Attending A Harper Election Rally IS An Exercise In Authoritarian Control - So goes the nation under his watch!
Members of the public who attend Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign events are being required to agree to a gag order before they can walk through the door, iPolitics has learned.
While attendance is by invitation only, and attendees are vetted by the Conservative Party before receiving a ticket, those who want to attend a campaign event in person are also being asked to agree to a number of conditions including not to transmit any description of the event or any images from it.
“Holder (of the confirmation of registration) is prohibited from transmitting or aiding in transmitting any description, account, picture or reproduction of the Event,” according to information contained on the invitation website for an event Harper is planning in Brampton East on Monday. A similar warning appears in connection with an event Harper appeared at in the Montreal riding of Mont Royal as he kicked off his campaign last Sunday.
Those attending the event also have to agree to be searched. “Holder and his/her belongings may be searched upon entry, and Holder consents to such searches and waives any related claims that might arise against Conservative Fund Canada, the Electoral District Association concerned, and the facility. If the Holder elects not to consent to these searches, Holder will be denied entry to the facility.”
The party also makes it clear that breaking that rule – or any of the other rules it sets out – can result in attendees being expelled from the event. “The confirmation of registration and entry to the event is a revocable licence: it may be withdrawn, admission refused or Holder expelled from the premises at any time for any reason without recourse by Holder.” While those who attend Harper’s events can’t transmit accounts or images from the event, the party reserves the right to use pictures of them in its own broadcasts or advertising. “Holder consents to the use by the producer of the Event, without compensation, of Holder’s image or likeness incidental to any transmission or reproduction of the Event.”
Harper’s election campaign is only in its first week but the high level of control the Conservative Party is exercising has already become an issue. The party is being highly secretive about when and where Harper will campaign, often giving little or no notice to the public or media who have not signed up for his pricey campaign tour. On Tuesday, veteran Queens Park reporter Susanna Kelley was refused entry to a Harper campaign event. While she arrived 20 minutes before the start of the event, she was told she could not enter because RCMP sniffer dogs were not available to check her out.
The RCMP refused to discuss the incident, saying it doesn’t talk about security arrangements around the prime minister. But while the RCMP required reporters to be vetted by sniffer dogs at the Conservative Party event, there was no such requirement for either the media or members of the public at Rideau Hall Sunday when Harper launched his campaign.
When Harper visited Belleville, Ontario on Friday, the local newspaper was given an advance heads up by a local Conservative organizer that he was coming but directed to only send a photographer and advised the prime minister would not take any questions from the media. Nor did the local Conservative candidate Jodie Jenkins agree to repeated requests from the Belleville Intelligencer for an interview. While party leaders often appear at local campaign events to build support for their local candidates and count on participants to get the word out about the leader’s message, the Conservatives have also found themselves in the past on the defensive after videos taken by participants have been circulated to opponents or posted on YouTube. For example, in a private address to Conservatives in Sault Ste. Marie in 2009, Harper said he needed a get a majority government to do some of the things he wanted to do – something he had shied away from saying publicly.
Other parties often encourage participants to tweet comments or photos from party rallies, sometimes even asking them to use a particular hashtag in a bid to build social media buzz around an event. An NDP official said the party’s campaign events with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair do not have any prohibition on transmitting comments or photos. “People are invited to bring their friends and are encouraged to take photos and share their experiences however they choose.”
Olivier Duchesneau, spokesman for the Liberal Party, said his party’s events are open to everyone because Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wants to meet “as many Canadians as possible.” “Canadians should be free to share their thoughts and experiences on social media during and after political events. It’s not a surprise that the Conservatives are exercising this type of control. They are operating their campaign the same way they have been governing this country for 10 years. Their approach is not open or transparent.” The Conservative Party has not yet responded to a request from iPolitics for comment.