Liberty cannot bear suspicion
"The hard truth is that if liberty, most fundamentally the right to live
your own choices, to be different, to dissent, to aspire to goals alien
to the average, to have personal autonomy, if this gift we have
inherited is to endure, then young people must take up the torch from
War correspondent Martha Gelhorn was, by her own great acts of courage, present at the liberation of Dachau.
She radioed back an article for Collier's magazine published June 23, 1945. She concluded her account of the horror she witnessed with the following paragraph:
"We are not entirely guiltless, we the Allies, because it took us twelve years to open the gates of Dachau. We were blind and unbelieving and slow, and that we can never be again. We must know now that there can never be peace if there is cruelty like this in the world. And if ever again we tolerate such cruelty we have no right to peace."
The industrialization of evil did not start with death trains and concentration camps. It started with suspicion.
"We were blind and unbelieving and slow..."
A people in anxiety about the fate of their country, allowed suspicion to be cast on Jews. In confronting a grave national threat the people accepted the gathering up of Jews.
And six million of them were tortured and murdered.
Upright citizens who had nothing to hide were incited to monitor their neighbours or acquiesce in that monitoring, in the original version of mass surveillance.
Those suspected of sympathizing with Jews were taken. 200,000 suspect Catholic priests were sent to the concentration camps on suspicion of aiding enemies of the state. Similar mass surveillance was practiced under totalitarian regimes in the Soviet empire and by Mao's cadres, always to defend the people and the national interest against those who attract suspicion.
Unspeakable acts by governments are always committed on the shoulders of suspicion.
What marks the holocaust is the industrialization of evil to a scale that our minds cannot truly grasp.
But from the Inquisition to the Witch Trials to the persecution of gays in Russia today, it all is born by suspicion.
That is why we constrain the power of government to use suspicion as a justification for monitoring or taking people and why, when some politicians seek to plant the infection of suspicion, the best among us react on reflex to denounce and contain those politicians.
But we appear, we citizens of the free world, to be "blind and unbelieving and slow" in confronting the foothold that suspicion has made in our own nations.
Prior to recent proliferations of government power, suspicion permitted agents of the government including our community police, only license to briefly stop a person, and during that brief stop to ask questions that a free citizen is under no obligation to answer.
Everyone was free to leave the company of government authorities unless those authorities could demonstrate, to an independent judiciary, reasonable grounds to believe that the person had committed or was in the process of committing a crime.
Not proof that the person had done wrong, but reasonable grounds to believe. Not overwhelming or unreasonable conditions but the opposite, reasonable grounds. Proof would come at trial but until then just have a reasonable basis to believe.
Western governments have been abandoning that standard and turning like past authoritarians to suspicion, while we, free individuals, tolerate or encourage them.
I am not suggesting that we are at the stage of tolerating cruelty on the scale of Dachau or industrialized evil. I am observing that such cruelty is always prefaced by government exploiting suspicion which includes social fear and social cleavages. I am reporting that suspicion has been codified as a basis for the exercise of some of the most extreme forms of government power against its own citizens. This is not a matter of opinion; it is history. It is very recent history.
The United States of course led the assault on liberty with patriotic knee-bending from both national political parties, intent on deploying authoritarianism in the defense of the homeland. They started with the arbitrary secret sentencing of citizens to indeterminate terms on "no fly" lists, the blanket harvesting of telecommunications data, secret courts, and widespread bureaucratic exercises of quasi-judicial powers, without notice, trial, defense or appeal, but only suspicion, or the purely personal proclivities of the empowered bureaucrat.
The birthplace of modern freedom, home of the Magna Carta, followed the U.S., and sought to outdo them by deploying a camera surveillance system the envy of any authoritarian in history, and instilling in its secret police an official notion that anyone acting to protect their privacy is "doing things they ought not to be doing," to quote one secret police bureaucrat speaking on BBC.
Canada made its first serious effort at mass surveillance with Bill C-13, hiding it as a campaign against online child pornography. At the time there was among Conservative MPs sufficient resistance to the spreading infection of Big Government that the law was withdrawn. But, immediately following the tragic murders of individual Canadian Forces personnel in separate incidents, the government seized the opportunity to pass a new authoritarian mandate in Bill C-51.
Then we witnessed the British people subjected to not only monitoring, but 100% data collection of every web page they ever visit, every email they ever send, every internet connection they ever make, for any purpose. Not some. Not for a set time. Not even suspicious web sites.
All of the people. All of the internet. All of the time.
Monitored and stored in government data banks. For the security of the nation. Just in case it turns out someone is found to be suspicious.
A writer whose name I lost said, "If you want to secure ends of liberty you must put to work the means of liberty." Which is to say the use of authoritarian measures results in authoritarianism, not liberty
In Canada a government was elected that the vast majority of citizens wished well and for which there had been high hopes. Arriving on a platform of balancing secret police powers with personal liberty, but asserting liberty is only worth defending if their party is elected -- so it can be "fixed after we win" -- such a herald did not predict particular care for freedom.
