The Toronto Star Click logo for the original newspaper web page
The Toronto Star published my commentary article below, on the final day of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
* * *
In the soaring words of the Olympic Charter, the ultimate purpose of the Olympic movement is “the preservation of human dignity” to the exclusion of “discrimination of any kind”. But high words cast a long shadow over low deeds, and much of the global drama around the Sochi Olympics has been an object lesson in barefaced hypocrisy.
When Russia was criticised in the international media for its 2013 law banning “homosexual propaganda,” Vladimir Putin took to the airwaves to reassure the world that the Sochi Olympics would still be free of any discrimination.
Yet, during the same interview, he paused to associate homosexuality with paedophilia and to warn tourists in “non-traditional sexual relationships” to “leave children alone, please”.
Since then, Russian authorities have arrested approximately twenty-four people for protesting in favour of gay rights, including four people whose crime was to hold up a banner bearing the words of the Olympic Charter.
When the IOC was inundated with demands that it oppose the Russian law, former IOC president Jacques Rogge pleaded impotence: “The International Olympic Committee can not be expected to have an influence on sovereign affairs of a country,” he said.
Yet, at every Olympic Games, the IOC makes extensive demands on the sovereign affairs of nations, which governments must meet as a condition of hosting the Games.
It was to satisfy such demands the British parliament passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 and included sections to give the Olympic committees extraordinary rights over ordinary English-language words that could never have been privately trademarked under existing laws, words such as “games”, “summer”, and “London”. The Act also compelled the Secretary of State to “have regard to any requests or guidance from the International Olympic Committee” in creating further regulations.
Protecting its marketing strategy was important enough to the IOC for it to influence the “sovereign affairs” of the United Kingdom, to change domestic law and curtail freedom of expression. Protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people was simply not important enough to the IOC for it to exercise a similar level of influence on Russian law.
When citizens called on western governments to act, many politicians were happy to curry popular favour with denunciatory speeches and political gestures. “We wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination in anything, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Barack Obama, shortly before deploying a delegation to Sochi pointedly comprised of openly gay retired athletes.
Yet, Obama’s clarity does not appear to extend to the eight states in his own country that also have laws prohibiting “promotion of homosexuality” to children. Alabama and Texas go furthest, requiring public schools to teach children “that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” More brazenly still, they insist that schools teach “that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense,” notwithstanding the fact that the US Supreme Court invalidated American anti-sodomy laws eleven years ago.
It is easy for politicians to cast themselves as heroic figures by railing against actions in other nations. But when they are silently complicit in similar abuses on their own soil, they not only expose the emptiness of their theatrics, but also degrade the principles for which they purport to speak.
If the Sochi Olympics have but one lesson, it is that no one has a monopoly on virtue.
Vladimir Putin poses as a protector of children, while making gay youth outcasts in their own country. The IOC poses as an organisation above politics, while unabashedly bending national politics to its commercial interests. Barack Obama poses as a defender of human rights by grappling with foreign governments, while he shies from the fight in domestic politics.
But the Sochi Olympics may yet help realise the grand words of the Olympic Charter, not in spite of all this hypocrisy, but precisely because of it.
The Games brought Russia’s homophobic law to global prominence, and have motivated ordinary people around the world to join hands with the very individuals the law was meant to isolate. They made the words of the Olympic Charter a rallying cry amongst athletes and spectators who have sought to hold the IOC to its rhetoric. They caused politicians to take a stand on the international stage, which in time may reassure those politicians that there is a constituency for the same principles of justice in domestic politics.
Nothing in Sochi did more to honour and advance the Olympic Charter, than the worldwide fight for equality unleashed by these Games.
Your Excellencies, honourable President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, honourable legislators, distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends:
I should like to begin by thanking each of you for doing us the honour of attending our Anti-Corruption Summit of Caribbean Parliamentarians.
Each of you has been invited to this summit because you are one of your nation’s recognised leaders, and because through your public responsibilities and personal examples, it is in your power to change your country and to change the world. We are grateful for your willingness to spend the next two days working together to change the world for the better, by combatting domestic and transnational corruption.
