Parliament: Canada’s torture chambers

By Kurt Genest

Great news: the “war on terror” is finally over! Bad news: we lost.

Our prime minister and his government have made much of terrorism lately. Last year, Stephen Harper expressed his concern that “Islamicism,” a term that refers to Islamic-based terrorism and is highly offensive to some, is the greatest security threat facing our country. In order to protect the people of Canada from this ever-present danger, the federal government has decided to allow csis, our federal spy agency, to use information extracted by means of torture. This is a reversal of our long-standing previous position.

There is a boatload of reasons why this is a bad idea. If we put aside morality for the moment and look at this pragmatically, torture just doesn’t work. There is no scientific evidence to show that inflicting physical or psychological pain upon someone will increase the likelihood that he will provide reliable information, so why do it at all?

How much security do we really stand to gain by saying yes to information obtained through torture, even if it does turn out to be accurate? The latest directive by the ministry of public safety states that such information would only be considered under “exceptional” circumstances, such as another incident of the magnitude of the September 11, 2001 hijackings or the Air India jet bombing. We are sacrificing our integrity for a hypothetical situation.

We should certainly not let our guard down against terrorists, but the problem has to be put into perspective. While Can- adians have died abroad in the aforementioned attacks and other terrorist incidents, there have been relatively few episodes of terrorism on Canadian soil. The last decade saw a Jewish school in Montreal set on fire in 2004 by a pair of 18-year-olds, six natural gas pipelines in British Columbia bombed by environmentalists between 2008 and 2009 and a bank in Ontario firebombed by anarchists. These incidents were all reprehensible but did not injure or kill anyone. Our biggest terrorist attack of the last decade was one that didn’t happen — an Ottawa plot to use truck bombs and gunfire in crowded areas and eventually behead the prime minister and other leaders in 2006 was foiled by csis without the aid of torture-based information.

Let’s pretend for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that torture does get reliable information. Now let’s imagine that csis got hold of some of this information and could use it to save thousands of people. Lives would be spared, but our integrity would not, for we have given legitimacy to and encouraged torture, a despicable tactic, and its practitioners, whether they are Canadians or allies. For most people, this would be a difficult decision to make. When we remove the hypothetical factors, it becomes a little easier to take a deep breath and stick to our principles: Torture is not effective. Terrorists are not poised to destroy all that we hold dear. Torture strips its victims and perpetrators, both active and passive, of their human dignity.

The Conservatives love to portray themselves as “tough” on crime and terrorism, but they have shown themselves all too eager to wave the white flag when it comes to the values that once made Canada synonymous with compassion and respect. When we act out of terror, the terrorists win. Enjoy your legacy, Mr. Harper.

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