Quantum Note

When “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman and her two colleagues arrived at the Douglas border crossing (which separates Canada from the United States), to go to Vancouver, where they were going to speak at the Public library, they were flagged, told to pull over and go inside the hangar-like building of the Canadian Border Security Services. Surprised, they went inside the almost empty building, as they had no choice. Amy went to the counter and the guard asked for her notes; he already knew why she was coming to Canada. “I want your notes,” he said.

“My notes?” she asked in surprise.

“The notes for the talk tonight.”

She was totally taken aback, but went out to the car, and brought a copy of her new book of columns, Breaking the Sound Barrier and handed it to the guard.

 “I want the notes,” he repeated.

“Well, these columns are my notes.”

“So, what are you talking about?” He asked.

Thus started a two hour long ordeal of the veteran journalist who was now dealing with a group of custom agents and armed border guards. She later described the situation in that room: a border guard was now reading my book, another was writing everything I said and handing it to yet another man who would go to the computer and type it in. 

Finally, she was asked to have a seat. Then the guards went out, combed through her car, one of them took out her colleague’s computer, as if it was his, turned it on and started to go through the hard drive. She saw this from the glass door and went out, but was strictly told to go back in. She did.

Finally the guards came in. By now, they had been in that situation for over an hour and a half. She was taken into a back room and the border guards took her pictures. Then they called her colleagues into that room and took their pictures. Finally they handed her a control document, which stated that she must leave Canada by Friday.

Amy later went on air to describe her experience: “I felt completely violated, I mean, personally and professionally. You know, and for journalism overall. Because this is not only a violation of freedom of the press, you know, the idea that, you know, the state is going into your papers, your documents, your sources, everything—but also a violation of the public’s right to know. Because if journalists feel there are things they can’t report on, that they’ll be detained, that they’ll be arrested, or they’ll be questioned, they’ll be interrogated; this is a threat to the free flow of information. And that’s the public’s loss, that’s democracy’s loss.” The officials of the Canadian Border Services Agency refused to talk the press when contacted by various media outlets. The story made some ripples, and then the news fiddled out.

This is not something unique; under the conservative government of Steven Harper, Canada has been gradually shifting toward a police state; violation of human rights is becoming a norm, rather than an abhorrent exception. Harper government has consistently, and so far, successfully blocked the return of Omar Khadr, the young Canadian who was arrested in Afghanistan by the Americans and sent to that outpost of humanity called Guantanamo Bay—a name that would forever blacken American book of deeds; it has brought Canada to its first active post-WWII military involvement in Afghanistan; and it has tarnished the reputation of a country that was known for its peace keeping efforts. Harper government has solidly stood behind George W Bush and his Jingoism.

All of this is new to Canada, yet there is hardly any opposition or public outrage against these radical policy changes. Other governments have also made numerous policy changes in the post-9/11 era, but in most European countries there has been at least some degree of resistance against human rights violation; not so in Canada where the two opposition parties are splintered, weak, and mired in their internal disarray, leaving for the ruling party a carte blanche on which it is recording all that goes against the spirit of what Canada has been so far.

In addition to his pro-American policies, Mr. Harper has also shown a marked preference for the state of Israel at the expense of Palestinians. When Israel was indiscriminately bombing the large concentration camp called Gaza, Harper refused to condemn, stating instead, Israel’s right to defend itself. Last month, when he arrived in Mumbai, Harper went straight to the Jewish center that was attacked by the terrorists to show his sympathy. Harper’s dislike for Iran has been especially obvious in statements he and his ministers have issued during the last few years. All these personal traits have reversed numerous state policies and turned Canada into a state where human rights are being increasingly violated.

In fact, it seems that all that was built by the charismatic Pierre Elliott Trudeau, (18 October 1919 – 28 September 2000), the fifteenth Prime Minister of Canada from 20 April 1968 to 4 June 1979, and again from 3 March 1980 to 30 June 1984, is being destroyed: from Canada’s healthcare system to its unique international role in the world as a nation deeply concerned about justice and peace. 

Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (www.cis-ca.org), Canada, and editor of Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), but most of his published work is related to Islam and various aspects of Islamic civilization, including the Islamic scientific tradition. He is a regular contributor for Opinion Maker
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he lived and worked in Pakistan, first as Director (Scientific Information) for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) and later as Director (International Cooperation), Pakistan Academy of Sciences.