Teen activist refuses to shake PM's hand

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

SHEENA GOODYEAR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:23 PM ET

When Jeremy Dyer was selected to represent his province because of his human rights art, he had no idea he'd find himself in line to shake Prime Minister Stephen Harper's hand.

The notion was an affront to Dyer, an activist who vehemently disagrees with many of Harper's policies.

Dyer, 19, who hails from St. John's, N.L., was at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, where he and 11 other young people from around the country were on hand to display their human rights-themed artwork.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were both in attendance, as the Queen unveiled a cornerstone to the museum.

Then, standing in front of cameras alongside his peers, Dyer heard rumblings the prime minister was en route.

“I didn't know until literally minutes before,” said the Memorial University student. “I was pretty outraged that he was going to be there... I told them I would politely decline to shake his hand if he attempted.”

After a speech about youth and Canada and human rights, Harper did, indeed, shake the young artists' hands. But before he could reach Dyer, a museum staff member came up behind Dyer, and asked him to step back, Dyer said.

Refusing to shake Harper's hand was his way of expressing his disapproval, he said.

“That was the breaking point — when I was suppressed for my beliefs.”

But the Museum said Dyer stepped back voluntarily, just as the Queen was approaching.

“He told us that he didn't feel comfortable and we respected his decision,” said Angela Cassie, the museum's director of communications.

Dyer said the event was co-opted and turned into a photo-op for the prime minister and a promotional tool for the museum.

“It was such a degrading experience. I felt so tokenized,” he said. “I feel like they took something so huge away from me that weekend. So huge.”

Cassie, however, said they wanted the students involved to have the best possible experience.

She said they travelled to Winnipeg on the museum's dime, visited all sorts of art galleries and historical sites, were given $350 digital cameras to record their experiences, and had their art displayed on a big screen during the museum ceremony.

They were given the opportunity to meet many dignitaries, including the Queen, the premier, and yes, the prime minister.

She added that Dyer's art submission was “powerful” and that “he has a very strong artistic vision and voice.”

Cassie called Dyer herself as soon as she heard he was upset with his experience at the museum to get his perspective.

“It's about encouraging young people to express themselves,” she said.

Dyer dismissed the suggestion he stepped back because he was overwhelmed.

“That's just a ridiculous statement,” said Dyer. “Stephen Harper does not overwhelm me.”


Photos