A hundred years ago, when I was in high school, I read George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 1949, when it was published, it was satire. Today, it’s reality.
That Big Brother is everywhere already, let there be no doubt. Take your own money out of your own bank account via a bank machine transaction and your picture is taken as you do it. Walk through your workplace at any hour of the day or night and somebody is likely watching you. Stroll across Nathan Phillips Square to the front door of Toronto City Hall or sit down to eat in the Food Court at the Square One shopping centre in Mississauga and you are being videotaped doing it.
I shudder to think about it.
But here’s something that’s worse.
As anybody who’s read the book knows, Winston Smith, the central character of Nineteen Eight-Four, worked in the Ministry of Truth. His job was to rewrite history. People and events that existed previously didn’t, after he got finished with them. Situations, circumstances, happenings – they all disappeared or were changed substantially when Winston Smith "revised" the public record.
That was the part that bothered me more than anything else.
The news today is that this revisionism is going on right under our noses. The government of this country is intent on rewriting history.
(I hasten to say that this has nothing to do with political parties. It doesn’t matter if the federal government is Liberal, Conservative or NDP because it is government itself that is guilty of this crime.)
And why do I sound so alarmist? Allow me to explain.
Once upon a time in this world, tobacco companies could advertise. They can’t do that any more – at least in Canada. Although I find this abhorrent (if governments had any guts, which they don’t, they’d declare tobacco illegal and be done with it), it is the law.
The Targa Newfoundland is a car rally held every September. This year’s event starts Sept. 8 and goes until the 15th. The people who enter are in it for the glory; there’s no prize money. Just medallions and trophies – and bragging rights. Our own Jim Kenzie, who was one of the Targa's founders, will be in it. There is little advertising on the cars and certainly no tobacco sponsorships, which are, after all, illegal. It’s essentially a bunch of people getting together for the enjoyment of motor sport.
Last year, you will recall, there was a mishap. Driver Zahir Rana lost control of his Ferrari and it went into the ocean. He got out but – oh, the horror! – he was photographed looking at his million-dollar car in the water and he was wearing a red Ferrari driving suit that had the word MARLBORO on it. (Watch the video here.)
(You already know where this is going, don’t you?)
When Barrichello drove for the Scuderia, it was sponsored by Philip Morris and it was legal to advertise cigarettes. Rana bought himself a souvenir of that time in racing history. Nothing more.
Somewhere along the line, somebody in Health Canada’s Tobacco Enforcement Office saw the photograph and the video of Zahir Rana wearing that uniform.
Oh-oh. You think we have a problem with guns in this country? That, apparently, pales in significance when compared to the crime committed by Zahir Rana last year when he drove his Ferrari into the Atlantic while wearing a souvenir racing uniform from a bygone era.
In recent weeks, Targa president Bob Giannou has received telephone calls and a letter from a Health Canada official to inform him "of currrent prohibitions regarding the promotion of tobacco products."
The letter goes on to say that you can’t promote tobacco products, which is something Mr. Giannou already knows.
But what that letter really said is this: Any reference to tobacco products whatsoever, even if the reference is historical, is not allowed.
Which means that, over time, threats like this from your government will ensure that any and all references to tobacco, by word or by photograph, will vanish from recorded Canadian history.
Winston Smith is alive and well and working in Ottawa for Health Canada.
Welcome to Nineteen Eight-Four — and you thought it was 2012.