Liberty, where has it gone?
Rafe MAIR | 26.02.2012 | FEATURED STORY

Liberty, where has it gone?

Governments hate civil rights and have for eons. People get uppity when they exercise their right to liberty especially the right to speak one’s mind.

“Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!" is a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made to the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775 and is credited with having swung the balance in convincing the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass a resolution delivering Virginia troops to the Revolutionary War. Among the delegates to the convention were future US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. And indeed, Henry’s cri de couer and Thomas Paine’s pamphlets gave the necessary moral underpinning to the revolutionary cause.

How interesting it is to note that the second president, John Adams and the Congress, in 1798, caused the Sedition Act to be passed which made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or certain officials” (meaning Congressmen, Senators and Presidents). It was passed on July 14, 1798, with an expiration date of March 3, 1801 (the day before Adams' presidential term was to end). I point this out to show that Bills of Rights or their equivalent often sound a hell of a lot better than they are. One of the most emphatic codes of citizen rights was that of the Soviet Union.

In America, which invades other countries to give them bills of rights, now interprets “peaceful assembly” to mean a special area, enforced by the police, a long way from where the objects of the assembly are slow as not to embarrass visiting dignitaries. Guantanomo Bay holds scores of inmates that have languished in durance vile for more than a decade uncharged with any offence – this in spite of President Obama’ solemn vow to close the prison down.

The right to torture people suspected of certain activities was approved by Bush II and Obama has done little to stop it. British Columbia, my province, passed a law whereby a policeman, thinking that a driver may have been drinking, can confiscate the car, impose a large fine and require that the driver install in his car a gadget that wouldn’t allow the engine to start if the driver has alcohol on his breath. I’m told that this exercise can cost up to $6,000. The law wasn’t challenged because there was no access to the courts! This has since been held to be unconstitutional.

It’s in the field of electronics where government abuse has become egregiously evil. But, before I go on let me say to those who support draconian laws in this area because “if you’re innocent, why object” I have this short answer – “at stake is my privacy”. I regard my privacy just as critical as free speech and freedom of the press are to my liberty.

Great Britain can now access 80% of citizens emails. London is festooned with security cameras. The UK parliament passed a law preventing discussion of a case and even prohibiting the publication of the fact that the law was passed! The courts made gave short shrift to that one but here is the country to which virtually all former colonies look up to as preserving basic human rights. 

The Parliament of Canada, with its neo-con Conservative government, will soon have a law enabling the police to access all computers with internet (basically all) to determine if any citizen is watching “kiddie porn”. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these right wing airheads that police will use that ability to do much more than just look at child pornography. Now France has a law forbidding women, effectively Muslim women, to wear the burka or full veil. What the hell is this world coming to?

Effectively, Muslim women could walk down the street, go into stores and so on with nothing covering their breast but go to jail for wearing a veil! Presumably, a Muslim woman could, like any man, wear a ski mask. Or would that depend upon how cold it is? Perhaps traffic wardens will, armed with a thermometer, check out all ski masks first to sort out males from females and arrest the latter.

This raises another interesting question – may a man wear a burka just for the hell of it? If not, why? Doesn’t liberty mean most strongly that men and women are equal before the law?

I hear support for France’s ill-liberality which somehow is based upon everyone else’s right to see the face of women wearing a burka! Really? Where is that written? I’ve spent decades studying people’s rights as a lawyer, then as a cabinet minister in charge of constitutional matters then 25 years as a broadcaster doing politics and I’ve never seen or heard of any such right. What this burka issue, no matter how it’s started up, is all about is plain, raw bigotry. How have we reached the red-necked societies we’ve become?

I believe it’s come out of the almost constant state of war so many countries have been in going back to World War II – for example, Britain suspended habeas corpus and threw hundreds of aliens in jail for the duration even though few of them had shown any propensity towards fascism as preached by the Nazis.

Canada and the US threw all people of Japanese ancestry – most were Canadian or American citizens - in concentration camps and, in Canada, sold all their belongings at 10 cents on the dollar, the proceeds of which went towards their upkeep!

History teaches us that once you start down this pathway it quickly becomes a slippery slope to dictatorship. Аs Benjamin Franklin put it, “who would trade liberty for security will lose both”. This is becoming truer and truer as time goes by.

The ultimate hypocrisy of this is that Canada and the United States – indeed the countries in the NATO - are in Afghanistan and Iraq to help them become democracies which neither have ever been. Israel, which discriminates against Israeli Arabs big time, are about to bring democracy to Iran by bombing Hell out of them. 

Perhaps on reflection, the most hypocritical of all is France which has the anti burka law. It once held Algeria as part of Metropolitan France thus making all Algerians French citizens. Now, with Algeria independent, France no longer sees its Muslims as friends but a dangerous minority.

When the liberties of people are denied them it indicates the erosion of the principles of democracy in that land. Democracy is too vulnerable at the best of times and cannot afford to persecute its citizens by spying on them, dishonouring bais tenets of freedom or interfering with harmless customs no matter how noble such policies are presented.