Amici Curiae: The (Un?)Constitutionally Scanning, Killer Senate, and Freeing Suu Kyi Edition
Airport Security: The Bigger Picture
The defining characteristic of liberal democracies is, of course, the respect they ascribe to individuals as rights bearers, chief amongst which is often a right to autonomy or some degree of privacy. Obviously, however, liberal democracies also face challenges to national security. Given the significance we attribute to both individual rights and our desire to be secure, it should come as no surprise that when these two imperatives clash, the balance struck is often quite contentious.
One of the most familiar contexts in which this debate plays out is airport security. While increased wait times, having to take one’s shoes off when going through the metal detector, and not being able to pack one’s Pert Plus in one’s carry-on luggage are causes for enough frustration, it is the recent adoption of full body scanners in Canadian airports which is currently driving the debate. As Yosie St. Cyr notes, the use of such intrusive technology presents inherent concerns not just for particular religious, gender, and age groups, but for all travelers (or at least those who place significant value upon their constitutional right to a reasonable expectation of privacy). Nonetheless, given the nature of security threats in the post-9/11 era, such security concerns are not entirely misplaced.
In the United States where, arguably, security concerns (and, some might say, paranoia) are higher, airport security is no less controversial. There, passengers who refuse to submit to full-body scans are subject to rigorous “pat downs.”
Given the historical and current political importance Americans attach to the ideals of traditional liberalism (a reminder of which was provided by the most recent Congressional elections), but also the competing effects 9/11 has had on the American psyche, where the United States ultimately places the balance (ignoring the reality that such a balance is constantly shifting), will be rather telling. Likewise, given Canada’s historically more positive view of the state as well as our view of rights as less than inalienable (see Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 1), the balance we strike, relative to that chosen by our southern neighbours, will be equally significant.
Comparatively, whereas Israel’s El Al airline, which undeniably faces security threats as or more significant than those faced by the United States, uses certain procedures which would likely attract constitutional challenges in Canada, it has also been named the world’s most secure airline.
Police Brutality: Alive and Well
In what will likely become a staple in Canadian Criminal Law textbooks across the country, the Ontario Court of Justice in the recent case of R. v. Bonds has found that Ottawa police committed serious misconduct in their treatment of 27 year old, Ottawa resident Stacy Bonds.
In 2008, Ms. Bonds was arrested for public intoxication – a charge the presiding Justice Lajoie ruled was entirely inappropriate – and brought back to the police department where she was subjected to two violent knees to the back, strip searched, and then left partially naked for over three hours. The saga was caught on police videotape and has forced the Ottawa Police to conduct an internal investigation. Ms. Bonds is currently considering taking legal action against the Ottawa police force.
For the first time in 70 years, the Senate has defeated a bill passed by a majority of the House of Commons without proper debate.
Bill C-311, also known as the Climate Change Accountability Act, called for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
The bill, which was introduced by the NDP and successfully passed by the House in May, was defeated by a vote of 43-32 on Tuesday. The abrupt vote caught many Liberals off-guard, and more than 15 Liberals were absent that day. As reported in the Toronto Star, Conservatives will soon have a majority in the Upper House because the Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed 35 “friends” to the Senate. This action runs contrary to Harper’s position four years ago, when he attacked the Liberals for using an unelected Senate to thwart the will of elected House of Commons members.
NDP Leader Jack Layton was outraged that the Senate killed the climate bill, seen in this video here. “This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada,” Jack Layton said. “To take power that doesn’t rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country.”
On the other side, Harper said the bill “sets irresponsible targets, doesn’t lay out any measure of achieving them other than shutting down sections of the Canadian economy and throwing hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people out of work.”
Aung San Suu Kyi Gets Some, But Not All, Kinds of Freedom
As you have now likely heard, Aung San Suu Kyi, the 65-year-old Myanmar political dissident and Nobel Laureate, is freed from 15 years of house arrest that she endured in the past 21 years. Supporters gathered outside her house to greet the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), or “The Lady”, and one of the first things on her agenda was to fight for the other 2,100 political prisoners in Burmese jails.
However, Suu Kyi’s release is not equivalent to unconditional freedom—Myanmar’s Union Election Commission has already warned her that she could get re-arrested if she decided to challenge the country’s recent election. The last election of this kind was held 20 years ago, where the NLD won a sweeping victory that the junta failed to recognize. The recent election was also criticized by President Obama, claiming that it was “fundamentally flawed”. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote a statement on the release of Suu Kyi, urging the Burmese government to affirm that Suu Kyi’s release is based on unconditional terms.
Indifferent to perpetual threats, Suu Kyi is determined to push for relaxation of military rule, democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, and the rule of law. “I may be detained again,” Suu Kyi told CNN. “I just do what I can do at the moment.”
Suu Kyi is truly “a hero for us all.”
1-284 Conviction Rate
The first Guantanamo detainee, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was tried in a U.S. civilian court after being imprisoned from 2006 to 2009. A jury of six men and six women found him guilty on one count of conspiracy, but acquitted him of 284 charges. He was alleged to have participated in the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by buying seven gas cylinders and the truck used to transport them.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Kaplan refused to allow a key witness to testify because the witness was identified after Ghailani was harshly interrogated, and the U.S. Constitution protects an individual from admitting coerced testimony.
Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller said U.S. officials “respect the jury’s verdict” and are “pleased” that Ghailani faces a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison at sentencing on Jan. 25, the Huffington Post reported.
The Ghailani trial had been widely seen as a test for the Obama administration’s aim to try other terror suspects in U.S. civilian court. Some will view this case as a “victory for the rule of law’, while others will think that civilian courts are not suitable to hold Guantanamo trials, or even argue that the military prison at Guantanamo Bay should be kept open. Political debates from all quarters may be read here, here, here, and here.