Canada’s first robocall rally unites generations and parties with comedy

BY SARAH BERMAN, OPENFILE.CA

If the Vikileaks debacle taught us anything about modern scandal in this country, it’s that Canadians enjoy a few laughs with our outrage. Amid the crowd marching from the Vancouver Art Gallery to Victory Square on Saturday March 3rd—a rally calling for a public inquiry into the growing robocall scandal—good-natured Canuck humour was out in full force.

Call and answer chants “Total! Recall! Total! Recall!” echoed a full city block as police motorcycles escorted a crowd of hundreds through the downtown core. The rally aimed to draw attention to automated messages that wrongly informed Liberal-leaning voters in contentious ridings that their polling stations had changed during the May 2011 election. Elections Canada announced last week it has received 31,000 complaints about the misleading calls, which came from a call centre used by the Conservative Party.

Comic and activist Sean Devlin was particularly well-received, focusing on Canada’s “math problems.” “I want to start with the way this prime minister was elected,” Devlin said. “He got his majority with less than 40 percent of the vote, right? That’s four out of ten.”

The creator of the website ShitHarperDid.com said mathematically speaking, four in ten is not a majority, and is coincidentally a failing grade on a math test. “Four out of ten isn’t even enough dentists to credibly recommend you a tube of toothpaste,” he said.

“So that was before we knew about robocalls. We already knew the Harper majority was a fake majority,” Devlin continued: “Now we know it’s a stolen, fake majority. And honestly, who steals a fake? A really incompetent art thief.”

Devlin’s comments were met with cheers and laughs from a surprisingly diverse audience. There were strollers and grandparents in the front rows, along with a spare few masked Occupy-ers. With speakers from three political parties in attendance, partisanship between the opposition seemed set aside for the afternoon.

“We have to recognize that the Conservatives, in denying that this is a big problem, are forcing attention on themselves,” said Green Party deputy leader Adriane Carr. “They should be the first to say we need a full public inquiry.” Both NDP MP Libby Davies representing Vancouver East and Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra Joyce Murray said complaints were lodged in their ridings.

Although the atmosphere was light, the demands were serious. “It’s not good enough for a few people to have criminal charges,” said LeadNow.ca co-founder Jamie Biggar, noting that a possible 38 ridings were affected. “It’s not even good enough to have by-elections in the affected ridings. If we find out that systematic electoral fraud was organized by the ruling party of this country, then we need to dissolve this parliament, we need new elections, and we need to decertify that party.”

Environmental activist AJ Klein said she hadn’t seen such an enthused crowd since the Occupy movement last November. Banners from that protest hung between trees in Victory Square.

Murray reflected on her time spent marching in New York’s Occupy protests. “The chant was: You can’t stop the people because the people won’t stop!” she recalled.

During the robocall rally march, the familiar refrain “This is what democracy looks like!” was tried on by a new round of decidedly older protestors.

“I see a lot of people over the age of fifty here, who don’t generally make it out in the numbers they did today to other protests like Occupy,” observed Nathan Barwell-Clark, one of the handful of protestors with a Fawkes mask sitting atop his head. “I feel that every day that goes by, there are shades of the Occupy movement in more places.”

The demographics neatly dispelled early accusations that Vancouver’s “professional protesters” are the only ones to have taken up this issue. “We’re interested and concerned about infringements on our right to vote,” said Rob Rattan, attending the rally with his wife Suzie. “This shouldn’t be a matter of left or right—it’s a time to stand up and say we value our rights and this needs to be investigated properly.”

More robocall protests across the country are scheduled to begin next Sunday, March 11.

Originally published in OpenFile on Monday, March 5.

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