Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
"A Matter of Honor"

Address to the 3rd Policy Conference of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
Beryl P. Wajsman,Esq. 29.May.2003  

 “One man-resolute-speaking truth- rallies a majority.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The appropriate preoccupation of a civilized society is commerce not morality.”-Thomas Jefferson 

The juxtaposition of the above two quotes may seem strange to some but they are not. When Jefferson was asked how he could make such a  statement, since it was he who had penned the words of resistance and revolution, he explained that the aim of political struggles was to make the political warrior  irrelevant.To make morality, civility and decency so ingrained in the spirit of man that society would have the courage of conscience for co-operation to the commonweal of all. That after millennia of struggle to escape the jungles of barbarism men would finally understand that in common cause, in common pursuit of defense, food, resources we would finally end the societal notions of confrontation and have the luxury to enjoy the true treasures of life-art,music,poetry,passion-and yes commerce.

But commerce conducted as civilized members of the same fraternity to fund the civility of life not as adversaries on a battlefield using money as the fodder for cannons. But in order to reach that stage, before you can achieve the civility of commerce, democratic citizens have the obligation to exercise the courage of conscience that Emerson spoke of, to prod society to end the suffering that surrounds us and repel the mendacity and hypocrisy that decays our spirits and paralyses even the best of us from exercising the nobility of spirit necessary to spread the hope that will release our instincts for generosity and decency that will make gentle the life of this world.

A nation’s progress is constantly forged in the battlegrounds of ideas. As cynical as we may become about public affairs, we must never lose our indignation when we see truth savaged by avarice, honour cheapened by expediency and conscience compromised by timidity. We have a responsibility to speak out, or forfeit our right to complain about the direction of our political policies.

In one of his first budgets Paul Martin claimed that the Government of Canada may have lost the moral authority to govern due to the fiscal failures of the previous administration. What then can we say today of the foreign policy follies of this administration that have compromised the authenticity of Canada’s political and ethical voice abroad and prejudiced many of our economic, trade and security interests at home.

When forty of fifty nations asked agreed to join the United States in the alliance against Iraq, Canada’s refusal placed us in the same lot as those who for reasons of economic expediency (Russia, China, France and Germany who together sold Iraq some 90% of its arms in the past 15 years) or because of years of practiced political pandering to tinpot dictators, chose to react with nebulous neutrality at best, and with outright opposition at worst. It was a shameful, and ethically egregious, display, that condemns Canada to be viewed through a political prism that colors us with the dark rays of those professional polemicists who draw daily inspiration from their launches of intellectual barrages against the United States in their misguided attempts to display sympathies for emerging nations’ “right to be wrong”, paying no attention to fact or law, while displaying obsequious and cringing  homage at the altar of “multilateralism”.

In the words of Prof.Michael Ignatieff, it is time to remember that multilateralism is not the be-all and end-all, and there are times when Canada must stand up and be counted and learn to “…walk the walk as well as talk the talk…”.

As Canadians we must always guard against the smugness and complacency that are symptoms of a preoccupation with parochial interests alone. We must remember that the lessons of our legacy are unselfish ones, imbued with an understanding that, with grace and dignity, we must involve ourselves in the struggle of free men the world over, for their fight is ours as well. We cannot hide behind a curtain of self-satisfaction and rest smugly at harbour, for we will assuredly be buffeted by the continuing tides of the challenges of our complex time, and our responses will be muted and impotent rather than prideful and purposeful. In our land today there are too many of shrivelled spirit and hostile heart that fear the future, mistrust the present and invoke the security of a comfortable past, which, in fact, never existed, as excuses for inaction.

The Hon. Gar Knutson, Canada’s Secretary of State for Central & Eastern Europe and the Middle East, in a courageous speech in the House of Commons on Iraq, stated:

 "...for almost a quarter of a century, the regime in Iraq has pursued essentially two policies: the ruthless repression of its own people, and military aggression against its neighbours with the aims of asserting regional dominance and acquiring territory. The results of these policies have been an unmitigated tragedy for Iraqis and for Iraq's neighbours."

In the Iraq crisis Canada failed to act in the spirit of the righteous anger of those words, and as such betrayed our proud legacy.

Canada has often been called a peace loving nation. This is only a half truth. Canada is above all a freedom loving nation. We have sacrificed more sons and daughters for the survival and success of liberty in the past century than even the United States as a proportion of population. We never shirked from this responsibility. We never calculated how many more soldiers there were in the Kaiser’s army. We never worried about the number of tanks in Hitler’s Panzer Divisions. We were never awed by Stalin’s might in Korea.. We supported the values of western civilization because we wanted to live as free men and women even when we had little more to give than “blood,sweat and tears”. We understood, viscerally, that man’s millennia long struggle to break out of the forests of barbarism was a precious quest. We lionized and celebrated those who stood with us in vigilant opposition to any assault on our values of democracy and freedom. In Dylan Thomas' immortal words, we would “rage against the dying of the light” whenever the black night of terror threatened.

