1984 - 2015

'Ottawa seems to use 1984 as an instruction manual'

By Darren Jerome
True North Perspective

“As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a categorical pledgewere the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.George Orwell, 1984

Image: Photo-illusttration of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper holding copy of George Orwell's 1984.  
Stephen Harper's little red instruction manual. Photo-illustration by Geoffrey Dow.  

Canada's Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, raised alarm bells on May 14 when she stated that Bill C-59 would enable past laws, in this case those pertaining to ensuring public access to gun registry records, to be retroactively changed and make what was at the time an illegal withholding of information now legal.

Framed by the ruling government as a means of simply streamlining an existing legal framework, it is, according to Madam Legault, a great deal more. In her words, it "establishes a perilous precedent of rewriting laws; one that could jeopardize the ability of authorities to prosecute electoral fraud or other government scandals going forward."

Legault went on to state that: "Backdating changes to the law to make something legal that was illegal — and after a finding of wrongdoing — breaks new ground [and that] If we accept that this is legal, constitutional and, perhaps further, legitimate in our Canadian democracy ... then I think we could have done the same thing when (Auditor General) Sheila Fraser investigated the sponsorship scandal under the Liberals in the 1990s."

I chose to begin this article with a passage from Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 which describes the work of Winston Smith. The book's protagonist, Smith's job is to re-write history in order to expunge any inconvenient truths from the public record. This book scared the hell out of me as a grade 13 student. Not one, at the time, to be easily swayed by the written word, I was nonetheless shocked by the cold, calculating ruthlessness of a state and the actions it would take in order to maintain power — largely through its control of information and even the truth.

How even more troubling it is to witness similar actions in our present reality. I ponder, as I am still permitted to think freely, how Mr. O would feel about his cautionary tale being used as an instruction manual?