Louise Arbour, late of the Canadian Supreme Court, is Canada's dubious contribution to the equally dubious United Nations Human Rights Council. The Council's high commissioner, she is being justifiably pilloried these days for issuing a statement which is at best baffling and at worst insane.
Israeli generals, Ms. Arbour declared, should be charged as war criminals for causing the deaths of civilians in their rocket attacks on Lebanon. Of the fact that Israel was responding to rocket attacks by Hezbollah on Israel's civilian population, or the fact that Hezbollah's launching sites had been deliberately located in civilian areas to inhibit Israel's ability to respond, she made no mention whatever.
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Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz immediately called for her dismissal as high commissioner, charging that her statement makes a mockery of international law. Under such a ruling, U.S. presidents Bush, Clinton, Nixon, Johnson, Eisenhower, Truman and Roosevelt would all be war criminals, as would British Prime Ministers Blair and Churchill. To which High Commissioner Arbour would no doubt reply, ''Certainly,'' plainly being of the opinion that they probably were war criminals.
In Canada, Toronto's highly-profiled lawyer Edward Greenspan listed the sections in international law that Hezbollah violated, noted that nothing in the U.N. Charter is intended to prevent a nation from defending itself. He concluded that unless Ms. Arbour had gone temporarily ''insane'' (and presumably was ready to admit it), ''then she is ill-suited to be the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.''
Even Liziane Gagnon, the Globe and Mail's left-leaning Quebec columnist, couldn't stomach this one. Describing the Arbour statement as ''eerie,'' she reminded readers that the council over which Ms. Arbour presides includes ''such well-known human rights champions as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Algeria.'' Would it ever investigate, she wondered, the human rights record of its own members?
Next day the Globe ran a flock of letters, mostly in support of Ms. Arbour. She had issued ''a bold and much-needed statement about the responsibility of leaders who order their inferiors to commit war crimes,'' said one. She was simply furthering ''the great strides we have made in gender, racial and religious equality,'' said another. None bothered to deal with the apparently trivial matter of what a nation is supposed to do when confronted by an enemy which is prepared to break every rule in the book to wipe it out of existence. Neither had Ms. Arbour, of course.
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But for some Canadians, her intrusion into the Lebanon conflict raised another question. She has now undeniably demonstrated herself a fervid political crusader, like the people who carry protest placards, tie themselves to fir trees, or blockade highways by lying down on them. All of which are wholly democratic activities, but they can scarcely be said to reflect impartiality.
Some three and a half years before this inflamed lady became a U.N. high commissioner, she was appointed to our Supreme Court by Prime Minister Jean Chretien. There she fit right in, her political passions being scarcely more fervid than those of other crusaders on that court. She seems only to have left it because the U.N. arguably offered wider opportunities to change the world than a backwoods place like Ottawa. For changing the world is definitely what Louise Arbour is all about. Like the rest of the Supreme Court pack, she's much more a political player than she is a judge.
Strangely enough, however, if anyone in Canada states this obvious fact (or even implies it), he is viewed as somehow treasonous, as was demonstrated in the last election campaign. When some Conservatives suggested that our Supreme Court had been packed with lib-left ideologues, instant uproar ensued. How dare they, the Liberals demanded, question the objectivity of Canada's Supreme Court? They were undermining its authority, indeed threatening the very foundation of Canadian law. So the Tories, greatly abashed, hastened to drop the matter.
Obediently ignoring such obvious realities, it seems, is a duty now securely embedded within the Canadian psyche. We are required to espouse things that are not true, while refuting things that are. We must proclaim, for example, our unwavering resolve to oppose ''racism,'' when our entire Indian Act, first to last, is a racist document. We proclaim ourselves a democracy, while refusing to submit controversial issues to referendum, because we fear ''mob rule,'' and the people might ''decide wrong.''
All this is hailed as ''the Canadian way.'' There's a thin hope that the Harper government will help us establish a different ''Canadian Way.''