As worthy heirs of those who made the supreme sacrifice in determined defiance to tyrants and tyranny we failed to join America in response to the critical and compelling imperative to assault.

Our government based much of its position on the concept of physical sovereignty and the necessity of a United Nations mandate. Our government was wrong.

The concept of the physical sovereignty of nations was born in the 17th century Treaty of Westphalia, narrowed in the post World War I Treaty of Versailles and abandoned by the Nuremberg Principles following World War II.

Sovereignty no longer matters. Legitimacy does. And legitimacy is the precursor to sovereignty. In the post Holocaust era the civilized world realized that Hitler’s Germany was sovereign too. As was Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. And for that matter so was Kaiser Wilhelm’s Empire. Over eighty million people died in a century characterized by an orgy of blood because the civilized world attempted to respect sovereignty. But borders and customs guards, flags and institutions offered no protection to the free peoples of Czechoslovakia ,Poland and Hungary nor to the millions of bodies floating in the Yangzte River or frozen in the wastes of the Gulag Archipelago or butchered in the jungles of Rwanda. The lesson of the twentieth century was not that independent pre-emptive response would unleash anarchic bloodbaths--to the contrary-- failure to respond, and worse, attempts to appease, would allow time for barbarous dictators to arm themselves to the teeth and embroil the world in a whirlwind of devastation heretofore unimaginable. The road to Auschwitz began in Munich, and the chemical destruction of the Iraqi town of Najabala began with arms sales in Paris.

As for the United Nations, it was never created as a world government. The obligation of free nations to help fellow human beings unleash the chains of tyranny, is not relieved by its existence. United Nations doctrine itself recognizes the right of self-help when the U.N. cannot, or will not, act. As Robert Tucker  has written in "Reprisals and Self-Defense

" is clear that certainly under customary standards, but even under U.N. definitions, armed response can be utilized as self-help in response to threats  quantitatively and qualitatively different than a traditional invasion by one state of another." 

What then do we replace the old dogma's with? What is the proper “way of response” to use Martin Buber’s terminology. What message can we bring from this Conference?

Imbedded in every attempt by the free world to enact new codes and standards of international behaviour was the concept of legitimacy. And the litmus test of legitimacy was democracy. Not because it was the ideal system. As Churchill said,

”…Democracy is far from perfect, but after millennia of struggle it is the best that man has to offer…”

But because it was the price of entry to the table of civilized peoples. At least with a democratic system a nation would be held accountable not only to its own citizens, but with free access and communication, the spotlight of free nations would be ever vigilant in reigning in any threatening dark night of terror.

A democratic state’s legitimacy would come from its inherent responsibilities to, acceptance of and engagement with the development of freedom in the international order. And respect for a nation’s physical integrity based on  a legitimacy grounded  in a commitment to liberty is doctrinally defensible and a far better assurance of  world stability than respect for a nation’s physical integrity based on a  sovereignty stemming from bloodlines of familial descent and the accidental arrangement of  geographic barriers which has never had conceptual confirmation in either natural nor moral law and has been nothing more than a specious defense from the witless defenders of  despots and dictators. 

Churchill, Kennedy and our own Prime Minister Trudeau, recognized that the spread of freedom was the one "legacy" we must leave to the world, the most vital measure of our progress and the singular hope of man. As Trudeau once wrote:

 "...though we as liberals see society as capable of moral progress, being by nature neither essentially good nor perverse, we understand the requirement to cultivate and support  the more positive inclinations of man. While understanding the limits of legislation and law, we do not hesitate advocacy of the uses of the levers of power for the expansion of equity and equality."

As Canadians, we must stand with those who are committed to the expansion of the freedoms we enjoy to all parts of the world, and who would readily and courageously support our sister democracies, as we have always done in our history, and not with those who hide as cowards behind diplomatic curtains of moral objectivity.

We need to bring pride back to our country. There can be no better vehicle than the strengthening of our international prestige. And no better policy than the pledge of faithful friendship to those allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share and who would join us in active advocacy for, and dedicated defence of, democracy and liberty for all. 

Our nation’s pride and purpose was never compromised or cudgelled by mountains of munitions and it should never be paralyzed or prejudiced by weakeness of will. The decaying rot of oppression can never be allowed to still our pledge to make gentle the life of this world nor to shake our faith that  relief of the oppressed  is the paramount prerequisite for the protection and progress of civilization.

The survival and success of liberty has always demanded such sacrifice .These have been the age-old lessons of history’s uncontestable march from repression to renewal, the noble vows  of  courage of freedom’s champions and the singular hope of man for an era when truth will not be compromised by timidity, honor will not be cheapened by objectivity and hope will not be mortgaged by expediency.

Dr. Johnson once wrote that our only lasting legacies are the integrity of our ideas. These are our children. That a civilized man’s quest must be to expose and expand singular elements of truth and justice and add them, as a mason does brick by brick, to the entire corpus of understanding that has come before. If we fail, he wrote, there is little to recommend our existence in this mortal coil, and little to warm us in the winters of our lives, for

“…familiarity may be fleeting, friendships can be fickle and fidelity always feeble and frail…”