives cannot do as a result of Charter jurisprudence (and legislative pre-clearance) is too long to go into; it is also well enough known  - we’ll just let same-sex marriage and abortion rights stand for the lot. And although he tries hard to make non-social-conservative Canadians forget it, the fact is that Harper himself is very much a member of the social (and Christian) conservative movement. He is its member-in-chief, in fact, with close support from such senior cabinet ministers as Jim Flaherty (Finance), Jason Kenny (Foreign Affairs, after a long and important stint at Citizenship and Immigration) and Vic Toews (Public Safety), not to mention a gaggle of lesser... hmm... lights.
The Charter (animated by claims-makers and the courts) is, in other words, one of the main obstacles standing in the way of this majority government’s conservative project for Canada. Honestly, it would be a bit much to expect Harper to celebrate its birthday. But he can’t very well own up to why he despises it: it would look cheap to complain that it’s the Liberals’ baby and, as he’s made himself electable by hiding in the social conservative closet for more than a decade, he’s not about to come out.
So, what’s a Harper to do? Well, he can show his sensitivity to Quebecers’ feelings and aspirations by pointing to their unhappiness with the patriation: this will highlight his openness, reasonableness and moderation, perhaps make Quebecers feel bad for not supporting him more, imply how bad the Liberals were to create this situation in the first place, and deflect attention from his own (and his party’s) hostility to the damn piece of paper.
But then let’s remember that an ultra-robust majority of Canadians (including Quebecers) like the Charter and the effect it has been having on the Canadian social contract. Let’s remember also that Harper’s own base is the only sizeable constituency anywhere in the country that dislikes it. So, while the median Canadian would likely approve of some sort of celebration, s/he is being told that there won’t be one because of... Quebec. Quebec, the eternal pain-in-the-ass that is sort-of standing aloof of Canada’s modern constitutional order, of which so many Canadians are proud (rightfully or not, is another story). Quebec, that is now standing in the way of acknowledging and celebrating how rightful Canadians are, thirty years on.
Let’s summarize. Harper defers to Quebec’s sensibilities, which is to say that Harper blames Quebec. Harper the conciliator is Harper the divider. But, really, isn’t it a beautiful thing to see the PM show such solicitude for Quebecers’ feelings? It’s so beautiful, it’s scary.

mercredi 1 février 2012

Flight from reality: a pension story

We are getting used to the fact that the Harper government makes policy by ignoring reality. Its 2008 attempt cut sharply in government expenses, just as the global economic crisis was getting under way, was our first major taste of that propensity. Back then, the government was thwarted by an opposition that controlled the majority of seats in the House of Commons. The expensive omnibus crime bill, including an important prison-building programme, has been a government priority despite official statistics and unanimous expertise showing that crime - and violent crime especially – is on the decline; cabinet ministers have simply been telling us to ignore Statistics Canada data as untrustworthy. The insistence on purchasing super-expensive and seemingly badly flawed F-35 fighter jets is also a display of big-time willful blindness (and never mind the question of why Canada might need such equipment, even if it worked properly).

So, we should probably not be surprised by Stephen Harper & Co.’s latest flight from reality. In Davos last week, the Prime Minister suggested that the federal government’ Old Age Security (OAS) programme was unsustainable over the next couple of decades because of the aging of Canada’s baby boom-dominated population.[1] While Harper’s Davos comments were both dramatic and studiously vague, his staff and cabinet ministers made things clearer over the following days: Canada is facing a crisis, potentially of Greek proportions (dixit Peter Van Loan, government House Leader), if we do not reform something about the OAS and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) because expenses will explode over the “next generation” and there will be fewer workers to provide tax revenue. The solution being floated would push back the age of retirement from 65 to 67 years old.

The problem for the government is that its own commissioned studies show that Canada’s public retirement programmes are healthy and will remain so through the baby boom’s retiring bulge. Over the past several days, Harper & Co. have simply been ignoring this, and keep repeating that a crisis is looming and reform must happen. Given this government’s well established stubbornness and its majority in the House, media analysts are already saying that, although the debate hasn’t even started, reform is a done deal and Canadians will have to learn to retire later.

