By Henry McRandall
Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff held another press conference today to again decry Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ongoing unwillingness to face the House of Commons.
Although Harper is also hiding from other pressing matters, the key issue in the prorogation of Parliament was his government’s unwillingness to obey a House of Commons order to turn over documents relating to the possibility Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and other federal political and military officials may have committed war crimes.
The Opposition is right to press the issue.
Like most other countries, Canada is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties dealing with the conduct of war. And Canada’s authorized signature on those documents makes them sacred laws of this land, perhaps even more binding than the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
The commission of a war crime is every bit as serious as treason or mass murder. When it happens, the perpetrators must be prosecuted and punished. Failure to punish these privileged perps would be tantamount to declaring the Criminal Code of Canada null and void.
But I fear the ardour with which the Opposition is pursuing Harper et al on this very serious matter is somewhat contrived.
We have witnessed a terrifying precedent in the United States where President Barack Obama – the alleged architect of “change we can believe in” – has declined to even investigate George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others in that corrupt administration for war crimes, much less prosecute or punish them.
Obama’s rationale for his clear dereliction of obvious national and international duty is that the new president wants to “look forward not backward.”
How ironic that Obama’s “foward-looking regime” has deemed it fit to grant belated licence to the war criminal of the erstwhile backward American regime.
It is nothing more and nothing less than a tacit admission that a politician will go to almost any length to protect a fellow politician from prosecution, regardless of the seriousness of the crimes committed. And it serves no other purpose than to place politicians above the law.
Regrettably, if Canada ever sees another federal general election and the Harper posse is turfed from office, it is likely that the new government will trot out the same or a similar alibi for failing to do its duty and prosecute ALL criminals, whether they are politicians or not.
And while this may all seem generous and kind-hearted toward Harper and his fellow thugs, the reality is that it is not fair to Canada, it is not fair to the world and, in particular, it is not fair to Canada’s armed forces to fail to prosecute war crimes committed at the very highest political and military echelons.
Not only would such a failure smear Canada’s reputation as a fair-minded country, it would also make members of Canada’s armed forces legitimate targets for war crimes by combatants elsewhere in future times.
If Canada truly stands by its signature on those international conventions, it must prosecute all war criminals, regardless of their circumstance of pomp and privilege.
But for that to happen, the Opposition must make sure that its current zeal on the matter is not merely a pre-election ploy to win brownie points with the public before voting day. It must promise to prosecute and punish these perps.
Will Harper’s hidden sins stay hidden?
By Henry McRandall