Thursday, July 30, 2009

Citizenship and extradition

Today's post is a response to a series of exchanges over twitter regarding the Diab case. For those not familiar with the case here is a link to the National Post Editorial about it yesterday. In essence a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen has been accused of being involved in a bombing in France 29 years ago.

Here is the bulk of an exchange:

@dominionpundit Why are people so eager to strip citizenship, especially before trials? If he is convicted let him serve his sentance.

@theRoundhouse good pt. but, Canadians need to be vigilant to ensure govt enable our country to be a safe haven for terrorists.

@dominionpundit I would agree, but why not wait and see if there is actually any reason to discuss it first?

@theRoundhouse not comfortable w terrorists landing here,get citizenship,leave to terrorize under my flag, tarnishing my citizenship brand.

@dominionpundit Diab case, if sustained, relates to an event in 1980, so nothing to do with 'your flag' & all citizens must be equal to govt

@theRoundhouse I should say, even natural born Canadians should not expect AUTOMATIC clemency req from our govt when arrested for terror

@theRoundhouse re Diab.event was before he was granted Cdn cit.if convicted,means he lied on imm app.hence,loss of Cdn cit.

@theroundhouse If we have extradition treaties,Cdn cit(born here or not) shld be extradited for trial(pedo in Thailand, terrorism elsewhere)

@theRoundhouse Cdn cit shld not b getoutof-international jail free card if ur sought for crimes abroad. (assuming legal system is fair) no?

There are several issues in play during this exchange, and I want to deal with them separately, The first is citizenship. Citizenship to me is both a legal state and a principle. If you are a Canadian then you enjoy the rights and privileges thereof, as well as the obligations. I do not recognize any distinction between 'natural born' and naturalized citizens - either you are a Canadian or you are not. To think otherwise is to invite the creation of a caste system, in which some are more equal than others. The last thing any Canadian wants is for the government to be able to decide whether or not they are, in fact, a Canadian and thus worthy of access to those rights and privileges.

In recent years, starting under the Martin government and worsening under the Harper government, there has been a devaluation of Canadian citizenship. Among the chattering classes this has become a popular topic for conversation, and you see it regularly in the blogoshpere. Another person discussing this today:

The second issue is that of extradition. In this @domionpundit and I are in complete agreement - where Canada has an extradition treaty we are obligated to give up any citizen charged with a crime. In cases where there is no treaty we are not so obligated, and such cases need to be examined individually to determine if there is both reasonable cause for extradition and reasonable expectation of a fair trial.

The third issue is the idea that terrorism is somehow a crime sui generis. Organized terrorism is closest, in organizational terms, to organized crime, and needs to be tackled in the same manner; combining efficient enforcement with the elimination of its root causes. Terrorism is also not new, despite some of the rhetoric in circulation these days. Even Western Europe & North America have historical experience: during the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th anarchists assassinated a President of the United States, a King of Italy, a President of France and a Premier of Spain within a few years of one another, among many other bombings and attacks. No constitutions were suspended or Patriot Acts passed, and the threat was dealt with within the existing laws.

Finally there is the question of government responsibility. The Canadian government is responsible for the protection of all Canadian citizens, regardless of their identity or the date of their citizenship. That doesn't mean that Canadians should be protected from foreign prosecution, of course. It also doesn't mean that Canadians abroad should expect to be rescued when they travel abroad - in the other countries of the world Canadians are aliens, though hopefully legal ones! In the event of a foreign country arresting a Canadian our government should represent us, and ensure that we are given due process and protected from violations of the law as it stands in that country and internationally.

In situations such as Mr. Diab's that means that he is free on bail while awaiting his extradition hearing for a trial in France sometime next year. Should he be convicted he will serve his sentence, and upon his release be free to return to Canada. In the case of Mr. Abdelrazik it means that the Canadian government should have been pushing for his return years ago, and certainly that he should have been brought home to Ottawa as soon as he set foot in the Canadian Embassy in Sudan 2 years ago. In the case of Omar Khadr, held in Guantanamo Bay, it means that our government should be pushing tirelessly to see him either released or charged with a crime and tried in a legal civilian court.

The idea that the government gets to choose which citizens to help is profoundly frightening. It is perhaps less frightening to me, as a white anglo with a safe name, but it is frightening nonetheless. Either citizenship applies to us all or we accept the creation of a stratified society in which, as Orwell said, some are more equal than others.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Crime and Conservatives

In the course of my daily prowl through the news and blogs online I came across this, posted last week by David Climenhaga. link

Perhaps unsurprisingly it matched a few thoughts of my own I was considering for this blog, and thus I may as well put it out there today. First of all I would like to point out that my MP is Rob Anders, and a better way to drive moderate conservatives, or anyone politically aware, away from the Conservative Party of Canada would be hard to imagine. That said he has won the riding here by significant majorities since replacing Harper in this seat. As a testament to the power of the CPC brand here in Alberta, and the failure of the Liberals to make inroads, there could hardly be a better example.

Mr. Anders sends out regular public mailings, both the parliamentary '10-percenters' and Constituency notices. There are only ever two topics for these mailings - crime and attacking the Liberals. The latter have focused on the 'just visiting' campaign and threatening me with Liberal tax hikes, both of which I find offensive but are not relevant to this post. What fascinates me, much like Mr. Climenhaga, are the mailings on crime and the criminal justice system.

