A chilling mid-summer spectacle

Posted by admin on Aug 2nd, 2011

Published On Tue Aug 02 2011, Toronto Star

Five down; 25 to go. The Conservative government’s latest crackdown is off to a speedy start. Since Public Safety Minister Vic Toews enlisted the help of the public to root out 30 suspected war criminals hiding in Canada, tips have been pouring in. In just two weeks, fugitives from Pakistan, Honduras, Congo and two from Peru have been arrested. One was spotted shopping for bathroom tiles in Mississauga. Another was turned in by members of his ethnic community in Montreal. This past Sunday, the first captive was deported. Toews is basking in the success of his “pilot project.” His cabinet colleague, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, whose department lost track of the men in the first place, is cheering him on lustily. The Prime Minister’s Office is “tweeting” news of the captures. There is already talk of expanding the program.

For law-and-order enthusiasts, this is a welcome new chapter in Ottawa’s quest to ferret out undesirables.

For those who believe in the rule of law, the importance of evidence and the presumption of innocence, there is something chilling about this summer spectacle.

None of the 30 individuals whose mug shots are posted on the Canada Border Services website has been charged with any crime in this country. “There is reason to believe that they were implicated in such serious crimes as war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Kenney says.

Those who are arrested will have no opportunity to defend themselves. The government’s intent is to “round them up and kick them out of Canada.”

The government has not identified their alleged offences. It is impossible to differentiate between individuals suspected of genocide and those with assumed links to a terrorist group. It is likewise impossible to tell whether a suspect was a kingpin or an unwilling conscript in a guerrilla movement. Canadians are expected to take it on trust that they pose a threat to public safety.

Some of the men on the “wanted” list have lived in Canada for 20 years or more. Until July 20, they weren’t considered a high priority.

But what is most troubling about this new front in Toews’ law-and-order drive is his insistence that Canadians — especially new Canadians — have a duty to join the manhunt. “We all have a part to play in making our communities safe.”

Evidently the pitch is working. People are stepping forward eagerly to be government informants, not asking for proof that the fugitives did anything wrong, not questioning the morality of turning in their neighbours, customers and compatriots, let alone any stranger who bears a likeness to the often grainy images on the website.

Dissenting voices are being raised.

Civil libertarians warn that some of the men on the government’s “wanted list” may be little more than drivers or messengers conscripted by an anti-government movement. In lands riven by tribal enmity and ethic strife, young men often have no choice.

Refugee advocates worry that the government is fanning the flames of xenophobia, branding failed asylum seekers as criminals, threats to society and international pariahs.

Proponents of international justice suggest Ottawa is turning to vigilantism as a cheap alternative to investigating and prosecuting war criminals. After 10 years of chronic underfunding, the RCMP and the federal justice department can’t do the job.

Ordinary citizens want to know how tracking down 30 suspected war criminals leapt to the top of Ottawa’s agenda, when the government is reducing support for everything from environmental protection to assistance for crime victims.

But the questioners have little hope of competing with the government and its tabloid cheerleaders as they trumpet the news of each fresh arrest.

At the current rate, this round of nab-the-suspects won’t take long.

But expect more, many more.

Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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