As we had to trust Conservative backbenchers to defend our liberty from their own government's Bill C-13 and then watched them let us down over C-51, we now have no choice but to trust Liberal backbenchers to defend our liberty during this government's venture into trading off liberty against security and hope they don't also let us down after a good "briefing" by the bureaucracy or the "wisdom" of older, more experienced hands.
They have already abandoned their solemn commitment to restore parliamentary oversight of the secret police and have instead embraced the former government's position of declaring we need be assured that they can appoint one set of unelected but empowered bureaucrats to oversee another set of unelected but empowered bureaucrats. (Resolved in part: See update at end).
We are to trust them where they previously said the government could not be so trusted because, well because it is them of course, and they are obviously trustworthy. Which is what the previous government said and what all political leaders say once they control the levers of authoritarianism. We can trust them.
Well, we've seen how that works out.
Then the secret police were caught maintaining massive amounts of data on innocent Canadians -- not under even suspicion of anything -- with the excuse that they thought it was legal.
Not that they thought it was right, or consistent with democratic principles, or ethically justified in a context of individual rights, but that it was legal.
So the Canadian secret police are by definition declaring that they can be expected to engage in other activities that are not right or decent or democratically justified, if they can put any cast or claim to thinking the actions are legal.
It is in the nature of secret police to go to whatever lengths they can get away with, first because acting in secret they expect never to be caught, and second, they sincerely believe that anything they do is justified because they are doing it in the name of protecting the security of the nation. They are not engaged by the notion of liberty but the paramountcy of security.
The hard truth is that if liberty, most fundamentally the right to live your own choices, to be different, to dissent, to aspire to goals alien to the average, to have personal autonomy, if this gift we have inherited is to endure, then young people must take up the torch from failing hands.
And how failing those hands have been. My generation has gotten it wrong to the point of historic significance. We have allowed ourselves to be "blind and unbelieving and slow," such that we cannot even recognize the priorities of living together in a free society.
The first priority of a free society is never security.
That priority is better achieved by a slave society.
Millions of men and women did not sacrifice their own freedom, their own futures, their own lives, so that we could merely be secure.
With their blood they bought for us freedom.
And any government that proclaims or writes into law that the highest duty of government is the security of the nation, is a government that does not perceive itself leading a nation of free people.
My generation allowed that distortion to be literally written into law. We are blind and unbelieving and slow.
So, if young people do not take up the torch, it will be extinguished.
Their birthright will be lost, having not reclaimed it from our failure, and so their own children's children will practice a Remembrance Day in the safe arms of the state, with no memory of the inheritance that day secured, and which we wasted.
This is no "Cause" to call to arms, but to call to action. Very simple measures such as parliamentary oversight may make things less convenient for government but can contribute immensely to securing our liberty.
Be consistent and unrelenting in demanding that suspicion not be the gold standard for using the power of the state against individuals but that we instead embrace, treasure and practice what a thousand years of the Common Law has taught us: without reasonable cause the state has no claim over anyone's movement, home or mind, that liberty cannot be sold for the convenience of state authority and that whenever possible authority must yield to liberty.
Be unwilling to hear "we thought it was legal" and then move on as if that makes authoritarian actions excusable. Refuse to accept from your own favoured politicians their proclamations of trustworthiness, with full awareness that they are mortal and they will die, and even if they live their entire lives controlling the levers of the authority they defend, they will be replaced by someone else. The law and liberty cannot be matters of trusting the people in power.
The law itself must be written and judged trustworthy beyond the inclination of people who may or may not be trustworthy.
Let us not be "blind and unbelieving and slow." Or surely great cruelty will again stalk our lands.
by Glenn Caleval
UPDATE: A few days before Remembrance Day 2017, Canada's Prime Minster announced the appointment of a Parliamentary oversight committee that included members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition including the Conservative and New Democratic parties. This is a very encouraging development. To be clear it is not a real Parliamentary Committee since it is accountable solely to the Prime Minister's Office and is not accountable to Parliament, but at least it is a committee of Parliamentarians. Unfortunately in interviews the committee chair repeatedly emphasized his intention to build a staff with people who have "deep, deep experience" in the security establishment with not even a hint of concern about people with well-established credentials in the civil liberties and human rights field. Parliamentary oversight is not to ensure the secret police know how to do the security stuff, which is what you get from security experts. It is to ensure they do not take actions that go further than necessary, or actually abridge human rights, and to monitor things that may not be obvious antecedents to unwanted breaches. But the government deserves credit. The Committee is an important contribution, if a grudging one that does not fulfill the promise of true Parliamentary oversight.