Clearly, the disease – let’s call it Flight from Reality Syndrome (FFRS) – is well established in the Canadian government, and it goes far beyond these big-ticket policies to a large array of less visible initiatives. That would be bad enough. What’s worse for all of us is that FFRS seems to be spreading. While The Globe and Mail reported on Monday that the government’s OAS/CPP offensive ignores its own research and that a variety of independent experts also agree with the no-crisis analysis, the same paper is editorializing today that the “PM is right to confront the need for pension reform.” On the basis of common sense and the same bare-bones financial numbers flaunted by the government’s spinners, the editorial argues that Harper is “raising the tough challenges now,” and good for him. First, “changing demographics (are) obvious to the point of staring many of us in the face – each morning in the mirror” – thanks, editorial writer, for that bit of autobiography, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the sustainability of the system. Second, the cost of the OAS is set to almost triple (in nominal dollars) over the next twenty years – and this is supposed to be enough information for us to know that the system is going to crash; but not so fast, say the studies and other experts, as a lot of contextualising is needed, such that, in fact, we can conclude that the system is doing okay.

Then there is Andrew Coyne in The National Post, who wrote on Monday as if he were a retirement expert – lots of numbers, ratios, a fifty-year look back and another fifty forward – that there is a “pension crisis” looming and that doing nothing about it is the way of “madness.” But most of Coyne’s numbers are about the whole of Canada’s social programmes, and in the little bit of what he says specifically about the OAS, he cites the same spinned government numbers (let’s be explicit about those: $36 billion today, $108 billion in 2030).[2] Coyne ends up admitting that the OAS is not in fact such a big deal on its own. But he writes that, in the context of the economics of Canada’s demography and social programmes, you need to start cutting somewhere, and “(r)eining in the costs of OAS is as good a place as any to start.”

Why is it “as good a place as any,” one might ask? We get a cogent, and fully political answer in Frances Woolley’s Globe and Mail “Economy Lab” blog: she wrote yesterday that while the government will not save a whole lot of money from an OAS reform, “it’s not the absolute savings that matter, it’s the savings relative to the political cost incurred” (emphasis in the original). Her political calculus could be wrong[3] but the point is, again, that the government is acting not out of its stated goal of averting a crisis (which is fictional), but for political reasons that have little to do with economic reality.

Why, though, am I saying that a Globe editorial and a Coyne column are worse for us than the government’s own case of FFRS? Surely, Harper & Co. are far more harmful than editorial musings, no matter how august? And of course they are. What’s scary is the evidence that FFRS is catching, and that the media are rather susceptible. Now, there’s nothing new in the media parroting government (and big-business) spin. But in the past, there has been a significant amount of media pushback when the Harper government stepped out of the reality-based community: the story of the crime bill vs. declining crime statistics is a good example of that.[4] It could be that as the government fictions its way to slashing social programmes, economically conservative outlets and commentators are more likely to catch a bad case of FFRS. It’s small comfort that it was the same Globe and Mail that drew attention to the reality-based, government-commissioned reports that should have given its editorial board pause. Coyne, well, that’s another story. In any case, for the Harper government to succeed with its reality-free agenda, it needs the media to be at least weakened by and at best fully infected with FFRS. With the Davos-OAS story, it’s starting to look like at least some media are getting sick.

[1] Harper also noted that Canada’s science and R&D strategy, and associated productivity growth, are failing, and that his government will have to deal with that too. There would be a lot to say about this, as the Harper government has been cutting sharply in science expenditures over the last two years, and is set to slash much deeper in the context of its impending across-the-board cuts. The government’s general hostility to science and knowledge, again exhibited in this OAS story, does not augur well for how Harper plans to tackle the issue of a science and R&D strategy.
[2] For a better documented and argued piece that can’t seem to quite make up its mind about the seriousness of the situation, see Mark Gollom today on the CBC News website.
[3] The same point is made in Gollom’s piece referenced above, but see Derek Abma in The National Post for an alternative perspective.
[4] In The Globe and Mail, Kirk Makin wrote last week that « Canadians (are) finally getting it : crime is on the decline », in light of a yearly poll showing a 9% increase, to 46% (not all that high, one would think, but improving), of Canadians believing that crime is going down. Considering the Harper offensive to the contrary, this is encouraging.

dimanche 29 janvier 2012

Harper's Crown

Until this past week, the Harper government’s infatuation with Canada’s royal connection seemed mostly harmless, if a little creepy. The Queen’s portrait to be displayed prominently in all embassies, the insertion of the word “Royal” in the Canadian Air Force’s and Navy’s official designations: these initiatives were embarrassing in a minor key, at once laughable and cringe-making. They had the perhaps remote potential of increasing the disconnect between francophone Quebecers and anglophone Canadians, but it’s not as if the majority of the latter were either of English origin or all gung-ho for Rule Britannia: for the most part, nobody cares, and so be it. It was easy to believe that these royalisms didn’t matter.

