Wednesday, July 27, 2005

London Commentary as a Vehicle to Discuss Civil Liberties

Michelle Mann writes (CBC News Viewpoint):

Undercover London police recently shot and killed a young Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, on the subway, having mistaken him for a suicide bomber. In issuing an apology for the killing, London Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair warned that more such deaths are possible.

The commissioner initially said Mr. de Menezes was "directly linked" to London's bombing investigations, but subsequently recanted, saying he had "no connection" to the attacks.
Going from "directly linked" to "no connection" within a matter of days serves to highlight the inherent risks of Britain's controversial shoot-to-kill policy on suspected terrorists and the quasi utilitarian language being employed in its defence.

What is the legal standard for "suspected" given that the death penalty can clearly accompany it? In the case of de Menezes it appears to have been living in the wrong building, wearing a heavy coat in warm weather (menopausal women watch out) and his unexplained running upon confrontation by plainclothes officers. Not to mention his brown skin.

But how does the shoot-to-kill policy square with the liberal House of Lords decision in December 2004, which moved England ahead of Canada in the protection of civil liberties of alleged foreign terrorists? In hearing the appeals of nine foreign nationals who had been detained without charge indefinitely on suspicions of terrorism, an eight to one majority of the House concluded that there was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights…

But here's the kicker: we either believe in civil rights or we don't. In the same-sex marriage debate Prime Minister Paul Martin made much of the fact that we can't "cherry pick" rights; simultaneously we also can not cherry pick rights holders.

In both countries, citizens have some hard thinking to do concerning defining political values, chief among them the principle that civil liberties must belong to all if they are to have any meaning.

I'm still pondering where the middle ground might be...I'm still pissed that we have to have discussion regarding the above, at all.


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