Does end justify means?
For almost a year now, RCMP and Canada Border Services officers have been allowed to use information obtained through torture.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews quietly issued the directive last September. He issued the directive so quietly that it came to light only through the Access to Information Act.
Canada’s spy service has been operating under similar rules for even longer.
Toews defends the government’s decision to use information gathered while inflicting deliberate pain and suffering on others with all the aplomb of a teenager caught raiding his father’s liquor cabinet.
He acknowledges that torture is a fundamentally abhorrent practice that runs directly contrary to Canada’s reputation as a protector of human rights. He insists that Canada neither condones torture nor engages in it. He goes on to reassure us that torture-tainted information will be used to defend ourselves in only the most dire circumstances. He accuses Canadians who are unwilling to use the such information to protect public safety or property of dithering.
Toews’ argument suggests that Canadians — weak, nervous, even trembling in the face of terror — lack the stomach for torture. Fortunately, Toews and his fellow Conservatives found a way to make it palatable for us, if only in small doses.
Toews’ justifications for using torture-tainted information bear all the hallmarks of what David Luban refers to as the “ticking time bomb” argument. A professor of law and philosophy at Georgetown University, Luban argues the “time bomb” — really any imminent catastrophe in which a number of lives are at stake — is central to creating a “liberal ideology of torture” that upholds the practise as an effective self-defence tool while mitigating the cruel, tyrannical and degrading qualities that prompt so much dithering. He goes on to argue the “time bomb” is little more than an intellectual fraud that enables us to avoid real questions about the effects of torture on our morality or culture.
Why is information obtained through torture acceptable as long as we don’t get our hands dirty obtaining it? If CSIS, RCMP and Canada Border Service officers are allowed to use this type of information to protect our shores, which the Conservatives very much condone, why should they be forced to rely on second-hand information provided by notoriously unreliable Third World dictatorships?
Would it not be better to cut out the middle-man and allow these organizations to torture suspects themselves to ensure the information that is deemed key to disarming the time bomb is gathered as efficiently and as humanely as possible?
The federal government could spend some of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to set up a program to ensure our torturers are properly trained in the appropriate application of pain and suffering.
Speaking of methodology, which methods of torture would Canadians deem to be acceptable? Will we pluck out suspects’ finger nails? Attach electrical wires to their chests? Waterboard them? Perhaps we can devise a method of torture that is uniquely Canadian, the stuff of a terror suspect’s nightmares. Failing that, we could simply fill a bag with pucks and beat suspects until they talked. If they don’t, we could beat their wives and children in front of them until they do, because when the ends justify the means, there is no limit to how far we will go to defuse the bomb.
Of course, debating torture as an organized social practice quickly verges on the absurd because the questions raised are as abhorrent as the practice. It’s doubtful many Canadians would have the stomach for such a debate, which is why Toews and his fellow Conservatives prefer to deal with the issue in secret.
Canadians decided long ago that torture was incompatible with our values and our reputation as a protector of human rights. We’ve signed international agreements, such as the Convention Against Torture, which enshrine our legal obligations to oppose the practice in all its forms.
Toews’ directive to allow the use of information obtained through torture would have us embrace the torturer as a hero rather than the cruel, inhuman tyrant that he is.
Canadians do not want nor need those types of heroes to protect our life and property.
Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor.