The title of Dennis Edney’s speech to ETFO Annual Meeting delegates was “The Rule of Law in an Age of Fear.” Mr. Edney, QC, is a veteran Canadian defence lawyer noted for his involvement in high-profile and challenging cases, including the case of Omar Khadr, who was captured in the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan at the age of fifteen and held at Guantanamo Bay for ten years.
Mr. Edney told delegates that the world faces great challenges when protecting the rule of law and human rights. Previously well-established legal principles are being called into question by ill-conceived responses to terrorism. Many advances in human rights protections are under attack almost everywhere in the world since the events of “9/11.”
Mr. Edney pointed out that since September 2001, a climate of fear and insecurity has been cultivated to justify long-standing human rights violations carried out in the name of national security. This leads us to consider what the balance should be between human rights, rule of law and civil liberties on one hand, and national security on the other. The “pre-9/11” mainstream belief that the best way to defeat terrorism is by increasing law enforcement capabilities while simultaneously strengthening human rights protection and democracy has been eroded. Now, fear is being used as a driver to erode civil liberties, avoid judicial oversight and invade foreign countries on questionable grounds. This approach will be questioned by future generations, who will look on the invasion of Iraq, for example, as a seminal moment in western history. Instead of removing threats, it has let loose problems we face today like the presence of ISIL in the Middle East, the tragedy of Syrian refugees and the attacks in France, Germany, Lebanon and many other locations.
Canada has not been immune to this new way of thinking, said Mr. Edney. We saw this in the federal election campaign with the Harper government’s campaign of “cruel mendacity” against individuals of the Muslim faith. These political strategies were deliberate, contrived and intended to exploit the basest parts of human nature.
This new way of thinking has also created the tragedy of Syrian refugees, more than half of whom are children. Instead of defending these children, Mr. Edney pointed out that we tend to stand by and watch passively as many young lives are needlessly lost on a daily basis.
As an example, Mr. Edney reviewed the inhumane torture that his client fifteen-year-old Omar Khadr, and other detainees, endured at Guantanamo, which included systematic sexual abuse. “As a father, I looked at this boy and couldn’t believe that we would treat a child this way.”
Mr. Edney exhorted the delegates to take a stand in support of the rule of law and human rights. Acts of courage to support civil liberties come in big and little forms – whatever form those acts take, it’s important to engage in them each and every day.
Mr. Edney concluded his address by saying that “Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.”