I was disappointed, but not entirely surprised to read this weekend that The Globe & Mail has officially joined Postmedia’s Christie Blatchford in denouncing the ongoing hunger strike in Ottawa by Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence as an act not just of protest but of violence against the lawful order of the country: “Spence should not risk her health with a hunger strike, nor is coercion a reasonable or responsible tool to be used in making a request to meet with the Prime Minister.”
The idea that a hunger strike is “coercive” would be hilarious in itself, if a person’s life wasn’t at stake here. I realize that most of my fellow Canadians are more angry at Spence than at Harper over the present state of affairs, but please do yourself the favour of being brutally honest about your feelings on this. What these people are saying is that they would rather Spence die than that Harper “concede” to a meeting. We don’t negotiate with terrorists, and we don’t negotiate with hunger strikers.
It’s not that the government isn’t bothered. It’s reached deep into its ranks to trot out one indigenous MP and Senator after another to urge Spence to give up the hunger strike and “trust the process” by meeting with Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan. The media generally agrees with this position. I’ve already noted the Globe’s position. The Ottawa Citizen has similarly announced, by the usual official means of an anonymous editorial, that it is not “valid” for Spence to demand a meeting with the Prime Minister.
I want to point out a disturbing contrast here. With increasingly disturbing regularity, Tibetan monks commit suicide by fire in order to draw the world’s attention to the plight of their homeland, occupied by China. When this happens, I can’t help but notice that virtually no white Canadians ever declare that these people are trying to “coerce” the Chinese government, or that self-immolation is basically equivalent to terrorism, or that there would be far better results if they just trusted the duly constituted government and followed its duly established processes. No one says it’s just an attention grab, or queue-jumping, or any of the other silly ways that white Canadians have tried to rationalize Harper’s failure to respond to Spence over the past two weeks.
Instead, when Tibetan monks commit suicide, The Globe and Mail says things like the following (again from an official editorial, this one from March 2012):
There is no weapon that can stop these fires from spreading, only the low-tech approach of dialogue, of easing up, of permitting freedom . . . But the hubris of a powerful state and long habit prevent China from seeing the answer . . .
[The government of China] needs to relax its repressive grip . . . , respect the religious practices of the Tibetan people . . . , and open negotiations with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.
Fascinatingly, The Globe’s advice to the government of China is the polar opposite of its advice to the government of China. Spence’s claim to talk to the prime minister rests on the assertion that First Nations should get to speak with the federal Crown on a government-to-government basis. Almost to a (wo)man, our professional media doesn’t agree: they say that it would be inappropriate to agree to meet Spence as long as she claims any such privilege, and that, in place of this “nation to nation” basis, the chief should address herself to the responsible minister the way any other special interest group might do.
But the Chinese government have already taken The Globe’s advice on this one. They can’t accede to The Globe’s demand that they “open negotiations with the Dalai Lama,” because they’ve already agreed with The Globe’s counsel that indigenous “governments” don’t have sovereignty and can’t operate on a “nation to nation” basis.