Friday, June 05, 2009

Shovel ready

The lash of Justice Russel Zinn’s judgement in the Abdelrazik case may not be felt by its target. The Conservatives at this point seem to be twitching in their political death throes: only a few ideological tremors remain.

For some time, in fact, this government seems to have abandoned strategy altogether. Its moves are ill-thought-out, arbitrary and dangerous: spur-of-the-moment abuses of power. No thought appears to have been given to their public policy consequences.

In the case of Abdelrazik, the illegal exile of a Canadian citizen was stoutly defended by government lawyers, whose main argument was that Minister Lawrence Cannon’s decision could not be reviewed by a court. The rule of law, they were forced to claim, was no longer operative: the Minister was duly exercising what amounts to a sovereign authority--somewhat of a setback for the principle of responsible government, had it been upheld.

By itself, this might be dismissed as a freakish occurrence. But in fact it’s just part of a disturbing pattern. There's the on-going saga of Omar Khadr, which began as shameless pandering to the Conservative base and to the darker instincts to be found in the ranks of the Canadian electorate. The government apparently felt that it was on safe ground, steadfastly refusing to repatriate a young Canadian citizen from that zone of exception known as Guantanamo. He had been accused of terrorism, after all, and was a Muslim. Case closed.

There is by now considerable doubt that Khadr actually did what he has been accused of, and there is evidence as well that he has been tortured in captivity. The judicial process under which he is being "tried" is a bad joke. He was, under international convention, a child soldier at the time he was captured. All other Western countries have repatriated their own nationals. But the government remains firm, despite every new revelation.

Although one cannot ignore the implicit racism and Islamophobia in the government's intransigence, of more importance are the serious policy consequences of its refusal to repatriate Khadr. It has reached the point, in fact--having lost a court battle and been told to take appropriate repatriation measures--that the government has now painted itself into a corner, forced to argue on appeal that it has no responsibility for any Canadian citizens outside our territorial borders.

That is an astonishing and yet inevitable turn of events. Having dug in, the government must now defend the indefensible, as it did in the Abdelrazik case. Our passports, according to the Harper regime, are of dubious worth if we ever get into a jam abroad. Foreign Affairs doesn't have to lift a finger--and if your skin is the wrong colour, or you worship the wrong God, it likely won't.

On the home front, the government has flagrantly attacked the rule of law, interfered in the operations of "arms-length" Crown agencies, corrupted our political culture, eroded our cultural institutions, and undercut a supposedly independent parliamentary watchdog. At the same time, it has engaged in a fiscally stimulative exercise to purchase Liberal support, thereby
hacking away at its own base.*

I can discern no planning in any of this, no strategy, as I noted before. The rational actor model simply doesn't apply. It's brain-dead government by nervous reflex. (Hey, let's all go out and sue a terrorist!)

Come on, Liberals, enough with the heroic measures. Time to pull the plug and give this regime a decent burial. It's the right thing to do.

*They needn't have worried: the Liberals, as under Stéphane Dion, remain its staunchest allies, recently embracing the former's brutally primitive law-and-order agenda, for example, and earlier voting with the Cons to abolish pay equity. The Libs also supported a substantial grant of taxpayers' money to the Chrysotile Institute, which shills for the deadly asbestos industry.

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