WASHINGTON — No, John Oliver’s not going to a Canadian jail. He can also keep that $5,000 he was apparently ready to dish over to Canadian authorities.
The comedian devoted a segment to Canada’s election on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” which culminated in mockery of a law forbidding foreigners from influencing Canadian elections.
He ridiculed its maximum six-month prison penalty and $5,000 fine. Oliver’s seeming desire to fight the re-election of Stephen Harper was apparently so great that he was willing to risk it all, tossing money at the camera and practically daring Canada to arrest him.
“That is a ridiculous law,” the British-born comic said in a segment that aired Sunday on the American network.
“You think I’m scared of six months in a Canadian prison? What’s that — six months of living in Ottawa? As for your $5,000 fine, I simply can’t imagine a better way to spend 5,000 Canadian dollars.
“But if telling you not to vote for Stephen Harper is going to cost me $5,000 I’m going to get my money’s worth. And I’m going to do it in the most Canadian way possible.”
With that, Canadian-born comedian Mike Myers rolled in on a snowplow, while a beaver played the piano next to a moose apparently getting a free colonoscopy under Canada’s medicare system.
They flung bills at the screen and urged Canadians to give Harper the boot.
The good news, for Oliver: he need not fear being sent to the slammer. The law he made fun of is actually not all that different from the U.S. ban on foreign political donations, although that country’s politics has hundreds of millions of harder-to-track dollars sloshing around in political-action committees.
Canadian elections authorities explained Monday that there’s no law against foreigners expressing an opinion. They said the legal provision in question — section 331 of the Canada Elections Act — has been on the books since the 1920s and it doesn’t cover people stating their view.
“The expression of personal political views by Canadians or non-Canadians as to which parties or candidates they support is not an offence under the Act,” said Elections Canada spokesman John Enright.
“This also applies to Mr. Oliver.”
He said the key provision refers to people who “induce” Canadians: “To induce there must be a tangible thing offered. A personal view is not inducement,” he added.
The Oliver segment was like a 15-minute version of the campaign. It began with a jab at NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, then quickly moved on. It joked at length about Justin Trudeau. Then it blasted Harper.
Before he got to the politicians, though, Oliver began with the country: “Canada,” Oliver said, opening the segment. “The country you think about so little, that’s it. End of sentence.”
Given that U.S. elections last two years, he teased a CBC host’s reference to the two-and-a-half-month campaign as historically long: “Thinking 78 days is a long campaign is absolutely adorable. It’s like the woman who has only ever seen one penis saying, ‘That’s the longest one ever. There couldn’t possibly be one longer than that.'”
He mocked Mulcair’s ability to represent change. He questioned Trudeau’s intellect, based on a Canadian media interview where a reporter referred to his supposed emotional intelligence.
Oliver cringed: “Ouch. Emotional intelligence. That’s the kind of made-up quality you might find on a report card from a Montessori school: ‘Well done, Zayden, you got a squirrel on emotional intelligence.'”
He played video of a Trudeau stunt falling down a staircase: “No one is saying that that is behaviour worthy of a head of state. But you cannot deny that it is somewhat satisfying to watch a soul-patch man named Justin with a French accent fall down some stairs.”
He then unloaded on the Conservatives.
Oliver compared Canada-era Harper to the girl-next-door with a jerk boyfriend. He played video of Harper speaking, and compared him to an alien trying to appear human.
He questioned whether Harper was “high” for calling marijuana more dangerous than tobacco.
Oliver seemed to strike a more serious note at times.
He zeroed in on the niqab debate and what he said was anti-Muslim messaging. He questioned why a country that already has murder laws and a 911 system would need a law banning honour-killing and a snitch-line for barbaric cultural practices.
“Harper’s ugliest tendency,” Oliver said, “is perhaps his pandering to Islamophobes.”
Harper has denied accusations of Islamophobia, saying he is protecting “Canadian values.”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press