Ford and Scheer have embraced emotional mob-rule. What comes next should worry everyone.
Today’s Conservatives privilege authoritarian mob-rule which is inconsistently applied to elicit maximum short-term political success.
Doug Ford has proposed denying basic government services — such as OHIP, drivers’ licenses and disability income — to alleged Canadian citizens returning to the country after fighting with ISIS.
Andrew Scheer wants the power to personally intervene in the judicial system. He has argued that the Prime Minister should have the power, in the case of Tori Stafford’s killer, to determine an offender’s punishment and how it should be served.
On the face of it, these events appear to be unrelated and nothing more than Conservative virtue signalling. But the truth is far more sinister: Conservatives have embraced emotionally-driven mob rule as a substitute for the rule of law. History shows this inevitably leads to increased authoritarianism and illiberal tendencies.
Ford’s latest move to strip ISIS fighters of their rights is unsurprising. Ford and Scheer are keenly aware of what makes the mob tick. Uttering the word terrorism stimulates an emotional response that subverts rational decision-making.
It’s easy to make a case for stripping ISIS fighters of their rights and benefits that are guaranteed to all Canadian citizens. Like any criminal, terrorists should be punished. But in a society that respects the rule of law, this punishment must be administered according to a set of rules and principles. Terrorism, we are told, is the worst act one can undertake. Therefore any punishment — no matter whether it’s in keeping with our principles of criminal justice — is justified.
We’d be foolish to think it’s only a small minority that is susceptible to these appeals. It’s not.
Restorative justice for criminals is another issue that activates an emotional and irrational response. In Conservative eyes, both groups are less than human and therefore beyond redemption. It’s filtered down to us through simple, emotional, easy to consume soundbites: criminals are bad because they knowingly broke the law, therefore they deserve whatever they get.
But much to the chagrin of Conservatives, our impartial judiciary continues to fulfill their vital role, refusing to be caught in the seductive authoritarian power that mobs demand. Andrew Scheer’s obsession and demand for political interference with Tori Stafford’s killer illustrates this point.
Justice is supposed to be blind, but the authoritarian mob egged on by Scheer and Ford shares no such commitment. For them, all are not equal before the law. And this filters down to voters.
Conservative mob-rule is also defined by breathtaking hypocrisy.
Where was Ford’s demand to strip far-right terrorist Alex Minassian of his rights when he murdered 10 Ontarians? Where is the conservative movement’s collective outrage as far-right militias arm themselves, preparing to wage war against democracy? Is that not the same reason they violently oppose ISIS fighters?
Where were Scheer’s demands to intervene in the justice system when Tina Fontaine’s suspected murder was acquitted? Why are Conservatives silent as aboriginal women and children are murdered? Where are the calls for justice?
Their silence is deafening but the reason is simple: today’s Conservatives privilege authoritarian mob-rule, inconsistently applied to elicit maximum short-term political success.
Mob rule isn’t based on equality before the law. It’s designed to turn one group against another and undermine the rule of law. Islamic terrorists are targeted rhetorically instead of right-wing terrorists because they are perceived to be more alien than white, homegrown terrorists.
MPP Dave Smith, the man introducing Ford’s ISIS fighter bill, put it bluntly:
“a terrorist outside of Canada, when they come back to Ontario, they should not have more privileges than somebody who lives in Ontario”.
Where does this logic lead? The next step is easy to envision. Anyone deemed as an outsider, or those who are a “drain on our society”, should not receive the same rights or benefits as the rest of us. This story has played out time and time again throughout history.
The lesson? De-humanization and abuse never stops at just one group.
The most searing criticism of this worldview came not from a progressive voice, but from Benjamin Perrin, an adviser and in-house legal counsel to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.
He wrote in the Globe and Mail that Scheer’s call to intervene in Tori Stafford’s killer case “leads to things such as political leaders telling the police who to arrest or ignore, prosecutors who to charge, judges who to find guilty, and wardens how to treat certain prisoners. There’s a populist calculus that doing so can gain favour with the electorate, yet it profoundly undermines justice and democracy.”
Scheer’s ideal judicial system is the same as Ford’s: target one group or person because it is emotionally and electorally expedient. Scheer’s proposed use of state power to target individual offenders, as Perrin convincingly argues, is the “antithesis of how our democracy works, based on centuries of hard-learned lessons about limits on the abuse of state power.”
Some readers may be quick to blame voters. I disagree. As we’ve argued elsewhere, most progressive parties around the world have not articulated a clear alternative vision to the politics of authoritarian mob-rule. It’s not surprising voters fall for the siren song of far-right emotional authoritarianism. It’s worked throughout the world, and I have no doubt it will work here in Canada.
It’s truly disturbing that only one institutional Conservative voice has forcefully denounced the Conservative party’s flirtation with authoritarian mob rule. Conservatives are tripping over themselves to praise Ford and Scheer. Of course, Perrin has no skin in the game. He’s seeking no political favour or future appointment to Cabinet. He is not beholden.
Canada’s rightwing movement is repeating the mistakes we see throughout the rest of the western world. Far-right parties have embraced rule-by-mob, demanding the power to level justice unequal justice against specific groups they deem lesser. It’s not a bug, but a feature of modern conservatism that is increasingly trending towards authoritarianism and illiberal democracy.
Refusing to give into the emotional appeals of authoritarianism is hard. Protecting democracy doesn’t drive donations or voter rage. Defending the rule of law and principles of equal treatment before the law doesn’t generate likes or retweets.
Real leaders understand this. Conservatives do not.
You as a reader might nod your head as ISIS fighters are stripped of their benefits. You may post online that it’s outrageous politicians are not intervening in a specific court case. You nod along because it feels good, it feels right, and something needs to be done. I don’t blame you.
But a warning: mobs are not static beings. They will turn against and consume their members at a moments notice. Today’s ally is tomorrow’s enemy.
Don’t be surprised when the authoritarian mob, egged on and weaponized by Conservative politicians, turns its calls for retribution against you.
If history is any indication, it’s only a matter of time.