This all changed on Tuesday, January 24th, as the “Crown-First Nations Gathering” convened in Ottawa. This was a highly ritualised meeting between Prime Minister Harper and several of his cabinet ministers, on the one hand, and hundreds of Native chiefs led by the Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief, Shawn Atleo on the other. I’m not actually concerned with the meeting’s lack of substance, although much could be said about the on-going scandal of Canadian governments’ contempt for Indigenous peoples. There was and there remains a wide gulf between the government’s approach and that of the First Nations, in particular, and the “Gathering” changed nothing.

What I’m troubled by right now is the name that was given to the event and the way in which the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is framing the federal government’s role as that of “the Crown.” In the history of meetings between federal officials and First Nations, the use of this label is more than a little unusual. The opening lines of the PMO’s Outcome Statement offer this context for the event: "Since first contact and the issuance of one of our founding constitutional documents, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the evolving Crown - First Nations relationship has helped shape modern-dayCanada (sic). First Nations fought as allies of the Crown in the American Revolution (1775-1783), the War of 1812; and have continued their support ofCanadain (sic) every major conflict since. (...) In this year, the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and with next year being the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, it serves as an appropriate time to reinvigorate the Crown-First Nation relationships."

Forget the poor writing, the non-existent copy-editing, the obsession with military conflict, and even the wildly incorrect linking of "first contact" with the 1763 Royal Proclamation. The insistent invocation of "the Crown" - not "Canada," not "the Canadian people" - tells us that there was nothing casual in the naming of the January 24th event as involving "the Crown."

But the federal cabinet is not “the Crown.” Neither is the Prime Minister – it’s bizarre to have to write this, but it seems apposite. So, what happened this week in Ottawa was emphatically not a meeting between “the Crown” and First Nations. Surely, Stephen Harper and his minions know this. How, then, should we understand that framing? First, it is now clear that these past months’ royalty-affirming moves were anything but weird little prime ministerial whims: they were early expressions of something much bigger, although it’s not yet clear what the royalist rhetoric will amount to.

Second, we might want to remember how Harper prorogued parliament in the Fall 2008 to avoid a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons, shortly after an election that had produced a hung parliament. The opposition parties had announced their intention of defeating the Conservatives in the House within days, and of asking the Governor General (GG) for the opportunity to form a new government. Instead, GG Michaëlle Jean acceded to Harper’s requested prorogation, allowing him to govern for several months without the support of the House – and indeed in the face of the opposition’s stated intention to bring him down. In acknowledging that he might not have obtained his request, Harper had noted that he would use all legal means to stay in power – but while some such means may be legal, they are not necessarily democratic. He didn’t say so, but Harper thereby called on the 17th century precedent of the absolutist king Charles 1st, who dismissed four parliaments and ruled for eleven years without recalling it rather than bend to its budgetary authority. Charles 1st’s absolute rule led to civil war, which was followed by the lasting compromise of a parliamentary monarchy. What would soon emerge as the democratic principle has thus been associated with parliament as counterweight to the Crown’s executive authority. In the British tradition, in other words, democracy has emerged and developed against the Crown.

Third, from his first days in office as a minority Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has not been shy about using his considerable discretionary power and making very little case of voices that oppose him and his government. This government has sought, often successfully, to curb democratic spaces within and outside parliament; it has ignored Supreme Court decisions that it finds inconvenient (eg. on the necessity of consultation with farmers on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board; on the obligation to consider alternative sentencing for aboriginals convicted of a crime); it is eliminating public financing of political parties, in a blatantly partisan move to cripple opposing parties, etc..

Answering a reporter’s question on the weakened state of the other parties after the May 2011 election, in which 60% of voters had not backed the Conservatives, and the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton, Harper said that "the government is prepared to adapt and to listen to the Canadian population when necessary." (emphasis added)[1] No doubt the Prime Minister thought himself magnanimous in saying so, which makes the statement all the more remarkable: how is it that a democratically elected government would care to listen to the people only "when necessary?" We might also ask what it is that will count as necessary, and who will decided that listening has indeed become necessary. The answer to the latter questions is painfully obvious: the Prime Minister will not think that listening is often necessary.

