Finding Comfort in Law in a Time of Panic
“What does this mean for Prime Minister Harper?” “Will there be an increase in security on Parliament Hill?” “Could this have something to do with the ongoing conflict with ISIS?”
These were all questions that I received Wednesday morning, mere minutes after the calm of our nation’s capital was pierced by a gunman’s bullets at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and a shootout in Parliament’s Hall of Honour.
I found out about the incident when I tuned in to a radio report on the Ottawa Senators’ pre-game skate, to find that it abruptly switched to live coverage of a more serious nature. Minutes later I was tied to the TV—I would be for the next six hours—tears filling my eyes, as the streets of my hometown filled with heavily armed men and women from all levels of Canada’s police and security forces. In a moment I felt like an ambassador for my city—I received calls from four other countries—and I felt a need to explain the national and geopolitical ramifications of these terrible events.
I couldn’t. This was not a time for politics. My mind wasn’t working right. It still may not be as I write this article.
This is not to say that I don’t have the stomach or wherewithal to deal with such issues. Surprisingly, I do. Working at the Canadian Embassy in Washington this summer I dealt with many of the crises the world decided to throw our way. I often had to let go of profound emotions in order to do my job. Only twice—during the case of the tens of thousands of Yazidis surrounded by ISIS fighters on Mount Sinjar and that of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram—did I have to step away from my computer to compose myself before providing my sober analysis.
Yesterday I don’t know if I could have done the same. How can you view something with a cool demeanour when your world has been turned upside down? Only by putting in place structures and protocols in times of peace that apply equally in times of war.
On Monday, many of us at Queen’s had the opportunity to hear from former President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Justice Aharon Barak.
In Justice Barak’s view, one of the chief roles of a judge is to “maintain and protect the constitution and democracy.” Sadly, Justice Barak and his nation have experienced too many moments in which it would be understandable for leaders to lose their composure. Since immigrating to Israel after the Holocaust, neither Barak, nor his state, has enjoyed the security that we often take for granted in Canada. Despite the significant threats that war and terrorism pose to law and democracy, Justice Barak’s mantra has been that the law should “reflect history, not hysteria.”
That is what our leaders must strive for in the coming days.
Many will argue for a security crackdown, inevitably bringing with it a curtailing of civil liberties, as often follows such a tragic event. Our leaders were personally attacked yesterday but they will have to overcome their emotions to respond in a way that reflects Canadian law and values. If their emotions overcome them, it will fall to the judiciary to ensure that our leadership respects the rights and freedoms contained in our most sacred national documents.
The law will not only bring the perpetrators of these despicable acts to justice, it will ensure the rights of all Canadians to live, not just in security, but in the knowledge that their rights are, and always will be, protected.
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected by this crisis, and my fellow Ottawans and Canadians whose realities and routines were fundamentally altered. Living in Ottawa for 18 years, I somehow never attended Remembrance Day ceremonies at the War Memorial. This year I hope to do so and when I do I know that I will be standing side-by-side with my neighbours and fellow citizens in commemorating the lives of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and others who died, both for our security and to protect our values—enshrined in law—ever-present in our lives and unshakeable in times of hysteria.
Adam Sadinsky (2L) is the Editor-in-Chief of Juris Diction.
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