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Days of Drums

Times of Treason

Beryl P. Wajsman

11 November 2005

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

~ Edmund Burke


On this day of remembrance, as we pay tribute to the ultimate sacrifice for freedom paid by so many, one would be culpable of the grossest ingratitude to remain mute in the face of the retrograde justice policies of this supposedly Liberal administration.


Last night Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, whom this writer praised in a previous column for his opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana grow-up growers, had the audacity to support mandatory sentencing for gun crimes not because it was just but because, in his words, “…it would send a political message. You go directly to jail.” It was nothing less than a coarse example of political expediency at its worst.


Cotler has rightly opposed mandatory minimums in the past because, as he has argued, they would “backfire”--as they have most recently in the U.S. under Patriot Act provisions--and he was also right that studies in many countries have concluded that minimum sentences do not work as deterrents even for much greater crimes. But now it seems he, like most Liberals today, are trying to be all things to all people. That does not meet the duty of a great party of power and principle supposedly devoted to propagating the philosophy of social liberalism based on the equity of just consideration.  


Justice Minister Irwin Cotler took the robes of cabinet office in December 2003, wrapped in a reputation as a human rights advocate. But that reputation is now stripped of all substance as he demonstrates he is prepared to jettison civil liberties in his partisan attempt to appeal to voters on behalf of his political masters. He has become the Liberal point man to attract the right-wing. And not just on this issue.


In the past few months Mr. Cotler has defended upcoming legislation that would allow government access to all Canadians e-mail records; his proposed Proceeds of Crime Act, Bill C-53, would reverse the presumption of innocence in many cases; he has suggested that though Bill C-17, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, may be expanded to allow police the power to randomly stop motorists and check their cars for drugs without probable cause. Additionally, he has become an apologist for security certificates and has even proposed Orwellian “control measures” for persons suspected of being security threats even before they are charged and tried. Yet at the same time had the temerity to call Yemen a “…shining example of democracy in the Middle East…”


All this and he still remains a member of a government that infringes innocent citizens rights to freedoms of assembly and affiliation and defames their characters. Quite a legacy. As George Jonas recently wrote in the “National Post”, the justice policies of this government have been thrown into the dustbin of history by the freed nations of Eastern Europe yet Canada is busy retrieving them, He ended pithily stating, “This is why I left Eastern Europe.” He left Hungary. My family left Russia. I share his pain.

Not everything is going to be perfect in life. Not every problem can be solved by legislation. No politician should pretend it can and be allowed to pervert justice.  Terence wrote some two thousand years ago, “Rigorous law is often rigorous injustice.” And those injustices border on treason on the body politic by prejudicing the very sovereignty of our suffrage.


Those Ministers and MP’s who call themselves Liberals but who would support these patently contradictory and hypocritical policies should know that there are many Canadians who are watching and who have come to the realization that this administration is engaged in nothing more than a balancing act to pander at the same time to the most revanchiste elements of the  right and to the most intrusive nanny-state social engineers of the left in a feeble and transparent attempt to keep a minority government alive.  Duty and honour lie wounded in the wake of these political machinations and their authors should realize that there will be a call to account at the ballot box.


This nation, conceived in economic enterprise by European monarchs of centuries past, came to maturity through Papineau’s struggles for equal rights for all; in Lafontaine’s experiments in responsible government; through Laurier’s vision that “Canada answers to a higher destiny”; in the bloody trenches of Vimy Ridge; on the harrowing cliffs of Dieppe; through the sands of Normandy; in the valiant fights for labour rights from Winnipeg to Lac Megantic; through the bitter winters of Korea; under the scorching sun of the Sinai and over the stormy seas of the Atlantic. And too, in  the corpse filled jungles of Rwanda and on the muddied fields of Bosnia . But most of all through the patrimony of the Charter of Rights that made each individual supreme over any demands of collectivity or state.


Our national identity was not forged from the compromises of public trust bred behind the closed doors of Parliamentary committees and corporate boardrooms. Nor by the prejudices of social orthodoxy that dominate focus groups and seek to dictate the common weal.


Irwin Cotler knows this well. He also knows the words of American Justice William O. Douglas who wrote that “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.”


But this is not the same Irwin Cotler I worked with on his Scharansky brief nor on the Commission on Economic Coercion and Discrimination that fought the Arab boycott. As a student of Prof. Cotler’s I, like many others, were inspired by his evocation of Edmund Burke’s warning that he quoted in so many places to so many people. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Cotler seems to have forgotten. Many of us have not. We will keep faith with those who lie “…row on row where poppies grow…” and never allow their proud legacy of liberty, symbolized in these days of drums, to be forgotten through times of treason.


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