Thursday, November 22, 2007

Shades of McCarthyism?

Photo (two peas in a pod?): U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay

Today's Globe and Mail reports Defence Minister Peter MacKay calling MP Denis Coderre "un-Canadian" for accusing the Canadian government of allowing the transfer of juvenile prisoners in Afghanistan to local authorities known for torturing suspects.

Okay, let me see if I've got Peter MacKay right: allegations that Canadian military personnel are handing over Afghan children to apparent torturers shouldn't be an issue brought before the House of Commons? Worse, it's "un-Canadian" simply to report the occurrence and demand an explanation? Maybe the correct response on MacKay's part should have been that he had no such evidence, but that he'd investigate and make damn sure that Canadians weren't out there facilitating torture.

Those paying attention to MacKay's response might of course find his "un-Canadian" label vaguely familiar. It sounds rather like "un-American," a term widely used in the United States from the 1930s through the 1960s to discredit anyone considered by establishment types as subversive. Senator Joe McCarthy, the source of the term "McCarthyism," was the leading figure of the 1950s witch hunts that were successful in literally ruining many of the lives and careers of those even perceived to be sympathetic to the political left.

MacKay's use of the term "un-Canadian" is really a subtle un-democratic message to us all: try to debate what we think is the best military or foreign policy, no matter how brutal the outcome, and we will shut you up by branding you "un-Canadian" or, worse, "in league with the enemy."

If my Canada is one of healthy democracy and respect for human rights and liberties, MacKay's cold sanction of what might well be Canadian complicity in human rights violations, combined with his eagerness to shut down democratic debate in the House is about the most un-Canadian thing I can personally recall hearing in a long time.