Last week former President George W. Bush visited British Columbia, Canada, to give a speech at the Surrey Regional Economic Summit. He was reportedly paid $150,000 for his appearance.
Setting aside the fact that the Bush administration had much the same effect on America’s economy that the iceberg had on the Titanic, there is another good reason why President Bush was a very poor choice of speaker.
As President of the United States, George Bush ordered the torture of detainees in US custody.
In his memoir, Decision Points, the former President states categorically that as Commander-in-Chief he gave approval for the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees.
By his own admission the techniques he authorized included waterboarding – a practice prosecuted as a war crime by the United States at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.
The applicable law is pretty black and white on this issue. Canada has an obligation under the Convention Against Torture to investigate allegations of torture made against any individual that falls under its jurisdiction.
The Canadian government received notice of multiple complaints against President Bush relating to the torture of detainees held as part of the ‘Global War on Terror’.
Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Canadian Center for International Justice were among the groups that submitted detailed legal dossiers on alleged abuses committed at President Bush’s direction. You can read a copy of Amnesty’s submission by clicking on this link.
Yet the Canadian government chose instead to turn a blind eye to President Bush’s visit and, rather than enforcing the law, Canadian police ensured that he was not inconvenienced by the protests that greeted his visit.
Canadian government ministers have simply refused to engage on the issue. Minister of Justice Robert Nicholson ignored repeated formal requests to open an investigation. The Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, dismissed calls for President Bush’s arrest as a “stunt.”
This is the same Jason Kenney who earlier this year told reporters that anyone who had committed or been an accomplice to war crimes should be “rounded up and kicked out of Canada.” It seems hypocrisy is a universal political value.
What it so depressing about the present attitude of the Canadian authorities, is that in the past decade Canada has been in the forefront of nations pressing to end impunity for human rights abuses. Prominent Canadians like Lousie Arbour and General Roméo Dalliare have been powerful voices on the world stage calling for greater accountability.
In the past decade, Canada has arrested individuals associated with war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of torture committed in countries as diverse as Honduras, Guatemala, Pakistan, Rwanda, Peru, Congo, and Nazi Germany. It has supported the foundation of the International Criminal Court and the operation of the UN ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Indeed, earlier this year the Canadian government announced a (not entirely unproblematic) crackdown on suspected human rights abusers believed to be living in Canada and publicly identified 30 foreign nationals actively being sought by the Canadian authorities.
At the time, the Minister for Public Safety, Vic Toews, told the media:
“Those who have been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity will find no haven on our shores; they will be located, and they will face the consequences.”
Fine words indeed, but since Mr. Toews made this statement both George Bush and his former Vice-President Dick Cheney have visited Canada unmolested. It seems that Dudley Do-Right’s enthusiasm for justice does not extend to the rich and powerful.
Sadly, last week the Mounties did not get their man, and Canada’s reputation as a global champion of human rights has been greatly diminished as a result.