The Commons: The wild west - Macleans.ca

The Commons: The wild west

Who needs warning shots when you’ve got torture?

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The Scene. Joe Comartin stood up, stepped forward and ventured a novel theory.

“Mr. Speaker,” the NDP House leader posited, “you cannot be half for torture. You are either for or against.”

Given those choices, the Defence Minister decided to go with latter. “Mr. Speaker, our government has always respected the law and our position is clear,” Peter MacKay reported. “Canada does not approve of the use of torture and does not engage in this practice.”

Alas, this simple equation seems only to make perfect sense if you leave it at that.

For Mr. MacKay’s benefit, Mr. Comartin returned to his feet to review yesterday’s rhetoric. “Yesterday, the Minister of National Defence acted irresponsibly by suggesting that Air Canada Centre was a prime target for terrorists. Then the Minister of Public Safety soon followed with his own hypothetical scenarios about planes full of Newfoundlanders being blown up. All of this is to back up their irresponsible message to other countries that Canada is in the market for information based on torture,” he recounted. “The government should oppose torture, no question about it. When will it rescind the directive?”

Here then the Defence Minister decided to revisit Mr. Comartin’s first point. “Mr. Speaker, let me be clear again, Canada does not condone torture and does not use torture,” he said. “However, Canada will use information to save lives.”

Mr. MacKay apparently had nothing more to say to explain this nuance, so he opted to suggest that the NDP’s justice critic had somehow contradicted himself—the Defence Minister did not indicate how—in speaking with reporters outside the House yesterday. Whatever Jack Harris said or did not say, he has apparently not learned that when faced by a pack of reporters shouting difficult questions, the politician is better off making for the stairs.

Mr. Comartin was now, quite literally, flabbergasted—increasingly animated and noticeably struggling to convey what he was hearing, at one point failing so profoundly to find the words that he went silent for a second or two. He spat out what seemed to him the logical conclusion: “In this case they may as well torture people right here in Canada by the message they are sending out.”

There were groans and grumbles from the government side. The Speaker called for order.

“Mr. Speaker, then yesterday, or the day before, the Minister of Justice was out publicly advocating for people to shoot warning shots. We heard that prisoners should hang themselves,” Mr. Comartin continued. “We heard that from them. People should shoot from the hip. Torture is okay. Those are the messages we are getting. This is not the wild west, this is Canada.”

Not that there was a question here, but Mr. MacKay stood anyway. “Mr. Speaker, what a litany of misinformation and convoluted facts,” he moaned. Not that he could say what specifically Mr. Comartin had misstated.

A few moments later, Bob Rae attempted to follow up on one of Mr. Comartin’s complaints. “The Minister of Justice stated that, in his opinion, when faced with a hypothetical, I thought it would be okay for a property owner to shoot a few warning shots in the air or perhaps even over the head of the perpetrator,” the interim Liberal leader reported. “I would like to ask the minister this very simple question. What is he going to say to the family of the little girl crossing the road down the street when somebody fires a warning shot at somebody entering their property? Does he not understand the danger of promoting vigilante justice in our society?”

Tuesday, the Minister of Justice was indeed asked if, in the hypothetical, he felt it reasonable to fire a shot “in the air” or “around the people” if a trespasser was observed attempting to steal one’s all-terrain vehicle. “I think it is,” he apparently responded.

Here though Rob Nicholson was positively besmirched. “Mr. Speaker, that is not what I said, at all,” he groused.

Furrowing his brow, raising his voice and fuming all about, the Justice Minister proceeded to condemn the Liberals for having dared question him on this point. “Why is it so difficult for the Liberals to figure out who the real victims are?” he begged. “If people are coming onto other people’s property to set fire to their car, breaking into their house or attacking their family, those are the bad guys. Why can the Liberals not ever figure that out? How come they cannot figure out who the real victims are and stand up for them for a change?”

Of course, if the waterboarding of someone in a foreign land should provide us with the information necessary to preemptively stop a marauding hoard of pyromaniacs, we might even save ourselves the warning shots.

The Stats. Pensions, nine questions. Trade, six questions. CSIS, search-and-rescue and military procurement, three questions each. The disabled and the CBC, two questions each. Crime, foreign investment, terrorism, the census, equality, infrastructure, national parks and bilingualism, one question each.

Diane Finley, nine answers. Peter MacKay, eight answers. Deepak Obhrai and Denis Lebel, five answers each. Julian Fantino, three answers. Christian Paradis and James Moore, two answers each. Rob Nicholson, Dave Anderson, Keith Ashfield and Peter Kent, one answer each.