Before the late Jack Layton had his cane, Mahatma Gandhi had his spinning wheel. And now Gandhi’s best-known admirer in Quebec has acquired a symbol of his own: the shoe.
In the less than four years that Amir Khadir of Québec solidaire has been a member of the National Assembly, there have been three well-publicized incidents concerning him and footwear.
At a protest shortly after his election, Khadir imitated an Iraqi journalist who had hurled a shoe at George W. Bush and tossed one of his own at a photograph of the former U.S. president.
Two years ago, he called for a boycott against a shop in his midtown-Montreal Mercier riding that sells footwear made in Israel.
And last Thursday, he complained that when Montreal police came to his home early that morning to arrest his 19-year-old daughter, they ignored his wife’s request that, before they entered, they remove their shoes.
His daughter, Yalda Machouf-Khadir, was charged on Friday with, among other things, assaulting a news photographer and a peace officer and participating in the sacking of the riding office of former education minister Line Beauchamp.
In what some sympathizers suspect was not a coincidence, Machouf-Khadir and three other activists were arrested the day announced attempts to disrupt activities associated with the Formula One Grand Prix du Canada were to begin. They were then detained over the weekend of the race.
At least they were charged after they were arrested. On Sunday, at the public Jean Drapeau Park that includes the racecourse, police made more than 30 “preventive” arrests of people who were later released without being charged, and expelled dozens more from the park. Police said they recognized some of those arrested or expelled as participants in past illegal demonstrations. But other people complained of “political profiling” and of being repeatedly stopped and searched only because they were wearing the red-square symbol of the student protests against the tuition increases.
Machouf-Khadir was the second member of her family to appear in handcuffs in newspaper photographs in less than 48 hours. Her father was arrested on Tuesday evening, after he left the National Assembly and joined what was declared an illegal demonstration against the tuition increases and the Charest government’s anti-protest legislation, Bill 78.
Khadir, however, was not charged with defying the anti-protest law, because police refuse to enforce it. He had to settle for a less politically glamorous charge of violating the Highway Safety Code by blocking traffic, for which he was told he would receive a $494 ticket.
He said the “injustice” of Bill 78 is as serious as racial segregation in the U.S. South in the 1960s or British colonialism in India in the 1940s.
If Machouf-Khadir is convicted of charges involving the use of violence, it would mean she does not share her father’s approach to breaking the law. Khadir said that in order for civil disobedience to be legitimate, it must be, among other things, “peaceful, non-violent.”
But Khadir’s choice of King and Gandhi as models for his civil disobedience was an unfortunate one – for him.
King and Gandhi used civil disobedience as a last resort because their respective peoples were denied the use of the vote to change laws they considered unjust.
Any similarity between their situations and that of an elected member of a legislature for which elections must be held within the next 18 months exists only in Khadir’s imagination, and that of his sympathizers.