15 & 51

I’ve been thinking a lot about the numbers 15 and 51 lately. They’re important numbers in Canada these days. 15 is the number of dollars per hour the NDP proposes as the national minimum wage – about $30,000 per year – a no frills income, but certainly a livable one. 51 is the number of the bill the Parliament just approved (with the vote of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau), pitched to us as a national security initiative but which, in practice, is providing a legal framework for criminalizing dissent against the Keystone-XL/Enbridge pipeline complex, a legitimate exercise of our Charter rights of free speech and assembly dismissed as the “anti-petroleum movement” in this internal RCMP memo.


I was very upset to recently overhear a friend telling someone else why raising the minimum wage to $15 wasn’t a good idea. I don’t normally eavesdrop but as I sat there in my booth in the restaurant, I couldn’t help but overhear him go on about tax rates, about possible consequences to non-minimum wage earners. He didn’t know I was there. I wanted to tell him that $15 an hour wasn’t about abstractions like interest rates or actuarial tables but about poor people buying groceries for their families. It wasn’t an argument that would make sense to him, however. Because he exists in a world with enough money for it to be something of an abstraction for him. Money is only truly real to those who have too little of it.

Money can purchase freedom, for example by allowing people to afford the best justice money can buy. The coincidence of a widened scope of domestic surveillance with opposition to a livable minimum wage is not random. These increased incursions into our civil rights serve to enforce a social order wherein political power of the wealthy exists at the expense of the middle and working classes. C-51 comes at a time when the pipeline initiatives face growing civil opposition. And so the Conservative government has deployed the apparatus of State to criminalize dissent, and in so doing enforced a Politics of the Rich. Those who protest the pipeline once C-51 is in place will become, de facto, terrorists. And who earning less than $15 an hour can afford a lawyer?

The RCMP and the government of Canada have decided that exercising our Charter rights is not good for us because we might use them to promote an anti-petroleum ideology (whatever the fuck that is). They probably didn’t ever think any of us would get to read that memo when they wrote it, but we did. I want to tell the guys who wrote it that this isn’t about national security or pushing a revolutionary ideology. It’s about people demanding to have a say in what happens in the country where they live. But this isn’t an argument that would make sense to them. They exist in a world with so much power that it’s something of an abstraction for them. Freedom only really matters to those who have too little of it.


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