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When Governments Ignore The Law – There Is No Law

After being away for a few days with only limited Internet access, I logged into Twitter this afternoon and quickly found myself unintentionally caught up in a discussion about Omar Khadr.  For those unfamiliar with the Khadr case, Mr. Khadr was the Canadian teenager who killed an American medic with a grenade in Afghanistan following a firefight in 2002.
Omar Khadr
I am not going to defend Mr. Khadr’s actions or try to make sense out of the senselessness that is war. People die in wars and in most cases, for no good purpose. The fact that we still use violence as a means to resolve disputes is a testament to how little we have progressed as a civilized species.
My three opponents in the discussion clearly think Mr. Khadr deserves whatever he gets and I understand their anger with his actions and have no real issue with his sentence. He pled guilty and accepted a sentence that tacked an additional eight years on to the seven he had already served.  My issue is with government and the rule of law.
Mr. Khadr was arrested in 2002 at the age of fifteen and was held in Guantanamo for 7 years without due process. In other words, he was held illegally. He wasn’t even formally charged with a crime until 2006 after the United States Government passed The Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law which was retroactive or in other words, a law that made previous behavior suddenly illegal by a new set of definitions.
Think about that for a moment. Think about the power that accrues to a government that can change the law to make something done a year earlier not only illegal for the future but also illegal for the past. Think about a the power of a government that can ignore it’s own constitution and legal system to force it’s will.

It means that you could have been a law-abiding citizen and suddenly find yourself under arrest because your government passed a law that was retroactive. Consider how close to Orwell’s 1984 that really is and what it means for the rule of law and respect for both democracy and the constitutions and charters of rights upon which most democracies are built.

A number of organizations from the United Nations to various legal associations all pointed out the danger to democracy that this situation held but to no avail and Mr. Khadr remained in prison. In 2009, he pled guilty in a plea bargain that was as much about putting an end to his Kafka-like circumstance as it was to an admission of guilt. 
He is under both American and Canadian law, entitled to serve his sentence in Canada after the first full year is served in the United States. The United States, for its part, had already announced it would not stand in the way of Mr. Khadr being repatriated to Canada. It is the Canadian government that has ignored its own laws and Charter of Rights.
Despite appeals from UNICEF, The Canadian Bar Association and Amnesty International, among others, The Canadian Government has steadfastly refused to repatriate Mr. Khadr to Canada as is his right as a Canadian citizen. He remains the only foreign national not repatriated by their government in the history of Guantanamo which isn’t much of an endorsement for this current government’s sense of justice which I find particularly hypocritical considering this current government’s emphasis on law and order.
It gets worse.
In 2009, the Federal Court ordered the government to repatriate Mr. Khadr after determining that his rights as guaranteed under the Charter had been violated. The government filed an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal only to lose again. They then took the case to the Supreme Court of Canada which also ruled that Mr. Khadr’s rights were being violated by the government but the government has continued to ignore all court rulings and this country’s constitution and charter.
This is not about Mr. Khadr nor is it about having him released from prison. It is about a government that has taken it upon itself to ignore the law and the courts because it doesn’t agree with their rulings but the law isn’t here for their convenience. It is here to protect citizens from exactly this kind of unilateral and capricious action by a government. Governments come and go. It is the law that is the constant and that protects us from the actions of others, including governments.

When a government can decide which laws it wishes to uphold and for whom, there is no law and we are no longer a democratic country protected by our laws. We are no better than the very societies too many Canadians have died fighting to protect us from.

It is becoming all too prevalent as more and more often, democratic governments ignore or refuse to enforce the laws they are sworn to uphold. In Ontario, the Premier and the Chief of the Provincial Police refused to enforce a court order to remove native protesters. In cities across North America, mayors refused to take action against Occupy protesters who vandalized their cities  resulting in millions of dollars in damage.

Governments play footloose and fancy free with access to information laws and manipulate election spending laws to help themselves get re-elected.

