Trudeau, Harper, and how a real statesman treats terrorism.

This is how you deal with terrorism.

Openly, reluctantly, and in the broad light of day. In defense of the spirit of freedom.

Watch it. In it’s entirety when you have time.. He treats Canadians as grown-ups. As people who can understand his reasoning, and follow it. He explains that he is only shouldering the sweeping powers of the War Measures Act with the greatest reluctance, and will rescind them as soon as it’s within his power to do so. And he did.

Now with that in mind, stop and look at what the Harper Government has announced will be the next order of Parliament’s business.

It’s Bill C 7. It allows the government to arrest you before you’ve committed a crime, and to hold you for up to three days without charge or trial.

It also allows the government to hold you for up to a year without trial if you refuse to answer questions put to you by a judge in a so- called ‘investigative hearing.’

It’s a bad bill. It shouldn’t pass.

And nothing that has happened this week will change my mind. Indeed, if anything, I will note with gratitude that the RCMP seem perfectly capable of doing their jobs and isolating and apprehending terrorists without this legislation. They’ve done good work this week.

Though the Globe and Mail may, in the light of recent events, feel that somehow the situation has been changed politically by this attempted attack, and that Harper’s legislation is now praiseworthy and considered, I am less…malleable on this issue than they.

Proponents of the bill claim that it merely restores certain fundamental legal tools necessary if we are to combat terrorism. Tools that were originally passed into law under a Liberal government.

That’s true. I remember being aware of the debate at the time. I was 12, so much of it was over my head, but I remember where my sympathies lay then, too. And it wasn’t with the governing Liberals.

It was in the hysteria after 9 11. You remember those days. The fear, the hatred, the panic. Not one of us was thinking clearly. And even in our angered fervour, we still felt it necessary to sunset some of the more controversial parts of the legislation. Because we felt they were excessive powers that the state shouldn’t possess.

And I’m sorry, but two foreigners looking at a train doesn’t feel like a reason to give the state those powers.

Trudeau was faced with his friends and colleagues, in the case of Pierre Laporte, men he’d known all his life, being kidnapped. Unbelievable rumors were flying around Montreal. There was talk of more kidnappings, of a provisional government preparing to overthrow Premier Bourassa, of apprehended insurrection. If he had only believed half of them, he’d still have felt it was his responsibility to bring in the War Measures Act.

And, I repeat this, he rescinded the powers it gave him almost immediately after the situation had stabilized.

The Harper Government, and in fact most governments around the world at this moment in time, are bringing in sweeping powers to arm the government forever against a nebulous, abstract concept.

We always just seem to accept this. We seem to tolerate a definition of ‘terror ‘that could be, and indeed has been applied to a diverse group of peoples around the world, including the Irish, the Tibetans, the South Africans, and, indeed, the Canadians, who at one time or another, have resorted to violence to achieve an end.

Terrorism is unique, because it is uniquely a crime against the state. It is the state that feels most directly shaken by an act of random violence against the population. Because it undermines the essential claim the state makes; that it is there to protect its citizens. If it can’t do this, what’s the point in having it?

My essential point is this. In Trudeau’s Canada, rights were temporarily suspended to deal with an unprecedented and dangerous situation that threatened the very fabric of Canadian Confederation.

In Harper’s Canada, rights are joyfully stripped from the statutes under the pretense of defending us from the abstract concept of terror. From something that is always hypothetically possible, but which scares us so much we can’t be rational about it. And the government uses and exploits that fear to cow us into a scared silence as our rights under the Charter are taken from us.

There’s more than a cosmetic difference.

One thought on “Trudeau, Harper, and how a real statesman treats terrorism.

  1. From the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (thank you Pierre Trudeau) we were granted the following rights:

    7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
    Marginal note:Search or seizure

    8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
    Marginal note:Detention or imprisonment

    9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
    Marginal note:Arrest or detention

    10. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention

    (a) to be informed promptly of the reasons therefor;

    (b) to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right; and

    (c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

    Marginal note:Proceedings in criminal and penal matters

    11. Any person charged with an offence has the right

    (a) to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence;

    (b) to be tried within a reasonable time;

    (c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;

    (d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;

    (e) not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause;

    (f) except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment;

    (g) not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations;

    (h) if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again and, if finally found guilty and punished for the offence, not to be tried or punished for it again; and

    (i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.

    This legislation attempts to strip away a huge chunk of that. Now of course we can’t forget section 1.The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

    However, none of this seems justified to me. Speaking from a legal standpoint, in order to justify the violation under any of these rights under Section 1, the government must prove:

    Step 1) Is there a pressing and substantial legislative objective? – I think in this case, stopping terrorism will suffice
    Step 2) Proportionality Test
    a) Rational Connection: Is there a rational connection between the objective and the means being justified? – I think it’s likely that it will pass on this as well
    b) Minimal Impairment: do the means chosen impair the rights as minimally as possible – This is where I think some problems arise, the RCMP just proved they were capable of apprehending those who intended to commit an act of terrorism WITHOUT stepping on any of the above rights
    c) Proportionality of Effects: is there proportionality between the benefits and the deleterious effects? – This will depend on who you ask

    If this Bill passes, if (and likely when) it comes to court it will be interesting to see what the judges will do with it. However judges have had a tendency to show a lot of deference to government in the wake of an act of terror.

    At its best, this Bill seems like an unnecessary piece of paperwork, a knee jerk reaction so the government can make citizens believe it is doing something more to keep its citizens safe, while actually achieving nothing because the previous methods worked perfectly fine. At worst, it expands state powers to detain citizens without justifiable cause and can be used on groups they simply don’t like under the guise that they are protecting against terror. Recall how in February Greenpeace was deemed an extremist threat?

    Personally, the day after the Boston Marathon bombings I woke up feeling more afraid. I wasn’t more afraid that I was more likely to be a victim of terrorism, I was more afraid of being falsely arrested or detained based on false premises or a mistake in identity in order for the government to protect against this supposed terrorism threat.


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