An MP stopped me at the gates of 5 Wing Goose Bay a few days ago and for the first time ever I was not allowed to pass.
This MP was not the MP I was hoping to see. This was not the member of Parliament for Labrador who was reportedly on the base with one federal prime minister
and two provincial premiers to announce something of great public interest to do with a big dam they want to build nearby. As a journalist, it’s my job to attend such announcements, to hear what politicians have to say, to ask questions if information remains unclear and to write about it in my column.
This MP, however, was a member of the Department of National Defence’s military police.
He was stationed that day on Loring Drive with several other MPs and RCMP members to interrogate everyone who wanted to enter the base, to search their vehicles and to deny passage to those deemed unworthy.
With more than half an hour to spare before Prime Minister Stephen Harper would start talking at the Canuck Club, I joined a line of a dozen vehicles waiting to get through the gates.
It was start-and-stop driving for a few minutes until I was past the fence and waved to a halt. The MP was friendly, but reserved. He scanned the cab of my small pick-up truck (looking for possible threats, like weapons or protest signs) and asked me, “How are you today?”
When law enforcement officers ask this, they usually seem less interested in what you answer as in how you answer it.
“Fine,” I said brightly. “How about you?”
For some reason, they never seem to expect this friendly inquiry offered back to them and, as usual, mine appeared to catch the MP off guard. His gaze jumped away from the jumble of gloves on my passenger seat and turned to meet my eyes.
He hesitated for a heartbeat, as if contemplating what I meant, but he finally admitted that he was feeling pretty good. Then he asked me for photo identification and demanded to know why I wanted to go onto the base.
I could have lied. I could have said I was visiting friends, as I often did. I could have said I was going to the civilian air terminal, where I’ve frequently gone. I could have said I wanted to buy gas or groceries, or go see what was playing at the movie theatre, or just to saunter around the popular walking loop behind the soccer pitches — all things I’ve done countless times.
But I didn’t lie. I told the MP I was a columnist there to cover a government announcement. He asked me if I was invited. I said I was not aware I needed to be. He told me to park off the road and he spoke into a phone.
All his faint traces of friendliness vanished. He wasn’t outwardly
confrontational, but he appeared slightly miffed and even a little nervous, as if I’d suddenly transformed into the very reason why he was stopping people at these gates.
No media was allowed on base without invitation, he said. I must leave, he said — letting me guess what would happen if I didn’t. So, as the MP directed, I did a three-point turn in the middle of the street and temporarily blocked the gates completely. In my attempt to avoid hitting parked police vehicles and milling police officers, I accidentally stalled my engine — a mischance that apparently gave the local MHA an opportunity to exchange profanities with an anti-dam protester, although the report might be an unfair rumour made believable by the said MHA’s documented history of swearing in public. (One wonders what his next campaign slogan will be. Perhaps: Vote for me, or go f--- yourself!)
So, the base can remain open during several Middle East wars, but not for a visit from the PM. Are our leaders so afraid of dissent they need fences to hide from protesters, uninvited media and other Canadian citizens? Obviously.
Therefore, the next time Harper has an announcement to make, could he please go somewhere else and do it without disrupting daily life in Happy Valley-Goose Bay?
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.