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Euthanasia Is Not A Slippery Slope

Friday, 18 November 2011 16:40

With the release of an important new report, and the launch of another Charter challenge, the debate about euthanasia is flaring up again. It will be passionate. You will hear emotional claims from both sides. Many people will listen to nothing else. But for those who want to be rational, those who want to learn as much as they can and draw a conclusion based on evidence, there is one essential fact to bear in mind.

The Dutch are more honest than we are. Remember that.

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Tim Hudak Plumbs The Depths

Monday, 19 September 2011 16:17

Tim Hudak is the sort of politician who searches for the inchoate fears and hatreds that lie, unspoken, just below the surface of consciousness. When he finds them, he drags them up and waves them for all to see, hoping that ugly emotions will serve his political purposes. He is what an earlier generation would have called a "rabble rouser."

And so it was probably inevitable that Hudak would turn his attention to sex offenders.

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Justice Hasn't Been Harperized

Wednesday, 20 July 2011 15:49

It is now conventional wisdom that the Harper Conservatives are transforming Canadian criminal justice, a fact which many pundits cite as evidence of the incremental Harperization of Canadian society. It's pretty hard to disagree.

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In 2003, an American man who served 14 years on death row was found not guilty of murder after evidence of prosecutorial misconduct surfaced. He sued and a jury awarded him $14 million. But that award was appealed. And in March of this year, in a 5-4 vote, with conservative judges in the majority, liberals in the minority, the United States Supreme Court threw it out.

Observers weren't surprised. In politically charged cases, the U.S. Supreme Court routinely splits 5-4 and the composition of the two camps is always the same. Conservatives on one side. Liberals on the other. It's utterly predictable. And political. Indeed, the politics couldn't be more blatant.

Is that the future of Canada's judiciary?

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What Is Torture?

Friday, 29 October 2010 10:11

Omar Khadr was not tortured. He may have been hooded, shoved, shackled to a wall, humiliated, threatened with guard dogs, told he was going to be sent to the Middle East for torture, forced into painful stress positions, and deprived of sleep. He may have been warned that another prisoner who had refused to co-operate had been gang-raped to death. But he wasn't tortured.

We've heard variations on this claim all this week, as Khadr's hearing in Guantanamo staggers to its wretched conclusion. American officials did nothing wrong, many say. Khadr wasn't tortured.

Is that true? There are two ways of tackling the question. One is legal analysis. International and national law is emphatic in forbidding torture, but it does not provide a precise, technique-by-technique definition of what is and what is not torture (or "ill treatment," a secondary category of acts that do not rise to the level of torture but are nonetheless forbidden). Agreements and precedents help clarify things. But still, there is plenty of room for argument.

But before we get to the law, we have to investigate the reality and answer the most basic question: What is torture?

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On Sunday, reporters and other Serious People referred to Omar Khadr as an "accused terrorist." On Monday, when Khadr stood before a military commission in Guantanamo and accepted a plea bargain, he became a "confessed terrorist." This is now the standard nomenclature of Serious People.

Indeed, when Khadr's lawyer later said "it's all a fiction ... in our view Mr. Khadr is innocent," Norman Spector pronounced himself "troubled" in The Globe and Mail. Khadr swore to the truthfulness of the accusations, he wrote. Reporters should now be pressing his lawyer to say whether he "is of the view that Omar Khadr committed perjury? And, if so, did he counsel his client to do so?"

In ordinary circumstances, I would understand Norman Spector's concern. A plea at trial is normally the last word on whether one is or isn't a criminal. If the defendant says "guilty," it doesn't matter that he had his fingers crossed. He's guilty. And the "accused terrorist" becomes the "confessed terrorist."

But do I really have to note that these are not ordinary circumstances?

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Omar Khadr And The Logic Of Tribalism

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 11:53

Omar Khadr, meet John Walker Lindh. John, Omar.

I probably don't need to tell John about you, Omar. You've been all over the news lately. But it's been many years since John made headlines.

In November, 2001, John Walker Lindh, an all-American guy from San Francisco, was captured while fighting Northern Alliance troops with the Taliban. "The American Taliban" had gone to Afghanistan months before 9/11, but still he was a real, live traitor. Righteous anger focused on one skinny, bearded man.

Omar, you're probably wondering why I've made this introduction since, in a sense, your situation couldn't be more different than John's. He was an adult who made a choice. You were a child, compelled to join the al-Qaeda death cult by your appalling father.

But there are important similarities in your cases, too. You were both barely alive when you were captured, for one. And you were both horribly abused.

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Semrau verdict exposes tragically flawed lawThe situation Captain Robert Semrau encountered was a philosopher's dream and a soldier's nightmare.

In hostile territory, what was left of an enemy combatant lay on the ground. His body had been dismembered, mangled, and shredded by an attack helicopter's guns. But still, he wasn't dead. He was alive but anyone could see he was dying, slowly, in agony. He could not be saved, even if Semrau could get him quickly to a field hospital, which he could not.

So Semrau had a choice. He could either obey Canadian law and military regulation and let this man suffer and, eventually, die. Or he could end his pain with a bullet.

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Why our drug policy is 'inconsistent' with all available evidenceIt's safe to assume most people have never heard of the "Vienna Declaration." And that simple fact helps explain why public policies that fail -- policies that do vastly more harm than good -- can live on despite overwhelming evidence of their failure.

The Vienna Declaration, published in the medical journal The Lancet, is an official statement of the 18th International AIDS Conference, which wraps up today in Vienna. Drafted by an international team of public health experts, including Evan Wood of the University of British Columbia, the Vienna Declaration seeks to "improve community health and safety" by, in the words of the committee, "calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies."

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The thrill of righteous violence

Wednesday, 07 July 2010 14:03

The thrill of righteous violenceA few years ago in Moscow, I interviewed Edward Limonov, novelist and leader of the National Bolsheviks, a banned political party mostly famous for their party banner -- identical to the flag of Nazi Germany, but with the hammer and sickle in place of the swastika. I expected a vivid display of crazy. I got something much more interesting.

Formally, the National Bolsheviks, which Limonov founded, are the ideological blend of ultra-nationalism and communism their banner suggests. But that's misleading. Limonov's politics have shifted as often and as dramatically as the weather. He has even made common cause with Gary Kasparov's pro-Western liberals.

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