It is with admiration that I read Brigette DePape’s explanation of why she disrupted the Throne Speech in Canada’s Senate chamber.
The 21-year-old parliamentary page from Winnipeg has now been fired for her defiant act. On June 3rd, she stood stone-faced in the centre of the sterile red chamber of privilege, holding a sign reading “Stop Harper.” To the shock of Canada’s PM and his coterie of MPs and senators, Ms. DePape made her protest for 20 long seconds as the Queen’s representative in Canada, David Johnston, attempted to read his prepared remarks from the Harper government. Ms. DePape was finally led out of the chamber by a grim and aged sergeant-at-arms, a memorable image broadcast across the country.
Ms. DePape has been attacked by critics on the political right, centre, and left (including remarks from Green Party leader Elizabeth May and New Democrat Jack Layton) who suggest that she should have protested elsewhere to preserve the sanctity of parliament). But she has also mustered strong support in Canada and abroad, including from celebrated American filmmaker Michael Moore, who urged Canadians “to put aside the full respect thing and bring out their inner hockey stick and get to work on preventing their government from turning into a version of ours.”
DePape has been criticized for debasing Canada’s Parliamentary tradition, but she defends her actions as belonging to another deeply Canadian tradition — ”the tradition of ordinary people in this country fighting to create a more just and sustainable world, using peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.”
My personal view is that we need more Brigette DePapes in this world, to speak truth to power and take risks. This is needed in the short term to resist the Harper Conservatives’ agenda of austerity in social spending and largesse for militarism and corporations, and in the mid- and long-term to build a fairer society. I will close with Ms. DePape’s own words:
“I think those who reacted with excitement realize that politics should not be left to the politicians, and that democracy is not just about marking a ballot every few years. It is about ensuring, with daily engagement and resistance, that the vision we have for our society is reflected in the decision-making of our government.”