Friday, February 23, 2007

Saved from "North Korea"...

I read with happiness and relief that the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled today that security certificates, such as they have existed in Canada since even before 9/11, are in violation of the constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security of the person in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, the violations of centuries-old traditions of habeas corpus and the right to be charged and hear the evidence against you.

Security certificates are only used on people who are not citizens or legal residents of Canada. They made a person subject to indefinite detention and, ultimately, deportation… sometimes to places where they faced persecution or death. Still, they represent, to me, the thin edge of the wedge. If it’s conceivable to do this to someone simply because he’s not a citizen, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine it being down to an immigrant who is, and then at last to a citizen born here. There are always reasons to skirt rights for the sake of expediency, but when that becomes the norm, you’ve knocked down one of the fundamental pillars of democracy. I feel that the Court has done a service to shoring up that pillar in Canada.

The Court has given Parliament a year to reform the policy in accord with the Constitution. In particular, such persons must be charged and shown the case against them within 48 hours, as is the norm for Anglo-American jurisprudence.

Some of the government’s lawyers argued last year that extraordinary threats required extraordinary powers. One remarked that the security of the country was the sine qua non of all other rights. "It is an absolute necessity," Crown counsel Bernard Laprade told the court during the hearing. "Without it, all the other rights become theoretical. Without it, we wouldn't be here to discuss these questions today. I don't want to be alarmist, but without it, there is nothing else."

To which Mr. Justice Louis LeBel responded, "Mr. Laprade, if we don't have the rest, we'll be living in North Korea."

Too right. There will always be threats. But there are sensible and measured responses to them. Reducing our Just Society to a police state isn’t among them.


Rositta said...

With all due respect, they are in the country illegally and have the option of leaving. Legal residents and citizens are protected under the charter. Why should the charter apply to illegals? just the way, I find backing into a parking spot easier at times...ciao

loneprimate said...

I'd imagine that after several years of sitting in prison without hope of a hearing or charges to defend against, "the option of leaving" would be one of the bitterest jokes imaginable. No doubt they'd have exercised it long ago if it didn't require the ability to pass through iron bars.

I don't recall anything in the Charter that exempts other human beings who happen not to have signed on to our particular tribe from being accorded the basic dignities that, after all, the Charter was established to ensure in the first place. Such thinking was what morally 'freed' people up to indulge in Viking raids, or the African slave trade, or the ongoing murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Fortunately the laws of this country aren't shepherded by people who think that way.

Why assume such people are here "illegally"? It's possible for people from most countries to be in Canada for months at a time without being either citizens or landed immigrants; all they need is a passport and, in some cases, a visa. Even if they should overstay, how is Canada -- how is democracy -- served by sticking them a hole incommunicado for years at a stretch? How does entrenching a precedent for eroding the safeguard of habeas corpus better the Canada we inherited and pass down?