Rally Challenges Stephen Harper’s Prorogation of Parliament

The streets of Vancouver were filled with protesters on January 23, when over a thousand of the city’s residents met to oppose the recent prorogation of Parliament. The protesters marched from the Vancouver Art Gallery to Victory Square, halting traffic in downtown Vancouver and chanting “Get back to work!”

The rally was organized by Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, with help from the BC Young Liberals, and was coordinated largely through the Facebook group joined by over 200,000 Canadians. It was one of sixty demonstrations held across Canada and around the world to protest the Prime Minister’s unilateral decision to suspend Parliament from December 30 to March 3.

Harper’s second prorogation in two years means that Members of Parliament will not be able to represent their constituents in Ottawa for over sixty days. It also means that all thirty-five bills currently in discussion in the House, including bills aimed at reforming climate change regulations, human trafficking, and white collar crime, are thrown out and must start from scratch when Parliament reconvenes.

The Prime Minister has stated his reasons for proroguing Parliament were to give MPs some time off to enjoy the Winter Olympics, as well as to complete his Economic Action Plan.

However, many of the protest’s speakers, including Jason Gratl of the BC Civil Liberties Association, believe Harper is evading questions about Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghan prisoners. When faced with a lawsuit which showed that “Canada has ignored reports of torture in Afghan prisons… [the government] responded by attacking the institutions of democracy,” Gratl said.

Yet while there was a decidedly anti-Harper tone, politicians from all backgrounds attended the rally, including MPs Joyce Murray and Hedy Fry from the Liberal party and Peter Julian and Libby Davies from the NDP. One of the bills thrown out due to the prorogation was Davies’ National Housing Act, intended to help her constituents in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

Peter Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, responded to Harper’s defence that previous governments have also used prorogation. “Prorogation has been used very, very selectively. It’s been used for short time periods, and often it’s been used with the approval of Parliament. In this case… it was used to shut down the Afghan prisoner inquiries. That’s really the only reason why Stephen Harper has locked Canadians out of their own elected democratic Parliament.”

Students have also become closely involved in the public outcry resulting from the prorogation. Members of the Young Liberals of BC helped to organize the protest, and students from across Vancouver were in attendance. Kendra Ashton, a first year Arts student at UBC, said, “Harper just doesn’t have this right. He needs the whole House to agree with him. We can’t let the Prime Minister do this.”

Protesters were greeted at Victory Square with perogies, a delicious twist to Stephen Harper’s actions. Some of the rally’s attendees even carried signs that said, “More Perogies, Less Prorogue”. But while the protesters joked about the situation, they also made it clear how seriously they feel about the issue.

“When Stephen Harper decided to shut down Parliament during the Christmas holidays, I guess he thought that Canadians would not notice and would not care,” one speaker said. “Well, guess what, Mr. Harper, hundreds of thousands of Canadians did notice and did care.”

// Laura Kane

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