So George Bush was in Canada this week, giving a talk to Albertans (lovely people, really) on the challenges the world will face in the 21st century. I presume this was because he went to Yale…
But what is more interesting than the subject of his lecture (giggle) was that he was allowed to leave Canada. With his guilt not at all in doubt (in that he authorised war crimes during his presidency – abuse of prisoners, golf, et cetera), there were moves by outraged lawyers Canadians wanting to have him arrested when he touched down in Cowtown.
That might sound like a shrill notion, like a wet suggestion waiting for a dry placard, but it could have conceivably happened. My own politics aside, it should have happened. Because even if we gave Bush every benefit of doubt, we had something of a responsibility to seize him, not to mention the moral imperative making it just so darn easy to do so.
Now out of office, not only is the former president bereft of diplomatic immunity as a head of state, but there’s also local precedent on the books that would compel us to arrest him. It’s the law.
We could have taken him in for questioning if we had wanted to, given him his one phone call. We could have really shown to the world and reminded the West that the letter of the law is the law. But we didn’t.
Via The Tyee:
“There certainly is jurisdiction under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act,” said Michael Byers, UBC law professor and the Canadian Research Chair in International Law and Politics.
The act, passed in 2000, allows the Canadian government to charge someone for war crimes even if the accused is a foreign citizen and the crimes took place abroad.
“It’s absolutely cutting-edge legislation,” Byers said. “It’s probably the best and most wide-reaching legislation in the world and we can be proud of it. The only thing we can’t be proud of is our reluctance to implement it.”
If there was ever outrage to the south as a consequence that went beyond Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Drudge, and the 33% of Americans who still believe that Adam and Eve rode to church on the backs of dinosaurs, it could have been a proper, right lovely spectacle. And if the new Obama administration demanded that we release Bush (yes they can), we most absolutely would. Therein lies the moment, when the right battle is lost in order to start a war, one of truth and reconciliation versus exceptionalism and hubris.
For Obama, Bush being arrested in Canada would have been a great trial balloon for testing domestic and global opinion on any move he could make against the former president that involved the US Attorney General’s office. It might even force his hand. Obama has been an artful dodger on what to do with those in the Bush administration who went off the reservation, and this would surely nudge him to take a stand one way or the other. I’m sure his politicos are advising him well, reminding him that depending on which way he goes on this one thing, he could win or lose in 2012. It would be an election-shaping move, and he would own it. A big decision to make.
Bush would have flown home to Texas, shaken and freaked, more famous for this moment than any other. It would be the opening line of his encyclopedia entry in every language around the world; a global scarlet letter barring him from the better annals of All That Has Come To Pass. It could have been played like an extradition, but we wimped out. We had a responsibility to the world and fealty to our own law, but we failed. Well, not “we” so much as the government of Canada. It was our moment, and we let it go.
Beyond being denied Bush in handcuffs (suit jacket hiding them beautifully) and ducking down into an RCMP Interceptor with a look of sheer “Help me Daddy” on his face, the real tragedy is seeing a world leader, ours, swinging and missing a slow pitch from providence, a real doozy right over the plate. Harper’s appreciation of history, I just learned, is equivalent to a horse’s understanding of mousse. Pity.
If there is any poetry off the page, then another country will take the honour, but you can be assured it won’t be one as universally respected and so closely allied to the USA as Canada. Hell, we’re even fighting a war together right now (which sort of makes insurgents captured by the Americans ours as well). No one could have done it better, or have had such a Himalayan summit of moral high ground (Arar case notwithstanding) than we Canadians. It was an historic opportunity, and few are ever so golden. Fewer still are so perfectly written. And we totally blew it.
On the bright side, something tells me that Bush will be stamping his passport carefully now. Look at Cheney’s travel schedule. That dude is going nowhere, never, again.
Andrew Morrison is a west coast boy who studied history and classics at the Universities of Cape Town and Toronto after an adolescence spent riding skateboards and working in restaurants. He is the editor of Scout Magazine, the weekly food and restaurant columnist for the Westender newspaper, a contributor to Vancouver and Western Living magazines, and a proud board member of the Chef’s Table Society of BC. He lives and works by the beach in Vancouver.