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Douglas Bell

An embarrassing period of disorder Add to ...

Of late Maclean's magazine's bread and butter is a version of Fox News north, playing to the worst reactionary instincts of Canada's wanna-be Republicans.

The current issue's cover line for instance - set atop a photograph of a burning cop car presided over by a gas masked anarchist - reads "Lock them up: Why the thugs arrested at the G20 don't deserve any leniency." That said, beyond the provocative heads and decks the content of the magazine altogether, particularly among the political columnists, is a good deal less febrile.

Paul Wells is a thoughtful guy with a gift for understated irony. Writing about Canada's de facto coalition government (red-blue), he observes: "… in concert with the Liberals, Stephen Harper is changing this country. He was able to gut environmental oversight of energy projects in the middle of a historic energy-sector environmental disaster. He is stuffing the nation's prisons like Christmas geese. He spent $1 billion turning the country's biggest city into a demonstration of the necessity (if not, ahem, the effectiveness) of tough policing against thugs, rabble, bicyclists and other miscreants."

That last line is as sweet a piece of editorial counter-programming as you'll read this week or any other. That said it's remarkable, at least to my eyes, that the national weekly news magazine (it is still a news magazine, right?), on this issue at least, resembles Pravda circa 1954. The editorial that accompanies the cover line reads as though it were written by some central committee in charge of the Politburo justifying the Lithuanian deportations of that era.

"The police should be commended for their vow to pursue any and all protesters associated with the vandalism. Merely detaining and releasing violent hoodlums is not a sufficient response to the threat they pose to civil society. The protection of free speech and assembly can only exist when there is proper respect for the rule of law. Legitimate protest acknowledges the existence of state authority while providing a different point of view. The same is true with civil disobedience. What we saw over the weekend, however, had nothing constructive to offer society. It was simply opportunistic chaos. It is thus imperative that we find and punish everyone responsible for this embarrassing period of disorder."

Notice the nifty conflation of "vandals" and "embarrassing period of disorder"? And that bit about "legitimate protest acknowledging state authority?" Oy. Orwell would have a field day.

Now I can hear the forces of order revving their engines "but you just quoted Wells on the other side of the matter, in the same issue of the magazine. What are you bitching about?" Well for one thing Paul Wells is wielding irony not a truncheon, and for another that ain't irony they're selling on the cover. This I hope is an issue that progressives in this country can rally around and protect like an ember at least until the political class gets back from munching summer barbecue.

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