Sep 02 2009
I have to confess, I’m a bit of a Michael Ignatieff fanboy. The man has intellectual credentials up the yin-yang and writes books that make me look smart when I’m reading them. He has successfully transitioned from private life and academia to public office in a way that must make Stephane Dion want to puke bile all day long. He supports continuing Canada’s robust involvement on the world stage, for instance in regard to Afghanistan, where far too many Liberals seem to see eye to eye with Taliban Jack. This is a man I would consider lending my vote (though in my riding of Vancouver Centre, his party may not particularly need the help).
That said, one bit out of the Liberal leader’s Sudbury speech hit a nerve:
Stephen Harper hasn’t just failed to stand up for Canada—he’s also failed to stand up for Canadians. Suaad Mohamud. Omar Khadr. Makhtal. Bahari. Mohamed. Abdelrazik.
The second name in the list seems like it just kind of got snuck in there. Or maybe it didn’t. I almost want to believe I’m just reading too much into this. But with this speech coming from the author of The Lesser Evil, you have to think that Iggy knew exactly what he was doing.
Omar Khadr is of course the son of a self-declared “Al Queda family“, who is accused of fighting on the side of Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan. The charges against him may somehow be proven false or (more likely) his alleged child soldier status will ultimately give him a “get out of Gitmo, free to sue the Canadian and US government for millions of dollars” card (sparking the lurking, fearful image in the back of all informed citizens’ minds, of a free Omar handing over his multi-million dollar government check to his mom to assist with the purchase of copious amounts of ammonium nitrate). And despite the accusations surrounding Khadr, I still think it is better to bring him back to Canada to face trial, rather than letting him rot in Gitmo (I’m afraid this is where my fellow NP Full Comment contributor Raphael Alexander and I disagree. The US government has proven itself incapable of prosecuting Khadr since 2002 and I have little faith in their ability to bring this case to a conclusion on their own.)
But you’d have to think that Suaad Mohamud, Abdelrazik or anyone else named in that line in the speech would be more than a little offended at being linked even rhetorically to the likes of Khadr. That is, unless their and Iggy’s contention is that racism in the PM’s office truly is the common-denominator motive and method in all of these cases of Canadians denied passage back to their own land.
Harper and his team certainly have done an awful job of explaining precisely why the people on Iggy’s list, aside from Khadr, are being treated so abominably. For all I know, maybe these cases are tinged with racism (not excluding the racism and other unfortunate traits apparently on display by the Kenyan and Sudanese authorities in these cases). But to lump Khadr in with the others, when the security consideration so clearly was a factor in why the Liberals refused to get him out of Gitmo when they had the chance, just seems dishonest, or at least not in keeping with Ignatieff’s past thinking.
Ignatieff writes in The Lesser Evil, “why should democracies have anything to do with evil? Why expose their servants to such moral hazard? Why not stay safely on the side of pure legality? The answer is that we are faced with evil people, and stopping them may require us to reply in kind.” He says that that in the fight against terror, democracies may have to choose between two bad actions like, say, treading on a citizen’s right to due process, or letting that citizen go free and possibly murder a number of his fellow citizens.
It’s a general argument, certainly not a firm judgment either way on what to do with Khadr. But the point is that for Iggy to lump in Khadr with these other Canadians he names in this one-liner, with the implication that it could all be about racism by the Harper-ites, just seems intellectually lazy (if politically expedient). Ignatieff is better than this. I’m not sure whether it’s just him doing some requisite pre-election political posturing or if maybe I missed something in his “lesser evil” argument.
This is one fanboy who’s feeling a little disappointed right now.