by Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail, Feb. 25, 2009
Canada is among the countries that have succumbed to a war-on-terror mentality that has infected too many states, a roving panel of judges has found.
Calling upon the world to dispense with any “war” mentality, the judges say it’s high time that terrorism suspects and intelligence agents cease to be treated as though they exist outside the rule of law.
“It’s time for change,” they write in Assessing Damage, Urging Action. The 200-page report, released earlier this month, advocates rolling back many emergency powers that have been invoked globally since 9/11.
“Human rights are not, and can never be a luxury to be cast aside in times of difficulty” concludes the expert panel, which was commissioned by the International Commission of Jurists.
The ICJ’s wider membership includes Mr. Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada. The “eminent” panel the ICJ appointed, led by a former South African chief justice, spent three years roaming the world to study terrorism.
“I’m not aware of anything that is comparable to this document,” said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor and counterterrorism expert, who testified at the ICJ’s Canadian hearings. He anticipates the report will be highly influential, adding it is already being reviewed within Ottawa and by the U.S. Obama administration.
Canadian investigations helped shape the findings, with the Maher Arar affair and other controversies highlighted as examples of how polices can go astray.
From 2005 to 2008, the ICJ’s panel spoke to officials, experts and victims of terrorist attacks. The trips to Bogota, Belfast, Cairo, Colombo, London, Ottawa, Washington, and places in between, appear to have left the panel somewhat horrified at how history and human-rights conventions can be forgotten in times of crisis.
“Intelligence agencies around the world have acquired new powers and resources, but legal and political accountability have not kept pace,” the judges write.
The panel criticizes draconian regimes in Asia and the Middle East, but reserves some of its strongest admonitions for Western nations. “States that previously lauded the importance of the rule of law and human rights protections […] are now at the forefront of undermining those protections,” the report concludes.