Ceding the symbols of democracy:
Giving Up The Capital

Ottawa - Tuesday, June 25, 2002 - by: Thomas Curran




As the year 1967 opened, the war in Vietnam was raging, the Cold War was at its height, the West was being torn between respect for authority and free love, and, on a bitter night in Ottawa, the Centennial Flame burst into being on Parliament Hill. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Prime Minister, and a host of other dignitaries on Parliament Hill were joined by a brave few thousand celebrating the coming out of Canada.




I was there that night, stamping my feet against the cold, holding hands with family, as we sang O Canada and Happy Birthday to our home and native land. Well, not really, my mother was an immigrant; but in that special year,


Canada was proclaiming the realization of its potential as a haven for anyone from anywhere who wanted to work hard to build a family, a dream, and a country.


Thirty five years have passed. The flame has continued to burn all that time, through wars and through peacekeeping, through efforts to break us apart and the triumphs that have kept us together. No one can imagine the number of photos taken by visitors to the capital, standing before the Eternal Flame that symbolizes what we are, what we can be, and what we hope for ourselves.




Nothing has doused it. Nothing - until now. In the most symbolic of all its acts of surrender, our national government has decided to snuff the Centennial Flame in fear of the G8 protestors descending on Ottawa.



halls of

Not the only surrender, though. Almost as frightening is the decision to close our courts, the halls in which the freedoms that define our society are defended each day. Closed are the National Gallery and other buildings which exist to celebrate Canada. Closed are government towers, the civil service - once our great pride - told to stay home and cede downtown to the horde.




The protestors, no matter what happens, have won. Terrorism has triumphed, ironically in the midst of a so-called war on terrorism.




Terrorism? Do I exaggerate? I don't think so. A Canadian terrorism, of course, with schedules and hand-wringing and slow drives up Highway 416. But what is terrorism? Itís the use of violence, and threats of violence, against civilian members of society, against property and against the symbols of freedom, in an effort to compel acceptance of the protestorís demands. When the government responds to such threats by shutting itself down, then the protestors have achieved all they could dream of. When the government, out of fear, allows the symbols of freedom to be buried, then freedom itself has lost some of its value.



no to

We don't want Seattle, of course. We don't want injuries or death. We don't want violent scenes played out beneath the War Memorial. We don't want police in armour attacked by, or attacking, vandals armed with sticks and stones and Molotov cocktails.



to protest

And, indeed, I honour protest. The right of public dissent is the single greatest hallmark of freedom, and the nationís capital, of all places, is where dissent must be most welcome, most welcomed. The right to gather before our Parliament, or in our streets and squares, is one of the greatest protections of democracy.




That right is the very heart of a free people. Recall perhaps the greatest peaceful protest in recent years, in 1989, in St. Stephenís Square, when night after night, tens of thousands of Czechs crept from the side streets and lit candles for freedom. At first, the government responded with violence; but peace held firm. It took but a few nights of silent vigil, and Vaclav Havel became the first democratic leader of a re-born nation. I remember standing in that broad avenue the following summer, a few days after carving out my own chunks of the Berlin Wall and thinking of the two revolutions, one born of violence, the other of peace. The latter may be the less known, but the more moving, because it proved that peaceful protest has the power to change the world.




But if I respect the right to disagree, I nonetheless want my city, and my country, and my freedom, defended. I want the symbols of democracy to be defended. I want the Houses of Parliament, the Courts, the museums, the offices, to be open and functioning and standing up to threats made by small minds who believe that violence is the answer. Symbols are important. Symbols are us. To dishonour a symbol is to dishonour a nation.




When we give in to threats, when we surrender our symbols, we are diminished. We lose some of our freedom. We lose the right to go where we want, to walk in our own streets, to go about the business of being Canada.




The government of Canada, and the mayor of Ottawa, have given in. They have decided that threats of violence are sufficient grounds for closing our city. The lesson has been learned - protestors now know that, under a mere threat of violence, Canada will not contest control of its streets. Thatís not our history. After the first World War, Robert Borden demanded that Vimy gave Canada the right to a place on the world stage. In the second War, and in Korea, we won respect for our stand against tyranny. In 1956, Lester Pearsonís Canada led the world in finding a path to peace in the face of war. In the 1980s, Brian Mulroney had the courage to stand alone in boycotting South Africa, bringing about the end of apartheid and winning respect for our country throughout Africa which remains to this day.




This is our heritage. This is what is being sacrificed, in the name of caution and fear. On this day, we lose a little of our pride.

Thomas Curran