In addition to having an absurdly long name, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, or GOPAC, is a worldwide alliance of parliamentarians working together to combat corruption, strengthen good government, and uphold the rule of law. Headquartered in Canada, GOPAC has 49 national chapters spread across every inhabited region of the world.
Our members come from different cultures, speak different languages, profess different faiths, and support different political parties. And at election time, many of them work very hard to destroy one another’s political careers.
But we are united by a common conviction: that corruption is one of the greatest threats to the wellbeing of nations and to the rights of all mankind, and that it is the responsibility of parliamentarians, as the representatives and the servants of the people, to be the people’s sword and shield in the fight against corruption.
The full impact of corruption almost defies understanding.
Money laundering is now the world’s third largest industry, by total economic value.
For every dollar that the developing world receives in international aid, it loses ten dollars to corruption.
Corruption kills 140 000 children every year, by depriving them of food, water, and medical care.
Corruption is the disgrace of our age, and a rebuke to the entire human race.
But we are here today because corruption poses additional, particular challenges for the nations of the cultural and geographic Caribbean, challenges that we believe only the peoples of the Caribbean can face together and overcome together.
As a global organisation, GOPAC is conscious that every region of the world is unique. My own sense is that across the Caribbean, the struggle against corruption is a struggle in which our shared history has been both our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.
There is no denying that the legacy of colonial policies of divide and conquer, of divide and rule, is a poison that has seeped deep into each of our nations. It courses through racial and religious divisions in our societies, in social structures based on isolation and disempowerment, and ultimately, in political tactics grounded in patronage and plunder.
However, while historic colonialism may help explain modern corruption, it certainly does not excuse it, because we have a choice.
Apartheid gave us some of colonialism’s worst crimes, yet the choice of people of conscience to stand against Apartheid gave us both Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, and Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.
We are all shaped by history, but as leaders in our respective societies, we can refuse to be prisoners of history. We can define ourselves through the choices we make today, rather than allow ourselves to be defined by the choices made by others in the distant past.
There is also no denying that the colonial inheritance of democratic institutions has been our truest guarantor of the public trust. The supremacy of parliament has given us what no other political systems in the world possess: the absolute prerogative of a vigilant, relentless, and fearless community of parliamentarians to stand between our leaders and the levers of power. The corrupt use of government authority is impossible in a parliamentary democracy, if parliamentarians collectively say “no”.
All of us are here today, because we have chosen to say no.
Throughout the next two days, our discussions will focus on developing and applying laws, regulations, and international instruments to combat money laundering and to enforce the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. We are delighted to have the assistance of some of the world’s most sought-after experts to support our discussions.
Just as importantly, however, is that we will have a chance to join hands and join forces in our shared fight against corruption, across party lines and across national boundaries.
The path is hard, the journey is long, and those who fight against us are powerful and ruthless. But all of us in GOPAC’s worldwide alliance of Parliamentarians commit to fighting with you and for you, every step of the way.
The Huffington Post - The United Nations Click logo for original article - Click photo for UNCAC agenda
Last week, I was in Panama, leading the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption delegation at the United Nations UNCAC Conference of States Parties. My article in the Huffington Post (below) describes our efforts to employ international law to combat the most serious forms of corruption. The results were potentially historic: our global community of legislators unanimously supported our recommendation to declare grand corruption a Crime Against Humanity. It was a good week.
* * *
Every year, corruption kills as many as 140 000 children worldwide, by depriving them of medical care, food, and water.
Yet, far too often, the perpetrators of the most outrageous acts of corruption are able to use their illicit wealth and power to pervert the very laws and institutions that should call them to account. As a result, the worst offenders are the least likely to face domestic justice.
In such cases, when national authorities are unwilling or unable to act, the international community has a responsibility to step forward.
In February, seven hundred parliamentarians from across the world came together in Manila, and voted unanimously to seek to establish “grand corruption” as a crime at international law, to enable international institutions to pursue, apprehend, prosecute, judge, and ultimately sentence the guilty.
