Wednesday, January 12, 2011


In his first public comments by the Prime Minister since the horrific shootings in Arizona, Stephen Harper cautioned that Canadians should avoid turning this heinous crime into a debate over the state of political discourse in North America.

South of the border there's been a debate all week on whether the shootings outside of a Tucson supermarket in which 14 people were injured and six killed have been somehow connected to the acrimonious bi-partisan political discourse in the United-States.

Just in recent hours two of America's most prominent conservatives; Sarah Palin and broadcaster Glenn Beck have lashed-out against commentators who have suggested they have contributed to a pervasive atmosphere that might incite some people to violence.

America...indeed much of the world has been deeply disturbed by the mass killings in Arizona. The attempted assassination of Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords seems tragically familiar to people in countries where 21st Century political violence has been routine. In neighbouring Mexico diplomats signaled that the attack was an alarming signal for the health of democracy in the United States. Across Latin America less mature democracies, including Mexico, are all too familiar with frequent spasms of political violence. But; even mature European democracies have expressed worries and concern. The Paris daily "Le Monde" said the events in Tucson seem to confirm..."an alarming premonition that has been gaining momentum for a long time: that the verbal and symbolic violence that the most radical right-wing opponents have used in their clash with the Obama administration would at some point lead to tragic physical violence."

Whatever the motive(s) of the attacker, the attack has sent a chill through a fundamental part of American democracy: The right and freedom of people to gather and meet with their elected representatives. As was noted by the New York Times owned central Florida "Lakeland Ledger" - "The United States is not a Third World country. But it begins to look like one when a simple meeting between a Member of Congress and her constituents ends in a hail of bullets."

Debate demands respect. In the United States and many believe sadly increasingly so in Canada, harsh and personal rhetoric has reduced political discourse to a series of insults, slurs and barbs traded amongst those (and their supporters) who hold opposing views and positions. Canadians haven't just witnessed the poisoning of the political discourse south of our border; but we too have witnessed a troubling increase in the cynical and divisive wedge politics which leads to outlandish rhetoric and character assassination.

Most assuredly America's gun culture played a significant role in last weekend's Arizona massacre. Prime Minister Harper is correct to claim that: "The reality is that democratic debate everywhere is animated, (and) it's always going to be that way."

Clearly though the Tucson shootings should be as much of a clarion wake-up call for Canadians as for our American cousins south of the border.

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