Every single one of the mail-outs on crime is a ridiculous straw man. Every one. "Criminals don't register their guns, why should you", or variations on the theme of 'do you think criminal should be punished or immediately released without penalties'. I think all Canadian parties agree that there should be consequences for breaking the law. I would also think that appealing to criminal behaviour to justify ignoring laws you may not like isn't the strongest argument you could make.

Many people will remember the attacks on Paul Martin (link) that stemmed from this mindset. Mr. Martin, whatever his manifold failings as Prime Minister or leader of the Liberal party, is a father and a grandfather. The suggestion that he, or anyone in Parliament, does not wish to see child pornographers caught and punished is both a disgusting personal attack and mendacious.

In short I am profoundly irritated by the simplistic efforts of conservative politicians to pretend that only they understand and have correct views on crime and the criminal justice system. No single party or group is the sole source of truth or good ideas on any complex topic! Even more importantly the distinctions between positions that these sort of mailings appeal to is almost entirely fallacious. The real differences in policy terms at this time, between the Liberals and Conservatives especially, is very small. The substitution of rhetoric for fact in an attempt to create a distinction is both unpleasant and misleading.

*For those who are interested the recent Statistics Canada release on crime is here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Boutilier's Banishment

Yesterday Mr. Stelmach took the unusual step of expelling a member of the government caucus.

Interesting and unusual in itself, the real importance of the event may be whether or not it indicates a larger issue. On the face of it Boutilier's comments, while definitely uncomfortable for the government, hardly seem indicative of a serious opposition to the PC party. The man is, lest we forget, a former cabinet member of the party that just expelled him from caucus. In addition the criticisms he is making certainly echo those of his constituents. The inadequacy of Fort McMurray's infrastructure is a commonplace, both in the city itself and in Alberta politics. To my mind Mr. Boutilier's job as an MLA required him to say more or less what he said.

What I find interesting is that this move seems atypical for the Stelmach PC government. For one thing it is an open admission of, and invitation to, conflict - the one thing this government studiously avoids. Good luck finding an official mention of Bill 44 or the public outcry about that bill in any government publication.* The government's RSS feed doen't even list Bill 44 as one of the achievements of the last session!

In addition the PC party has worked hard to maintain itself as the biggest tent possible. The gap between Ted Morton and Jim Dinning in philosophical terms is much larger than that between most PCs and Liberals. This move is unusually decisive and divisive.

Opponents of the PCs are already taking this move as either the beginning of the end, with David Swann posting "the friendly farmer image is gone, now we can see the tight fisted control of this administration " on twitter, and a liberal blogger posting an entry on the viability of the PC party in Alberta . This of course builds on the pressure by the Wild Rose Alliance, and its implications for the right wing support of the PCs. (see Daveberta's entry of July 13th here:

On the whole it appears that the strain of the recession combined with the inertia and lack of vision, or at least common vision, within the PC party after 37 years in power may be coming to a head. There is enormous energy in Alberta, but it doesn't owe anything to the government and hasn't for some time. The last several Alberta elections have seen the PCs run successfully on a caretaker agenda of 'don't rock the boat and we won't screw it up'. Should their image of bland certainty start to fade there may be the groundwork for real political change here in Alberta.

It would be well, however, for opponents of the PCs to remember the strengths of the government. In addition to their almost unwieldy majority (which may in itself be the cause of the Boutilier issue) the PCs have the fundraising, the relationships and total control over the apparatus of the province. All that, in addition to the habitual loyalty of a large percentage of the electorate.

The political weather may be changing, as a lot of challenges are coming to a head in the PC party here in Alberta. The most important element of that potential for change lies within the PC party at this time, however, and the real interest to me in the Boutilier affair is where it leads the factions within the party and the caucus over the next few months.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The topic of partisanship and the role of parties in the system appears to be getting more attention in Canada, though mostly of the negative variety. The dominant reason is that our parties give the impression of being less and less successful in representing us. I just read a good article on this disillusionment:

Currently less than 1% of Canadians belong to a party. (recent membership drives may have raised that to just over 1%, but the basic point stands) In addition party membership is, as anyone who attends party events can tell you, heavily stilted toward middle age and later. In short parties in Canada are, to a large extent, exactly what those who do not belong characterize them as - establishment in-groups.

More important than that, however, is that parties are closed shops these days even to their members. Membership is often little more than paying $10 to be able to vote in a leadership or nomination contest, as well as being added to the inevitable fundraising list. Unsurprisingly this extractive model of membership doesn't grow membership or engender loyalty, so without outside elements like personal charisma or ideological conviction the party organization simply doesn't work.

I think that this is an important topic, and I intend to return to it at length in the next week or so. The changes in information technology, and the success of relatively 'flat' and open organizations like Google seem to me to point the way to a much more successful vision of party organization. Engagement and grassroots involvement don't have to be limited to tired catchphrases, as they all too often are these days. Canadians are engaged in their communities and causes, the question is how to modernize the political process to enable it to partake in that energy!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Electronic Voting

The subject of electronic voting, with its promise and hazards, is an interesting one. As we move an ever-expanding amount of our personal logistics like shopping and paying bills online it is inevitable that as a society we will start examining the mechanics of exercising our franchise virtually. (As opposed to virtually exercising the franchise, which may describe a lot of voting behaviour already!)

Kirk Schmidt, making a guest appearance on the Enlightened Savage's Blog on 30 June, posted an excellent summary of the practical issues with taking voting online. I found it well worth the read - interesting, thorough, and thought-provoking. Recommended!