Loose Cannon: Conservatives on dissent: just wait out the clock

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

  • Rather than
attack its critics, the conservatives have decided to be patient. Given the
amount of power vested with the PMO, i

    Rather than attack its critics, the conservatives have decided to be patient. Given the amount of power vested with the PMO, i

Written by Greg Beneteau

The federal government’s reaction to a Supreme Court ruling on the fate Omar Khadr is a wake-up call for Canadians, albeit an unusual one.

On Friday, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that Canadian officials were complicit in the abuse of Khadr during his time in U.S custody, now in its 8th year, and that there was an ongoing threat to his rights.

“Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the U.S. prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects,” the ruling stated.

However, the court stopped short of forcing the government to seek to repatriate Khadr, who was 15 when he was arrested by U.S. forces in 2002 for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed an American in Afghanistan.

The reasoning was that foreign affairs should remain under the jurisdiction of the federal government, without interference from judges.

This should come as some comfort to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who declared that the government will continue to do what it has always done on the Khadr file: nothing.

It’s a disturbing trend of laissez faire partisanship. Rather than attack its critics, the conservatives have decided to be patient. Given the amount of power vested with the PMO, it just needs to wait out the clock on those who get in their way.

Such was the case when the government opted not to reappoint Peter Tinsley as chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission. Tinsley's sin was to be impartial as he investigated allegations that Afghan prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers were abused in Afghan prisons. Opposition MPs have passed bills calling for an inquiry into the detainee file, but the motion is non-binding.

There was a lot of griping from progressives about the effectiveness of Paul Kennedy. Still, the 35-year veteran of federal security agencies issued some scathing (though non-binding) reports during his time as Chair of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives opted to not renew him for a second four-year term. Kennedy’s interim replacement is Ian McPhail, an estate lawyer and Conservative organizer who has chaired Ontario government bodies, but has little experience policing the police. He should fit right in.

Having trouble with your “law and order” crime bills? Just wait until the balance in the Senate tips in your favour, as it did last week when Harper gave away five new lifetime appointments in the upper chamber. The days of Senate reform have become a long-forgotten dream.

Parliament can pass laws. Courts can make rulings. Civil servants can gripe. But, as the conservatives have proven, they generally can't force the government  to do anything.

In the case Rights and Democracy, a federally funded human rights agency, “waiting out the clock” took on a more grim meaning. Last month the organization's president Rémy Beauregard died of a heart attack the day after contentious meeting that saw two of its board members resign in protest and a third denied reappointment.

The non-partisan group has been in disarray following the appointment of new board members – seven, to be exact – by the Conservative government.

Staff claimed the new appointees clashed with Beauregard over funding of groups critical of Israel and have unanimously called for the resignation of Braun and two vice-chairs.

Such acrimony was obvious when the board of Rights and Democracy voted not to reappoint one of its international members, Guido Riveros Franck, by a vote of 7-6. The move triggered a walkout by board members Sima Samar, the chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and Payam Akhavan, a McGill University law professor and former legal adviser to the International Criminal Tribunals on Rwanda. Both have since resigned from the board.

The Conservatives have learned take a less heavy-handed approach to partisanship. Given enough time, your critics will eventually retire (or expire).

Once you have enough friendly votes to make a majority, away you go. I would venture there are a lot of 7-6 votes at Rights and Democracy these days – or perhaps now it’s 10-3.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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