Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A low blow from Harper

It had been my wish not to blog during my father's health crisis, which at this writing is still not resolved. However, something happened today that compelled me to break my silence. Stephen Harper found a very clever as well as deplorable way to change the subject.

Two of the provisions of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act are set to expire next week. One deals with detention without warrant for 72 hours. The other deals with the ability to question witnesses under oath and behind closed doors. It seems the Liberals, which was originally opposed to extending the very provisions they enacted are now divided on the issue. And so, on the heels of the Air India inquiry being up in the air because of the government's refusal to declassify key documents, documents from a terrorist act that took place 22 years ago, Harper turned the tables on the Liberals by saying that one of the Liberal MPs' father-in-law, a Sikh, was being questioned by the Mounties on the Air India bombing.

Specifically, the Vancouver Sun reported today that the said father-in-law of Navdeep Singh Bains, one Darshan Singh Saini, told the RCMP that he met a man who later shot a key witness against one of the known conspirators in the bombings. Harper essentially accused the Liberals of trying to impede the investigation because without the law that is set to expire, the cops won't be able to do an in camera briefing of any witnesses in the case. One of those witnesses, oddly enough, is Saini.

What was the original question, one might ask? Well, the Liberals wanted to know why the police are being allowed on the committees that select judges -- something that doesn't happen anywhere in the free world, as far as I know. Not even in the States, except for the requisite background checks.

It's bad enough that Harper has jeopardized an investigation that already was going nowhere after two of the key suspects were acquitted last year. It's even worse to insinuate that Saini may know more than he's letting on. What really angers me, however, is that this is a terrible abuse of Parliamentary privilege. It's a well established principle that a legislator should be able to speak his or her mind on the floor or in committee without fear of reprisal or threat of legal action. But it's also a matter of principle the executive branch never comments on matters that are before the courts or a commission of inquiry, or are the matter of a pending police investigation. To breach this is to violate the independence of the judiciary, a fundamental principle of democracy.

One should not be allowed to hide behind the shield of privilege in this case. Canadians deserve answers in the worst act of terrorism other than 9/11. There has to be some way to debrief witnesses without the draconian provisions of a law that is more about fighting other forms of domestic terrorism, such as the operations of biker gangs. But to presume someone guilty before proof of innocence and accusing an MP of being guilty by association even when he has completely renounced terrorism (i.e. the radical movement fighting for an independent Khalistan) is beyond the pale.

I'm not expecting Harper to apologize. He doesn't for anything. I would hope, though, he retracts his remarks from the record -- and declassifies all documents immediately so that further interrogations aren't required, and Justice John Major (né the Supreme Court of Canada) can finish his job. Canadians can't wait anymore for answers.

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1 comment:

Karen said...

My thoughts are with your father, but I'm glad that you thought this important enough to post.

Well said.