Canary in the Coalmine

Abousfian Abdelrazik is coming home. His six year gauntlet of abuse, false imprisonment and exile in the Sudan, instigated by Canadian security agencies and protracted by successive Canadian governments, is foreseeably over. Responding to a plea brought before the federal court, Justice Zinn sternly rebuked the Harper government for their absurd antics and issued a court order to repatriate him. They have, reluctantly, taciturnly, agreed to do so.

But even when Mr. Abdelrazik finally rejoins his family in Montreal and starts to pick up his life again, it’s not over. Even if, for his sake, it could be over for him, it should not be over for us — for Mr. Abdelrazik’s case is another canary in the coal mine, an early warning of impending danger.

This is not so much about Mr. Abdelrazik as it is a study of why we cannot permit secret trials on secret charges, secret witnesses, and secret evidence; why no individual, no group, and no organization nor agency including the government itself can be above the law; Why the law must be fair, and fairly, visibly, and publicly applied; why the accused must be able to know the charges and the evidence, to face their accusers, and mount a proper defence; why we must, under the law, be innocent unless proven guilty.

This is what’s wrong with allowing individuals to become ‘listed entities’, whether on the UN list, or our own security and ‘no-fly’ lists. This is what’s wrong with our immigration and security certificates. They mean crippling of one’s rightful ability to live or to earn a living in our free society, and can even mean indefinite imprisonment, all without charge. They all deny to one degree or another our essentials of justice. They can be informed by guilt by association, by gossip, rumour and innuendo, and even brutality and torture. There is no meaningful opportunity to face one’s accusers nor even to know the specific accusation, and no way to mount a fair defence, nor a meaningful appeal. Though there are supposed to be safeguards, they are mitigated by high secrecy and lack of public accountability.

These short-sighted measures are intended to ‘keep us safe’, cutting-through those pesky “technicalities.” But they are an assault upon and an insult to the very freedoms and safety they purport to defend. They are a threat to our democratic institutions and offend the foundations of our civil society.

They breed disrespect of rights even when they don’t trample or destroy them outright; they inspire officials to high-handed arrogance; they empower influence and ministerial fiat, and renew the notion of the “right kind” of people for whom we recognize rights, and those others for whom we don’t; the final outcome being that there are then, truly, no rights for anyone.

These ancient errors reborn spawn an ethical calculus in which it is acceptable to conspire abroad to do in the shadows by proxy what is illegal or abhorrent at home in the full light of day. They write-off as legal “niceties” the fundamentals of freedom hard-earned and hard-learned in centuries of blood and suffering, or trivialize them as mere technicalities, all in the name of defending freedom and our way of life.

Such inherent contradictions cannot stand. Something has to give.

And we’ve seen this. Throughout history we’ve seen this. Day by day, around the world, we see this. Again and again we see repression of free assembly and dissent, brutality, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and death as each different regime zealously pursues shortcuts to its own particular “greatest good.” A facade of order, perhaps, but roiling beneath churns a seething torrent of fear, resentment, and rage. Something has to give.

We see this in Iran today, in Myanmar last year, in countries around the world year-in and year-out, as people stand, suffer, and even die for a scant breath of the freedom that we take for granted, that we ourselves cannot be bothered to grasp, and hold.

As we welcome Mr. Abdelrazik home, let us do so in the spirit of a dawning purpose:  to take note of where we’re heading, and correct our course while we still have the ability to do so.

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