Our alliance of parliamentarians believes that there are some forms of corruption so grave, whose effects on human life, human dignity, and human rights are so catastrophic, that they should shock the conscience of the international community and mobilise the will of nations to act across borders.
To give effect to this belief, we will presented four options to the global community of parliamentarians at this week’s Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention Against Corruption, being held in Panama City. Each option has its advantages and its disadvantages, and each strikes a different balance between the ideal and the possible.
The first option is to expand the ability of national courts to assert universal jurisdiction over grand corruption. The doctrine of universality asserts that some crimes are so egregious that they are an affront to all humanity and are therefore prosecutable by any state, irrespective of where the crime was committed and irrespective of the accused’s nationality or place of residence. The Spanish courts’ indictment of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet demonstrated universal jurisdiction’s powerful reach; their inability to bring him to trial exposed the doctrine’s frequently feeble grasp.
The second option is to make use of existing regional courts in Africa, Europe, and Latin America to prosecute grand corruption. Regional courts tend to enjoy greater credibility and standing in their subscribing states than do global institutions; they also tend to be derided for a timorous unwillingness to apply the powers at their disposal.
The third option is to argue for an expansive interpretation of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to deem grand corruption to be a Crime Against Humanity. The symbolism of the ICC as a global court of last resort and ultimate justice has captured public imagination; the reality of its resources and its record have never soared to equal heights.
The fourth option is a series of legal innovations, involving both criminal and civil instruments, many of which focus on undoing damages to victims rather than on punishing wrongdoers. Making victims whole is one of the key objectives of any system of justice, but victims are unlikely to feel that justice has been served while their victimisers walk free.
Each option is imperfect, but in an imperfect world, success must be measured not by our ability to attain perfection, but instead by our ability to make tomorrow better than yesterday.
The response of the world’s legislators and governments to these options will help decide how our global alliance of parliamentarians will move forward against grand corruption. The journey will be long; the path will be hard. But we would never reach the end if we allowed ourselves to be cowed by the start.
The world is littered with women and men who feed on the misery of entire societies, who have grown fat in their spoils and comfortable in their impunity, sheltering behind national jurisdictions and national institutions that they have been able to twist to their benefit.
But there is a higher law. There is a deeper justice. And we have a responsibility to stand up for it.
The Huffington Post - The Hagia Sophia Click logo for original article - Click photo for full image
Over the course of the coming year, much of my focus at the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) will be on work with international institutions to locate, freeze, and ultimately restore to the Syrian people assets stolen from them by the Assad regime. Our objective is to starve the regime of the resources it has been using to perpetuate the conflict, and to thereby help bring the war to an earlier conclusion.
The work will require me to travel quite extensively, and I plan to write a series of personal vignettes on the people, places, and customs I encounter, which will be published by the Huffington Post.
I wrote my first article of the series during a brief moment of contemplation between intense discussions in Istanbul.
* * *
Recently, work took me to Istanbul to meet with the Syrian resistance. We discussed options for the international community to help bring an end to the Syrian war, by destroying the financial networks that enable the Assad regime to purchase weapons and finance assaults against civilians.
As we pored over accounts of massacres, a clawing despair seemed to grip us, and it became difficult to hold on to any sense of perspective.
One afternoon, I decided to clear my mind and pay a brief visit to the Hagia Sophia, the monumental edifice in the ancient heart of the city. The “Holy Wisdom” is almost 1500 years old, and is - at least in my amateur opinion - the single greatest masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.
Its history is intertwined with the history of civilisation itself, and it has outlasted both the highest triumphs and the lowest terrors nations have known.
It became the centre of the state religion, Orthodox Catholicism, as the Western Roman Empire declined and the Eastern Roman Empire arose. It was converted into an imperial mosque a thousand years later, when the Eastern Roman Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. It was secularised into a museum almost five hundred years later, after the First World War delivered the deathblow to the decaying Ottoman Empire.