If our governments aren’t prepared to uphold our laws and the rule of law for the worst of us, it won’t be long before the law will not protect the best of us from those same governments.
Mr. Khadr has pled guilty and is serving his sentence. He is not the issue. It is the actions of government who have treated our laws with so little respect that threaten each and every one of us. While it is Mr. Khadr today, it could just as easily be you or I tomorrow. It could be your home or mine that the Premier of Ontario allows to be overrun by native protesters as he did to home owners in Caledonia. It could be your store or business that is vandalized, your car or mine that is burned by rioters that city governments were too timid to confront.
When government refuses to obey or to enforce its own laws, there is nothing left but tyranny and it is only a matter of time before that tyranny touches someone who is innocent….and that could be any one of us or any member of our family.

If that happens, there will be no one to ensure that the law protects you and I……or them.

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    Virtuallly every city has a bi-law against camping indefinitely on city property. All cities have bi-laws against theft of utilities like electricity and vandalism, littering and illegal drug use are against the law everywhere. If you want to split hairs and argue semantics, you have come to wrong place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16564199754847966303 Grumpyelder

    Bear– agreed

    • Anonymous

      You accuse Occupy (with a generalized brush stroke) as being illegal & mayors were breaking the law by not shutting them down immediately. Have you researched each & every city laws to see if this is true? As I recall, in many cities the movement’s occupation of space was declared illegal “retroactively” which is what you are railing against here is it not?

  • http://www.shauntrice.weebly.com Shauntrice Art

    Eloquently written. This post makes me think maybe there is a point to using twitter…there is no consistency or equality in the application of the law. Judges have an inordinate amount of discretion that is sickening.

    The point remains: violence does not solve the problem!

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I tend to agree with you that, sometimes judges have to much discretion which can lead to an inconsistent application of the law. I feel, however, that the greater threat is when government (i.e. politicians) ignore their duty to adhere to our laws and constitution to meet some political agenda. No government should ever have the right to ignore or refuse to honour the law they were sworn to uphold and protect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    You pretty much make my point. This was a case where government(s) fiddled their laws and their constitutions to fit the situation rather than relying on their laws and constitutions to resolve the point. Passing a law and making it retroactive is patently offensive and incredibly dangerous to every citizen.

    What has been increasingly bothering me in recent years is how our democratic governments have begun to convince themselves that the best way to protect their constitutions from terrorists and others, is by circumventing those same constitutions and due process. I fail to understand how anyone can believe that acting like the very thing you are fighting proves the superiority of our system. It seems to me that when you become what you oppose, you are admitting that what you are is failing.

    If Canada and US cannot win against terrorists with the strength of our system of laws and our freedoms, then it tells those we oppose that we have no confidence in our laws, our societies and that we are so afraid, we are willing to break our laws out of fear. It’s a bad message to send our enemies and a threat to our own people.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16564199754847966303 Grumpyelder

    Bear, if your really looked hard you might have been able to find a screwier case to try and make your point- but I wouldn’t bet on it..

    Khadr’s father was a top level Bin Laden aid–Khadr-played with Bin Laden’s kids and was being groomed to become a Al Queda leader.. What is left of his family is in Canada, I understand the keep your Intel, national security and police personnel busy investigating everything from rape and attempted murders to terrorism conspiracies

    Khadr was wounded and captured in a fire fight– he is an enemy combatant- and on those grounds could have been held until the end of hostilities.. Instead he was charged with war crimes.. A charge that makes no sense since the war crime consisted of using a grenade during a battle.

    He was tried very quietly by a military tribunal in Gitmo at the same time the Obama Administration people guilty of high profile war crimes like KSM should be given civilian trails in NYC. The last person convicted of war crimes committed when they were fourteen years old was in Nazi Germany.

    Now the case is confused mix of Canadian and US Civil Law Canadian and US Terrorism and Military Law with the Geneva Convention and politics tossed in for good measure

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    Thank you for your comment. Increasingly, our rule of law is being violated by government whether it is the Khadr case I discussed above or even many of our mayors who refused to enforce their own bylaws with Occupy. It is the first duty of government to enforce the law euitably and to change those laws legally that they believe must be amended. Governments, especially democratic governments, do not have the right nor should they be allowed to break or ignore the law or to apply it unevenly.

  • Anonymous

    Bear, very well written ! Thanks for taking the time to write this article.
    @heathertwins