Thursday, September 21, 2006

On larger lessons

Thomas Walkom discusses the fallout from the Arar Inquiry report, pointing out that while the RCMP bore the brunt of O'Connor's criticism, it was a wider political demand for visible action against terrorism that led to the torture of an innocent Canadian:
(A) more careful reading of the three-volume report of O'Connor's judicial inquiry provides a picture that, at one level, is friendlier to the RCMP than the past two days of headlines suggest and yet, at another, is more chilling. For what the critics forget is that in the months following the terror attacks on New York and Washington, RCMP officers were operating in a context that they had not created. It was not the Mounties who passed, in record time, a sweeping anti-terrorism bill that turned upside down some of Canada's traditional liberties. It was the Parliament of Canada.

By criminalizing as terrorism an entire range of often vaguely defined activities, this bill did two things. First, it brought the Mounties, as Canada's national police force, back foursquare into the national security game.

Equally important, the new anti-terror laws gave the RCMP a mandate to ferret out activities which, in more normal times, would not have been the subject of criminal investigations — such as associating with the wrong people or carrying out otherwise lawful activities that could be construed as aiding the wrong people. Having once done this the Mounties were somehow supposed to collect evidence capable of passing muster in a criminal trial.

Lurking in the background was an overwhelming climate of fear. As O'Connor recounts, the operating assumption within government throughout the immediate post 9/11 period was that another terror attack was not only possible but imminent.

Few were calling on police to be careful. Quite the reverse. The public wanted quick action and so did the politicians. Normally sensible media commentators were recommending that security services engage in so-called "black operations" even if that meant cutting a few civil-liberty corners.
While the institutional reforms at the RCMP suggested by the report should be welcomed, the more important question is whether we've moved past a political environment where the desire for decisive action is seen to outweigh the need for such niceties as evidence and truth. And with the Cons trying to place all the blame on the Lib government rather than recognizing the wider context (which they helped to create), it doesn't seem unlikely that the current contrition toward Arar will be soon forgotten and replaced by a new thirst for blood.

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