It is difficult to conceive of how much change this building has survived, or how important it remained even as the world order ebbed and flowed around it.
Today, it bears the accumulated fingerprints of its Christian, Muslim, and secular eras. Images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary gaze down upon enormous discs bearing the names of Allah and the Prophet Mohammad, all hovering over a vast chamber where the modern Turkish state has banned any religious activity.
It also has an unmistakable air of faded grandeur. The ancient mosaics are crumbling, and the rim of its colossal dome now traces a worryingly oblong path atop its walls.
Its history is intertwined with the history of civilisation itself, and it has outlasted both the highest triumphs and the lowest terrors nations have known.
For one-and-a-half millennia, millions of people of different faiths passed through the Hagia Sophia, giving thanks for their joys or seeking solace for their miseries, hoping or fearing that the world would never change. Yet, all the while, the Hagia Sophia has remained a silent witness to the fact that world has done nothing but change.
It is a comfort for everyone struggling to change any part of the world for the better.
My one conversation with Margaret Thatcher began with a chill in the air, and ended with our host mopping his brow. We were all polite, but there were daggers behind the smiles and venom coiled around the courtesy.
I had previously served as president of my university’s student government, during a year dominated by an intensely bitter struggle with Thatcher’s successors. During those difficult days, my most stalwart ally had been Roy Jenkins, my university’s Chancellor and Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. We met a year later in the gilded halls of the Palace of Westminster to reminisce over our battles, which had left the Conservative government humbled and the Secretary of State for Education dismissed from Cabinet.
It was then that Thatcher glided by.
Learning that I am Canadian, she took a moment to speak glowingly of Brian Mulroney’s foreign policies, and to express regret at his departure from office. I was unable to share her enthusiasm.
“Surely, only a very, very foolish person indeed would fail to see that Mr Mulroney raised your country’s standing on the international stage,” she said, in tones that dared me to declare my membership in the ranks of the fools.
We held each other’s gaze for a moment.
“I think Canadians certainly feel a great sense of pride that he made Canada a leader in the international fight against Apartheid,” I replied. “He stood up for human freedom, while others who had uttered its rhetoric stood aside.”
Thatcher relished the opportunity to give voice to her self-assurance. “To be a leader is to make difficult decisions. I was able to do so because there are things I believe in, things I am prepared to sacrifice for, things I am willing to be unpopular for,” she replied. “If only your Liberal Party could say the same.”
The news of Thatcher’s death, coming days before the Liberal Party of Canada chooses its new leader, brought her verdict back to me.
There is no denying that the Liberal Party’s long association with power made it a magnet for individuals drawn to power rather than to public service, a tool of Liberals of convenience rather than Liberals of conviction. The question that will confront its next leader is not whether the Liberal Party can rebuild its fabled political machine into one capable of waging an effective campaign; it is whether it can rediscover its ideals and return as a party deserving of our country’s trust.
If it is to have any hope of doing so, it will need to find the courage to resist the lure of comforting self-deceptions and the seduction of recent polls.
The party’s decline at successive elections was not due to some lapse in judgment by a rueful electorate that yearns to repent at the next opportunity. It was not a want of resources that can be remedied by a new crop of bagmen or ward heelers. It was not an absence of messianic personalities whose charisma could substitute for grassroots renewal.
The Liberal Party instead received a calculated rebuke from Canadians against the divisions and hubris they saw gnawing at it. It was dismissed by an electorate who concluded that the Liberal Party was no longer willing or able to deliver liberal policies or governance.
The irony is that the fundamental tenets of liberalism remain as resonant with Canadians today as during the Liberal Party’s salad days. It is why, in an effort to capitalise on its electoral successes, the NDP continues to try to strip the word “socialist” from its constitution. It is why the Conservative Party leader describes himself as a “classical liberal”. And it is why genuine liberalism has nothing to do with a compromise between the extremes of other parties.
The ideals of liberalism are founded upon a single article of faith: that liberty is the highest political good, and that as a result, the first duty of government is to seek the greatest liberty for the one that is compatible with liberty for all.
