Monday, December 11, 2006

Service to Whom Exactly?

We depend upon certain agencies in our society to ensure that law and order are the - well, order of the day. And of course there are certain levels of policing authority here in Canada, from municipal police forces to provincial policing agencies (in some provinces), to federal agencies like the time-honoured activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And then there is our equivalent of other countries' secret service: Canadian Security Intelligence Services.

With all these authoritative bodies in law enforcement Canadians should be assured that we're generally in good hands. On the other hand, for the most part, we're a fairly law-abiding people to begin with. Reared at our parents' bosom to believe in equal opportunity for all, and the collective responsibility of behaving in a manner reflective of good citizenship, conducive to the achievement of a society respectful toward one another and the laws of the land.

(Case in point: Diplomats representing various countries of the world stationed at the United Nations run up enormous bills for law infractions relating to where and how they drive and park their vehicles. Those diplomats who largely represent "emerging" countries whose civil liberties are constrained are over-represented in the "bad citizen" department.
Whereas Canadian diplomats have not one single outstanding infraction for behaviour unbecoming a diplomat representing his/her countries' interests at the United Nations. Demonstrating also the best and the brightest that their countries have to represent them at the UN. And because they are diplomats and are accorded special status under the Geneva Conventions, diplomats cannot be forced by civic or federal law of the host country to ante up.)

So here we are, a law-abiding (by and large) population, with a fairly low overall crime rate (relatively speaking) under the oversight of various policing agents who can give us a metaphorical nudge in the right direction from time to time lest we forget our civil obligations. How to square this idyllic state of apprehension with the nightmare scenario visited upon a number of Canadians of Arab descent?

Well, mass hysteria for one. After the events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania which shook the world in the intensity of their bleak bloodlust it seemed for a while that nothing would ever return to what it had been before. Nor has it, exactly. But in the aftermath of thosehorrendous airborne missions policing and security agents everywhere went on high alert and detected the potential for disaster in every dark corner.

Given the backgrounds of those associated with the attacks it's unreasonably reasonable that people of Mideastern descent would be held in suspicion. Mistakes do happen. And in the interests of the larger public safety and the security of governments to do what they must, a certain type of zeal is understandable. Here in one corner, cowering, we have Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati. Here in the opposite corner, glowering, we have CSIS and the RCMP acting on our behalf.

These were sacrificial lambs to our shared terror of terrorism. Groping for clues, for possible answers, for identification of potential terrorists, misfortune pointed its nasty finger at these men. Like an urban myth out of control distortions come back to haunt the original supplier of tentative information. Those rebounded distortions bearing some resemblance to the original assertions serve to indemnify the uncertainty. Thereafter, it was with certainty that the two forces declared these men to be Islamic terrorists.

We don't do "off with their heads" any more; only in Alice in Wonderland. So it was off to Syria instead. Oh, we can plead innocent to that charge, but we were the enablers, so certain of having identified a clear and present threat and so determined to defuse it and while at it, throw a wider net and bring in other suspects. The thing of it is, while there may well have been legitimate aspirational terrorists in our midst these men were not they.

They were delivered into the tender care of brutal dictatorships with their brutal mindset, impervious to human identity and human dignity. These countries' embrace of medieval torture as a state device of kindly interrogation was visited upon these hyphenated Canadians. Former Commissioner of the RCMP Zaccardelli insists he would have done nothing differently. For that he is now the former Commissioner.

One must ask, how were we served, in the manner in which CSIS and the RCMP continued their characterizations of these men as enemies of our state, while their families and our parliamentarians were frantically engaged in attempting to secure their release? More, why is it that Maher Arar is front and centre, trembling with outraged memory of his ordeal, while we hear so little of the others?

Is he to be assuaged and recompensed for his suffering while the others remain lost to the public eye? If we owe the apologies vested in millions of dollars of taxpayer guilt to one, what of the others?

And how will we ever again fully trust our highly respected, somewhat-less-than professional public safety institutions?

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