It is in light of these features of Harper’s rule that his government’s increasing use of royal markers should be seen. While British monarchs have come to accept a much reduced role, “the Crown” as such has never been a democratic institution. It’s not a stretch, then, to suggest that Stephen Harper is keen to surround himself with the Crown’s aura so as to create an air of undisputed and indeed apolitical authority. Harper’s people evidently perceive a gravitas in “the Crown” that, once harnessed, would propel the government and the Prime Minister himself beyond politics, into the realm of sovereign statecraft. At this point, we may think of crossing the Channel to borrow from a French king the appropriately authoritarian motto for Stephen Harper: L’État, c’est moi.

[1] Gloria Galloway, Layton’s death alters political landscape for Harper, in The Globe and Mail. August 25, 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/laytons-death-alters-political-landscape-for-harper/article2142562/. Accessed on August 25, 2011.

vendredi 11 novembre 2011

Les femmes autochtones et l'indifférence

Les femmes autochtones sont assassinées, violées, kidnappées et généralement violentées à un rythme effarant au Canada. Au moins 582 ont disparu ou ont été assassinées depuis 30 ans, selon l’Association des femmes autochtones du Canada.  Amnesty International a publié un rapport très documenté et critique en 2009. On s’indigne de temps en temps dans les média et la classe politique, et puis on passe à autre chose.
Il y avait un bon dossier d’Isabelle Hachey dans La Presse à ce sujet cette semaine (http://www.cyberpresse.ca/actualites/201111/07/01-4465568-des-centaines-de-femmes-autochtones-tuees-dans-lombre.php?utm_categorieinterne=trafficdrivers&utm_contenuinterne=cyberpresse_B4_manchettes_231_accueil_POS4) (c’est de là que vient le chiffre ci-dessus). Le problème, c’est que Hachey n’avait rien de nouveau à nous apprendre. Elle nous a mis à jour sur la disparition en 2008 de deux jeunes filles de Kitigan Zibi, dans la Haute Gatineau, et sur la frustration de leurs proches. Elle nous a rappelés des cas classiques, au Manitoba et en Colombie Britannique. Elle a souligné le contraste surréaliste entre le cirque médiatique à l'occasion de la fuite de Kitigan Zibi d’un jeune lion, aussi en 2008 (que lui a rappelé le Chef Gilbert Whiteduck), d’une part, et l’indifférence dans laquelle baignent généralement les disparitions de femmes autochtones, d'autre part.
On imagine qu’Isabelle Hachey a travaillé fort pour convaincre ses patrons de la laisser travailler sur le dossier, et ensuite de le publier en bonne place; elle mérite sans doute des félicitations pour ces efforts. Et paradoxalement, ses textes dans La Presse portent presque autant sur le silence et l’indifférence des média que sur les femmes autochtones elles-mêmes.  Elle répète que ces femmes sont « assassinées depuis 30 ans… (d)ans l’indifférence des médias, de la police et de la population en général »; que « la réponse était toujours non, non et non » quand les familles demandaient aux média de parler de leurs filles et sœurs disparues; que « les médias ont largement ignoré la nouvelle » de l’assassinat de Tiffany Morrison, de Kaahnawake; que « presque personne n’est venu » à une conférence de presse à Kitigan Zibi.
Rien de nouveau, donc, dans La Presse. On n’apprend rien, strictement parlant. Alors pourquoi le dossier? Isabelle Hachey a l’air de trouver ça important, et peut-être quelqu’un d’autre aussi dans la salle de rédaction du journal. On peut voir le dossier comme un effort pour y mettre fin, à l’indifférence générale. On peut penser que cet effort ne peut sûrement pas faire de mal. Mais en fait, et encore paradoxalement, le dossier peut faire du mal – et il en fera s’il n’a pas de suites dans La Presse et si d’autres médias n’en prennent pas non plus acte. S’il est le début d’une campagne de presse pour faire la lumière sur ce scandale, il aura fait du bien. S’il n’est suivi par rien d’autre que le retour du silence et de l’indifférence médiatique, il n’aura servi qu’à donner un alibi à La Presse et à faire vendre des copies le 8 novembre. L'indifférence se nourrit de moments comme celui-ci: elle se donne bonne conscience en se scandalisant de l'horreur, et elle retourne à ses affaires.