It insists that every right is balanced by a corresponding responsibility. It holds that election to office is not a licence to rule, but a contract to serve.
It believes in the equal dignity of all citizens and in equality of opportunity, but it rejects equality of outcome, insisting instead that people of unequal talent and industry should be allowed to reap as they sow.
It celebrates individual initiative and looks towards a vision of society as a meritocracy, and expects those who benefit the most from society to bear proportionately the greatest responsibility towards society.
Ultimately, liberalism holds that a nation is bound together by a social contract, because the interests of each individual are inextricably linked to the well being of every other member of society, making prosperity and social justice inseparable. Liberals know that in the long term, we will succeed or fail as a people, not just as individuals.
If it is to redeem itself, the Liberal Party must treat the upcoming leadership election as a means towards an end, and not an end in itself.
It is an opportunity to begin building a national institution on a foundation of genuine democratic accountability, rather than the rule of one person. It is a chance to start articulating a liberal vision for Canada in a world that Laurier could not have imagined. It is an invitation to offer tangible policies that speak to the values that define us as Canadians.
At the end of our conversation, Thatcher offered me a laugh that conveyed mockery rather than mirth. “Young man,” she said, “what you believe in is liberalism. Semantics aside, it is unrelated to your Liberal Party.”
After it has elected a new leader, the Liberal Party of Canada will have only two years to prove her wrong.
Flickr and Facebook Click the logos for my photoblogs from the Championships
Despite all appearances to the contrary in the Ottawa Valley, spring is upon us, and that can only mean one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is not a respite from -10ºC temperatures, deep snow, or thick ice sheets across my fields. It is the arrival of the Asian Tent Pegging Championships.
A 2500 year-old cavalry sport of horse, sword, lance, and reckless abandon, Tent Pegging has nothing to do with tents and relatively little to do with pegs, and is better known in the New World as Equestrian Skill-at-Arms.
The 2013 Asian Championships will be held in the heat of India, just outside Delhi in the city of Gurgaon, and I am deeply honoured to be riding once more for UNICEF Team Canada.
During our ten-hour flight, my seatmate told me that he was travelling to Brasilia on a pilgrimage to meet the faith healer “John of God”, hoping for a cure for his daughter’s Parkinson’s disease. I replied that I was travelling to address the International AntiCorruption Conference, hoping to build a consensus amongst parliamentarians and NGOs to use international law to fight political corruption.
My seatmate looked at me with an air of sympathy and scepticism. To him, I was obviously the one chasing a miracle.
We live in an age of dire cynicism about corruption in politics. Nearly three-quarters of Canadians surveyed for Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer judged their government’s efforts against corruption to be “ineffective”. By this measure, Canadians have a lower opinion of their own government’s commitment to public integrity than do Pakistanis, Iraqis, and Nigerians.
Since then, ongoing revelations by Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission of an orgy of bribery, influence peddling, and organised crime in the corridors of power have done little to improve the standing of Canada’s governing class.
Globally, the consequences of political corruption almost defy understanding.
The World Bank estimates that more than $1 trillion are paid in bribes every year, the largest of which are to obtain state contracts and monopolies. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that multinational criminality moves $2.1 trillion per year across borders, enabled by the active collusion or passive inattention of regulators. The Tax Justice Network estimates that governments lose $3.1 trillion per year because of tax evasion, disproportionately by those with the resources to sway policy makers or public servants.
By comparison, meeting the much-vaunted Millennium Development Goals – eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, establishing universal primary education, reducing child mortality by twothirds, reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters, halting the spread of HIV and malaria, halving the proportion of people without access to clean water and sanitation, and promoting gender equality in schools and the workforce – would cost no more than $481billion in development.
What the world loses to corruption in a single year would be enough to end the worst forms of human misery and transform human civilisation, at least a dozen times over.
Political corruption robs citizens of our own resources, our fundamental rights, and our very identities as members of a free and equal society. It makes the weak prey to the strong, and delivers control of society into the hands of the unjust. It debilitates the nation, undermines the rule of law, and rots public confidence in democracy. It is a crime against hope itself.
