The more horrific the crime, the more justice seems to call out forpunishment. Punishing the right people and following the niceties of the rule of lawoften seem to get lost in the rush to “hang ’em high.”

Certainly, this appeared to be the case last week amid the din of outrageover the dramatic acquittals of two men in the Air-India bombing case.

To many, the fact that 331 people lost their lives seemed sufficientgrounds to warrant convictions, regardless of the lack of evidence. The acquittalswere therefore taken as a sign that the system didn’t work.

A full-page spread on the front of The Globe and Mail identifiedthe two acquitted men as “Not Guilty,” while identifying the 331 victims as“Innocent,” the idea being that while the accused may have gotten off, they didn’tdeserve to be classified as “innocent.” So much for that quaint adage “innocentuntil proven guilty.”

Discarding other apparently outdated notions — like the right to a fairtrial, the right not to be tortured — are the hallmarks of our time, with ourincreasing willingness to compromise our most basic legal and democratic principlesin order to have a freer hand in fighting the “war on terror.”

As Cofer Black, former CIA counterterrorism chief, told the U.S.Congress: “There was a before 9/11 and an after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves came off.”

This lawless mentality, particularly rampant in Washington, has alsoseeped into Canada, where non-citizens can now be held, and are being held, undersecurity certificates that strip them of their legal protections.

Last week there was pressure for Canada to move further down this road.

In a front-page report, the National Post featured a relative ofan Air-India victim praising Israel for hunting down and killing theperpetrators of the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics, and George W. Bushfor his declaration of war on terrorism after 9/11.

By contrast, Canada’s response to the Air-India terrorism was describedas “apathetic and indifferent.”

Of course, there was plenty of incompetence on the part of Canadianpolice and intelligence officials in this case, with agents destroying hours ofwiretap evidence and failing to act even after overhearing a militant undersurveillance explode a test bomb just days before the Air-India bombing.

But the Canadian court system appeared to function well, refusing to“take the gloves off.” Justice Ian Bruce Josephson apparently managed to weighthe evidence dispassionately, despite the enormous pressure for a guiltyverdict.

This suggests that the verdict was based on the rule of law — which isessential to the functioning of our democracy.

The real test of our commitment to the rule of law isn’t our willingnessto adhere to it in prosecuting the easy cases, the ones where no one hasreally been hurt, but rather to stick to it in the really hard cases, where thesuffering of the victims is immeasurable and the public desire for revenge isfierce.

And, as cases go, they don’t get much harder than this one.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...