Tuesday, August 31, 2010

But Mr. Bell, what would you have us do?

Douglas Bell of the Globe and Mail (well, at least what they call an "occasional writer" for G & M) offers up this not-so-startling cry against the Liberals and their reaction to the G20 fiasco:

The largest mass arrest of Canadians in history and the Grits primary concern is that the cops were overwhelmed. It would be as if Martin Luther King in his letters from the Birmingham jail wrote to Police Chief “Bull” Connor complaining about the stress he was putting on his department’s German shepherds.

At a wintry moment in the history of Canadian civil rights, the Liberal Party is AWOL.

Mr. Bell seems to forget that the Liberals, in the eyes of those with similar views, don't have a very good track record with this stuff, whether its the October Crisis, or more recently, Montebello. Why he asks the Liberals now why they aren't doing anything, is actually a little beyond me.

But there is also a lot more to the entire fact that the Liberals, either federally or provincially, do what they do - and it's not just politics, though that is a big part of it.

Philosophically, Liberals are not inclined to always be champions of what Mr. Bell calls "civil rights," but I simply call civil libertarian ideology. This is not to belittle them, but it's an accurate description - they are, after all, espousing civil libertarianism as the ideology that should prevail, and that the Liberal Party has historically followed, two things that are not true at all.

In reality, the Liberals have the funny task of balancing civil rights and pragmatic response by government in such a situation, and this is just philosophically. As champions of what the government can do for you, for us to chastise our police forces for doing exactly what they are supposed to do - protect the populace, their property, and the peace - is not always the way to go, especially when it ends up non-lethal, and due process is still in place, two things that Liberals like to push forward.

Even Michael Ignatieff, the man who supposedly supports torture, says pretty clearly in The Lesser Evil that in emergency situations, government has to respond sometimes with strict and harsh measures, but so long as those detained still face due process and the response faces democratic (and judicial) review, and the measures don't remain permanent, the rights of all those involved are going to be protected and addressed. Civil libertarians disagree, and believe that the state should follow strict rules and avoid all sorts of situations like this, giving us an inflexible government and paralyzed police forces. That's not a good thing, fyi.

Politically, I don't have to tell anyone that its a hot potato. No government wants to handle it in reality, though they all have to eventually. Cynical as it sounds, there's not many votes to be gained from opposing what was a relatively measured response from police forces in Toronto. Why should the Grits put their necks out, especially for something that they philosophically do not support?

Liberals are trying to be all things to everyone; we espouse civil rights and believe in them, but we know that the government must have the tools at its disposal to deal with emergency situations like riots, or terrorist attacks, or war. The reality is that Liberals are a party of government, philosophically and politically. We know that we must act even while we try and avoid it. Why do you think the LPC and the OLP both opposed putting the damn thing in Toronto in the first place? It's an even trickier situation for the OLP and McGuinty, as they are in government. What would you have them do? Sit back, and watch as Toronto went to Hell in a handbasket?

That's why Mark Holland's question makes so much sense when you look at the attitudes the Liberal Party endorses; why should our police forces have to enforce the kind of measures they did in Toronto, when you could have moved it to someplace else where this wouldn't have occurred, and the question could almost be moot? It's philosophically and politically the attitude we hold.

I'm not trying to defend the Liberals in all ways here; I think McGuinty should have called an inquiry, and I think this bizarre "5-metre rule" should be looked into. But the fact is that the Liberals are not civil libertarians. We don't want to tie both hands behind the our back and be unable to do anything, and to put it in the words of Ignatieff, we should be fighting with at least one hand free, something we've done and supported with the G20 fiasco. Douglas Bell and others should start realizing this, and if they don't like it, they don't have to vote for us.

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