APEC opening statement

A couple of days after the APEC conference, all the fences were gone from the lawns and roadways, and it was almost as though nothing had happened on our campus on November 25, 1997. At that time, my friend, the venerable and somewhat eccentric professor Steven Wexler, published this single sentence in a law school newsletter: “If you were scared by seeing how thin the patina of our liberty is, take comfort in the fact that you will soon forget both what you saw and how much it scared you.”

I don’t mind telling you, Mr. Chair, Madame Starr, and Major Wright, that I was scared to death by what I saw during APEC at UBC. But I don’t want to forget what happened, or how much it scared me. It’s why I, and others, have worked so hard over the past 11 months to bring these events to the attention of the Canadian public.

But we’re tired now, Mr. Chairman. Speaking for myself, I am exhausted. Personal and professional pressures on me force me to withdraw from participating to any significant degree in this process. No one, Mr. Chairman, will be happier to see my withdrawal from the public stage than I, although Mr. Macintosh might be a close second. In the early days after APEC, when members of the public approached me on the street or wrote me letters, I was frequently asked, “What’s the big deal about APEC, anyway? What’s the fuss all about?”

This is a question to which I have frequently turned my mind since. Does this event really have some larger significance, or do I just assign it such great importance because I was there, because I was involved?

Yes, there were police excesses during the conference. But these incidents, on their own, are not what is really important; there are worse abuses, every day, in this country and elsewhere. Was there poor planning, and poor communication evident? Certainly. But we are not here to ensure that future security operations have a more efficient bureaucracy. I entreat you not to get too mired in the bog of technical minuteae.

What is really important here, Mr. Chairman, as you yourself said at the opening of this hearing, goes to the heart of who we are as a people, and—perhaps more importantly—who we aspire to be.

There is really only one fundamental feature of a successful democracy. History is littered with the shattered hulks of failed dictatorships; some, tragically, remain. Each professed to the highest moral authority. Nearly every totalitarian regime in the world in this Century has had a constitution, nearly every totalitarian regime has had elections, nearly every one has had courts of law. These then, cannot be the determining features of a true democracy. Courts, constitutions and elections cannot protect the citizen from living in fear of the sound of a standard issue black boot kicking in his or her door.

The only protection, the sole distinguishing characteristic, I argue, and in the end the only thing that matters, is the functional independence of the police from the executive. If we do not have that, then we have nothing, the rule of law becomes meaningless. The moment that our police force allows itself to be used as a tool to a political end, that is the moment when we feel the thin patina of our liberty being stripped from our bodies, and we feel the steel breath of demagoguery, of dictatorship. I felt that cold breeze brush against me on November 25th, and it left me chilled to the bone.

Since November of 1997, as Mr. Macintosh noted earlier, I have been vocal and outspoken of my criticism of the police actions at APEC, and the motivations behind them. This has not been without consequences.

You have heard that senior RCMP officers mobilized the entire weight of E Division, several thousand officers, in an apparent attempt to publicly discredit me and other members of the public who were complaining of police excess. Again, they did not care for the niceties of even the most cursory investigation before they pronounced judgment. No less a figure than the Prime Minister of Canada, within days of the event, and before any investigation had begun, publicly announced that the police did nothing wrong. When I persisted in my criticism, I was accused by Superintendent Thompsett, Superintendent May and Inspector Dingwall of, and I quote, “repeatedly defaming the RCMP”. The RCMP has mobilized dozens of public relations officials to deal with this case. Mr. Whitehall has engaged a public relations firm, as has Mr. Considine on your behalf. Yet it is I who endure Mr. Macintosh’s accusations of grandstanding, and references to media manipulation. I have been accused of fabricating a conspiracy to suit my own ends, whatever they may be.

There’s an old adage about infantrymen, that we don’t have the good sense to come in out of the rain. I’ve been in the rain for sometime now, and in Mr. Macintosh’s very thorough cross examination I’ve got to say that I got more than a little wet, a little beaten down. That’s fair enough, as I said, Mr. Macintosh is a good lawyer, as I one day aspire to be. But I’’ still here, Mr. Chairman. I may be wet, I may be tired, but I’m still standing. My fellow students and I did not pick this fight, but we are determined to see it through, whatever it takes, whatever the obstacles, whatever the cost may be.

Fortunately, Mr. Chairman, Madame Starr and Major Wright, we now have the benefit of substantial evidence, diligently and I might even say miraculously uncovered and collected by Mr. Considine, Mr. Gillett, and their team. More evidence than I frankly ever thought we would see. I have thanked Mr. Considine for his tireless efforts, and I will I’m sure have occasion to do so again.

You will see, very clearly, exactly what was in the minds of certain policemen on November 25. You will hear of secret deals made with a foreign dictator, assurances given at the very highest levels of our government. You will hear of senior members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office saying and doing things that we would fervently pray were never said and done in this country, in this fragile democracy. I hope that the precise mechanism by which this malfeasance was translated into action last November will eventually be known. In truth, it may never be known with certainty. What is certain, though, is that the police at the very highest levels began, in the weeks and months prior to APEC, to concern themselves a great deal with the visibility of protest.

You will ask yourselves, why? You will hear some chilling musings about ways in which protest might be stifled, ways in which expression might be undermined, authority that might be invented to cover it up. You will hear of improper police surveillance of avowedly peaceful groups, something that is not supposed to happen here anymore. You will see the attempts to decapitate the student protest movement at UBC both on November 25, and before. You will see, and you will hear all of these things, and when you view them all together, the why will become apparent.

You will hear from the other side too, from the RCMP officers and the federal government. You got a taste of my opponent’s attitude, I submit, in these Police Officers’ cross examination; the message was clear; you know nothing about security, leave it to the experts. Leave it… to us.

This is, I submit, precisely what the citizens of a democracy cannot do. We must not, we cannot, we will not simply allow the security apparatus of this country to escape behind the foggy smokescreen of raisons d’etat. We live in a country where a simple citizen outranks the noblest general, where the politicians and police are the servants of the people, not their masters. That is how it should be, this is how it must be. It is entirely proper that it be the citizens of the country decide where the line between freedom and security is to be drawn.

This is your job, as representatives of the citizens of Canada, and I do not envy it. Those of us who have, I submit, worked the hardest to bring these matters to the attention of the Canadian public must now withdraw from the field of battle, and we entrust you with the task we have started. No one would be happier than I if this hearing can successfully resolve these awful, difficult questions. No one would be happier than I if it becomes unnecessary to pursue this matter through the courts of this country. No one would be happier than I if I can leave this process content in the knowledge that I will never again feel that awful sensation, the inescapable fear that I had gone to sleep in one country, and woken in another.

I wish you godspeed.