Corruption takes many forms: the theft of public resources; the sale of political influence; the betrayal of the public trust. In all cases, however, corruption thrives when political power is able to operate in the shadows, and it withers before the glare of public scrutiny.
The solution to corruption is therefore extraordinarily simple to describe, though fiendishly difficult to achieve: a vigilant, relentless, and fearless community of citizens and parliamentarians, standing together between our leaders and the levers of power.
Parliamentarians are the watchdogs of democracy, and it is tragic that so many citizens of so many nations perceive our watchdogs as having muted their bark, muzzled their bite, and been neutered by the very powers they were meant to hold at bay. It is a perception that is too often justified, but it is a perception that is just as often desperately unfair.
There are parliamentarians around the world who risk their lives every day to speak for those who would otherwise have no voice. There are parliamentarians who tilt at the powerful for no better reason than to shield others. There are still parliamentarians who understand that election to office is not a licence to rule, but a contract to serve.
Civic organisations, parliamentarians, and global institutions have come together this week in Brasilia at the International Anti-Corruption Conference, in an effort to join forces in the fight against corruption. It is the single largest anti-corruption gathering in history.
We have seen a parade of noble laureates and village volunteers. We have wrestled with strategies that tell of vision and of folly. We have heard cries of optimism and howls of impotent rage.
But ultimately, this gathering will succeed only if it ends by inspiring cynical citizens to believe that the political process can be part of the solution, not only part of the problem; by stirring courage in timorous legislators to stare down those who know no restraint; and by convincing both groups that together, we can achieve the victory over corruption that none of us can reach alone.
The Globe and Mail Click the logo for the original newspaper web page
There are times to keep one's own counsel, and there are times to speak out. This is a time to speak out. Needless to say, although I am a former CEO of Equine Canada, the executive arm of the Canadian Equestrian Team and the national governing body for equestrianism, my Globe and Mail article represents my personal views.
* * *
In the soaring language of the Olympic Charter, the very first “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” include “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” But high words cast a long shadow over low deeds.
On Saturday, Tiffany Foster, one of Canada’s Jumping team members, was disqualified from the Olympics by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), after its Veterinary Commission discovered a superficial scratch above one of her horse’s hooves.
The FEI justified its decision by citing regulations designed to protect horses from abusive competition practices, in which unscrupulous riders scald or inflame their horses’ legs, to force the horses to leap higher in a desperate attempt to avoid striking hypersensitised skin against the fences.
The regulations are absolutely legitimate. The FEI’s attempt to apply them to Foster’s situation was absurd.
The FEI has conceded that there is no suggestion that Foster acted improperly, neither through malice nor through negligence, neither through omission nor through commission. The FEI Veterinary Commission did not even bother to take the horse out of its stall to examine it further or to test its movement for any signs of discomfort. There is no evidence that the horse itself was even aware of the scratch, other than when it was poked repeatedly.
The FEI acknowledged that Foster had no ill intentions. It acknowledged that she committed no wrongful act. It acknowledged that she failed in none of her responsibilities. It presented no evidence that her horse was in any distress.
It nevertheless punished her by casting her out from the Olympics.
By wrapping indefensible decisions in the false flag of horse welfare, the FEI has done more than wrong individual athletes. It has brought its commitment to horse welfare into disrepute, and demonstrated a willingness to make its most important rules the enemies of the most basic standards of justice.
How is such a state of affairs possible? The FEI regulations state baldly, “there is no appeal against the decision of the Ground Jury to disqualify a horse for abnormal sensitivity.” There is explicitly no remedy for those who have been treated unjustly; there are no consequences for those who wield power capriciously. And power without accountability inevitably invites abuse.
Many Canadians will shake their heads in sympathy for Foster, then shrug their shoulders in the belief that there is nothing to be done, that the forces arrayed against her and other athletes are simply too powerful, that the interests embodied in international sport organisations are too entrenched. But this is only true if we allow it to be so.
