In Quebec the Revenue Minister authorized police raids on five restaurants that allegedly used zappers on their cash registers. The raids involved over fifteen squad cars in a one block area. They were carried out in the middle of the day and caused irreparable harm to the reputations of these establishments. Much worse was the resulting derision of Federal and Provincial charter guarantees.
Juliet O’Neill, an Ottawa Citizen reporter, had ten RCMP agents barge into her home to search for information on a confidential source she had used in a story. This on the very same day that the Supreme Court struck down these types of police actions, and warrants, as unconstitutional.
Without restraint of consequence we have seen government Ministers drawing public conclusions on individuals facing ongoing judicial proceedings; senior law enforcement officials demanding that Parliamentary committees curtail activities because they wanted to lay charges against the very persons the Committee had called to hear even before they were heard; and Prime Ministerial advisors urging a rush to criminal judgment by police authorities in order to restore political credibility.
All this in the past sixty days. It is a record of achievement worthy of a banana republic.
Guilt by insinuation seems to have become standard operating procedure for career advancement in our country. And it could get worse.
The CCRA is creating giant databases whose use it has repeatedly refused to limit to anti-terrorism and security purposes as requested by Canada’s privacy commissioner and leading civil-rights advocates. Quebec is considering legislation to tear down the long-standing privacy guarantees of citizens’ Revenue records never being shared with other departments. The Federal government may be implementing measures to monitor e-mails and cell phone calls. This in addition to the current Canadian Security Establishment monitoring of some 50% of all overseas landline calls and 25% of cell calls. Study is under way by the Immigration Department to establish a national identity card and to allow RCMP video surveillance on public streets. Finally, the government is looking at empowering a host of regulatory functions to be made by Order-In- Council without the approval or consent of Parliament.
The precedents set could ultimately open the door to practices that exist in other societies where police routinely check anyone of interest to the state on any pretext.
We are a society of laws and not of men. But when bad men make bad laws, and when unprincipled officials compromise good ones, then citizens have a responsibility to protect their rights and to exercise, in Gandhi’s term, “…responsible agitation…” to keep governments from “…moving from wrong to wrong in order to protect their own immortality…” Over the past two months government officials and departments at all levels have rent asunder our most cherished notions of our country and of what we are as a people.
Except in extreme matters of National Security; and even then balanced against the primacy of protecting individual liberties so as not to become the reflection of that which we are trying to destroy; if state authorities cannot catch certain people under rules that protect the majority of law-abiding citizens so be it. Governments cannot continue to be given onerous extraordinary powers which we have seen them apply not only irresponsibly, but retroactively. We must not allow the reach of the state to extend like monstrous, serpentine tentacles suffocating all breath out of our collective conscience. far better to let five guilty men go free than to convict one innocent wrongly.
Justice William O. Douglas once wrote “In a civilized society the means are all important. It may seem unimportant that one person’s guilt is established through questionable means, but in the sweep of history a nation that accepts indiscriminate practices as normal has no claim to a position of moral leadership among the nations.”
Few crimes are as heinous as those of unbridled government power. Few threats to our public security are as grave as the ability of unseen forces to intrude into our lives and thoughts. Few fears are more paralysing to the commonweal than the possibility of violation of our most sacred trusts by officials of the state who shield themselves behind screens of immunity. The greatest danger to our free society lurks in the corrosive encroachment by zealous bureaucrats operating without understanding or guidance from compassionate authority.
Prime Minister Martin said in his first budget as Finance Minister that the Government of Canada may have lost its moral authority due to the fiscal failures of the previous administration. What can we say today of the perversions of justice we witness by state authorities at all levels. Mr. Martin has pledged to correct what he has called Canada’s “Democratic Deficit”. Well, let us engage and help him. It has never been more urgent. It is time to take our country back.
If we have to live our lives weighing every action, every communication, every human contact, wondering what agents of the state might find out about, how they would analyse it, judge it, tamper with it, and somehow use it to our detriment, we are not truly free. Beyond that, there is the more subtle and immeasurable effect upon many, to adhere to the most smug biases in order to avoid any governmental oversight or inquiry.
We must pledge our eternal resolve to assure a society where hope is never extinguished by humiliation, where justice is not compromised through expediency, where truth is never mortgaged to timidity and where honour is not cheapened by avarice. If we Canadians have one boast, one over-riding advantage, not just over totalitarian regimes, but even over sister democracies, it is that our political and legal traditions reflect our broad national consensus that laws must have a base in morality and protect our individuality and conscience against the corporate demands of the state. If we have many more months like the past few we may, as Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby put it recently, “…lose sight of what our democracy is all about.”