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Arresting impunity: Canada's law enforcement system put on trial

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Arrest Bush: From Calgary, Alberta to Surrey, British Columbia

On Monday, May 2 a coalition of activists and civil resisters marched on Surrey City Hall in an attempt to school Mayor Dianne Watts on the voluminous domestic and supranational legislation that exists pertaining to credibly accused war criminals and other violators of human rights. Mayor Dianne Watts' ill conceived invitation to George W. Bush to come to Surrey, British Columbia to attend the annual Surrey Regional Economic Summit this coming Oct. 20 stimulated the demonstration, which was organized by Mohawk activist and author Splitting the Sky.

Splitting the Sky led the procession which marched peacefully in the direction of the mayor's office chanting "Arrest George Bush! Enforce the law!" Splitting the Sky presented Mayor Watts' communications specialist Tara Foslien with documents demonstrating the correspondence between Bush's self-admitted misdeeds and the Canadian laws explicitly prohibiting such crimes. The civil resister cited domestic legislation such as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act as examples of two legal bodies enshrined to prevent Canada from becoming a safe haven for war criminals.

Also in attendance was Professor Anthony Hall of the University of Lethbridge. Hall emphasized the need for law enforcement officials to transcend politics and implement the law equitably, regardless of the status of the offender. Hall addressed the many police officers present, telling them they will be told that "[Bush] is an 'Internationally Protected Person.' That is not true! [Bush] is a civilian. He is no longer a head of state."

The attempts to elucidate the illegitimacy of the proposed visit of Bush to British Columbia in October ought to be viewed as an extension of the citizens' mobilizations which began with Bush's controversial visit to Calgary, Alberta on Mar. 17, 2009. That visit was Bush's first visit to a foreign country without diplomatic immunity. After the failure of law enforcement officials to do their jobs and arrest the then credibly accused war criminal -- now self-confessed torturer -- Splitting the Sky courageously and selflessly attempted to breach the police lines and conduct a citizen's arrest on the former U.S. president.

During the subsequent trial in Calgary which some dubbed "The trial of Splitting the Sky versus George W. Bush," former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark -- Splitting the Sky's former lawyer -- and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney flew in to the oil-patch city to participate in the proceedings. The trial culminated with Splitting the Sky being given a conditional discharge by Judge Manfred Delong allowing him to avoid immediate incarceration. Some read this comparative leniency as a tacit acknowledgement by Judge Delong that Splitting the Sky was, as he submitted, being a conscientious citizen when he attempted to uphold the rule of law by seeking to arrest Bush.

The 'I was only following orders' defence

According to a report in The Province, Norm Stowe, the manager of the annual Surrey Regional Economic Summit to be attended by Bush, stated via e-mail that "the city respected the rights of protesters to present their views but will have RCMP support to ensure the event is not disrupted [...] The RCMP have responsibility for security and we know they'll find a balance that allows people to express their views without risking the safety of our speakers or those attending the summit."

These comments, by the organizer of the summit show a distinct failure to grasp the main contention of those protesting the impunity afforded to credibly accused war criminals in Canada. It is the law enforcement agencies themselves, including the RCMP, who are being objected to as it is they who are failing to do their jobs. How is it that Norm Stowe can be so positive that the RCMP will protect, rather than arrest, the self-confessed torturer during the Oct. 2011 summit? Who gave the orders to the RCMP to reassure those organizing the event that their guests -- even if they're culpable for the most murderous of crimes -- will be protected on that day? All those police officers who opt to protect, rather than arrest, George W. Bush when he comes to British Columbia are putting themselves in a position where they can be accused of complicity in the breakdown of the rule of law in Canada.

Those law enforcement officials who shirk their duties to uphold the rule of law in Canada might well use the defence in the future that they were merely "following orders." This was the common alibi of many officials tried at Nuremberg and it didn't wash. If I were an ordinary bobby assigned to shield George W. Bush from the law during his upcoming visit I would ask myself serious questions as to whether my role might have personal ramifications for me down the line.

If a police officer arrested Bush in Surrey on Oct. 20, s/he could easily justify doing so to an independent judge before a court of law. Firstly, by doing so the officer would be doing his/her job of upholding the rule of law. Secondly, by arresting the self-confessed torturer, the officer would be maintaining civility and order as s/he would be eliminating any possibility of a confrontation such as the one that arose in Calgary when Splitting the Sky was compelled, due to the failures of law enforcement officials, to attempt to break through the wall of immunity and impunity and arrest George Bush. During Splitting the Sky versus Bush, the defence of those police officers who had obstructed Splitting the Sky from implementing the law was that they were keeping order during a lively protest. Surely the best way to maintain law and order would be simply to arrest Bush as this would remove the catalyst of the protest and maintain peacefulness on the streets of Surrey?

Joshua Blakeney is a graduate student at the University of Lethbridge.

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