The BC Civil Liberties Association, Canada’s most dynamic and seasoned civil liberties body, called today for caution on the part of political and media commentators on the case of the 17 Toronto area men who stand accused of terror related offenses since arrests on June 2.
“Elected officials, security forces and the fifth estate have converged in their coverage of these allegations. The presumption of innocence is not a reluctant afterthought – it is the lifeblood of the relationship between the government and the citizen. Too many media stories and statements by Canadian politicians skirt perilously close to assuming the guilt of the accused,” said BCCLA president Jason Gratl. “Security forces should wait until a trial is finished before soliciting public approval and preening for the cameras. Unproven allegations are not a legitimate opportunity for image enhancement”.
While the BCCLA, like all Canadians, is supportive of law enforcement efforts to prevent crimes and to interdict conspiracies where they exist, we must always be aware of overarching necessity of ensuring fair trials.
“We are also deeply concerned by widespread media reports that the 17 accused were denied the opportunity to meet privately with their lawyers. Fair trials depend on the ability of the accused to retain and instruct counsel without the police or prison guards listening in,” said Gratl. “We call on all Canadians, but particularly upon politicians and news reporters, to keep this vital principle in mind as we go forward with whatever legal proceedings flow from the Toronto arrests. Democracy can be wounded by terrorist acts, but it can be dealt a fatal blow if we let ourselves undermine our commitments to fair trial, due process and the presumption of innocence.”