As Canadians, we have a choice, and we have a responsibility to choose to not go gentle into that good night.
In a globalised world, we can project our values into the international system, or we can allow ourselves to become prisoners of the values of others. We can speak up for the ideals good sportsmanship, or we can stifle the voice of conscience when those ideals are trampled. We can stand with our athletes, or we can collude with those who treat their dreams as expendable commodities.
After Foster was sent home from the Olympics, Equine Canada, the Canadian Equestrian Team’s governing federation, chose to issue a statement thanking the FEI for its conduct in this affair. Its choice was a public obscenity, and an affront to every athlete who has ever carried the maple leaf into competition. In response, Eric Lamaze, perhaps the greatest equestrian athlete Canada has ever produced, chose to announce that he will never again compete under Equine Canada’s authority, unless the federation reverses its position.
This is more than a fight over the treatment of a single athlete. This is more than a struggle for the future of equestrian sport. This is a battle for the values, the honour, and the very soul of our country’s national sporting system.
Lamaze has chosen to risk everything to stand with the angels. I believe in my heart that Canadians will not leave him to stand alone.
Although Canadians have always prided ourselves on being a courteous and tolerant people, our political culture is becoming disconcertingly hysterical and destructive. In my Insight broadcast essay for TVOntario's The Agenda, I argue that this development is not only unworthy of our national identity, but also a fundamental betrayal of the very ideals of democracy. The broadcast is available via streaming video through my YouTube Channel and via podcast through iTunes, as well as directly above. My original text is below.
* * *
There is no worse cancer in a free society than the thuggish impulse to equate dissent as disloyalty. Well before the Roman Republic, free citizens of free nations understood that the greatest patriot is the person with the courage to be the lone voice in the crowd crying out that the Emperor has no clothes. The test of our society’s democratic nature is our instinct to value the right of our fellow human beings to disagree with us.
Because of this, the most perverse aspect of McCarthyism is not that it sought to stifle public debate, but that it did so while wrapping itself in the flag of liberty. During the heydays of the Cold War, US Senator McCarthy and his political accomplices stigmatised thousands of Americans who dared to express dissent as Communist agents. They blacklisted, persecuted, and publicly humiliated innocent people. They attacked free thought as subversion against the state. At its height, the McCarthyists denounced vaccines, fluoride, and public literacy as tentacles of an elaborate Communist conspiracy to infiltrate the American government.
The history of McCarthyism and of the House Un-American Activities Committee has become a cautionary tale to the unwary: the greatest threat to our democracy is not barbarians at the gate, but politicians amongst us ready to pursue their ambitions by demonising anyone who dares to stand up and speak out.
And yet, it seems that history has taught us nothing, as Canadian politics fall thoughtlessly into the clutches of a new McCarthyism.
When Canadians oppose a Cabinet Minister’s plans to expand police powers, the Minister vilifies them as allies of child molesters.
When interest groups support the government, opposition MPs regularly smear them as bigots. When the courts review the conduct of an election, a party campaign accuses the judiciary of attempting to overthrow democracy.
When political parties discuss forming a coalition government - a pillar of Parliamentary process - political operatives claim those parties are fomenting a coup d’état.
When environmentalists criticise government policies, Senators savage them as being anti-Canadian and question whether they would accept funds from terrorists or - and I am not making this up - Martians. Yes, as in creatures from the planet Mars, though presumably carrying Canadian currency.
Senator McCarthy no doubt knew of Marx’s assertion that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Fifty years ago, American Senators insisted that their opponents were all Communists; today, Canadian Parliamentarians would have us believe that their opponents are all child molesters, subversives, and extra-terrestrials.
McCarthy was a greater traitor to his country than any imagined Communist, and Canadian politicians who ape his methods are just as surely betraying ours. Their behaviour is a public obscenity and a disgrace to the democracy we elected them to serve. Americans eventually roused themselves from the nightmare of their McCarthyists and cast them aside. The time is long overdue for Canadians to do the same.