And true democracy can only be guaranteed by transparency, responsibility, inclusiveness, open dialogue and representation of all (not just the party core).
OTTAWA—Another Remembrance Day has come and will quickly be gone. Lest We Forget. But we do forget. This is sad because now we need to remember more than ever why so many sacrificed, both the dead and the broken who are still amongst us. They sacrificed to hold the world accountable to what are hopefully higher principles.
It seems easier to understand the reasons for a past war like World War II: fight or be conquered (or stand by idly while others are conquered). We chose to stop regimes intent on destroying those treasured values which made our system work: rule of law, democracy, fundamental freedoms, etc.
Now we have soldiers returning from wars where the enemy is often indistinguishable from those we are trying to rescue in regions of the world which may or may not share common Canadian values. Debates rage and tempers flare as to whether there are “just” wars anymore.
What is irrefutable is that soldiers believe that they are fighting to make others accountable for a failure to treat fellow humans with dignity, respect and/or fundamental human and democratic rights. That’s correct, military members are the ultimate and hopefully last tool of ensuring accountability.
However, where once veterans and dozens of organizations were willing to take government at its word, government’s shift from a semblance of cooperation and collaboration to rhetoric and dismissive inaction has fomented unprecedented distrust of government amongst veterans and their families. Government’s recent shocking pronouncement that Canada has no special obligation to care for our veterans and that past promises to veterans and families are not binding on future governments betrays the price already paid by veterans and their families.
We have often seen the numbers: more than 115,000 Canadian military men and women have died holding others accountable. At least 1,800 others died in the 60 years of post-World War II peace and more than 76,000 have suffered a lifelong disability.
How large do the numbers have to be to warrant more than two minutes of our attention? How can we be held accountable to honour their sacrifice?
It’s quite simple: these Canadians gave everything to unconditionally uphold the rule of law, democratic values and fundamental human freedoms in other nations. We must hold our government and society to account when it fails to uphold these values and freedoms in Canada.
Politicians and increasingly senior bureaucrats have shown themselves to be supremely selfish, filling their purses, their egos, and their caucuses with attention, money and power at Canadians’ expense. We look on with reflex helplessness, accepting as normal each step down into the moral hell our governments have led us.
Today, it is not only normal for our Prime Minister to tell the whole story, but when he is caught, it is accepted that he will shrug, blame others, and call upon his base to justify eroding the values that got him elected. The three Senators he named to the Senate are being sacrificed and sent into the desert without due process (another pesky rule-of-law principle).
Our access to information commissioner confirms what we were telling her years ago: a dark and frightening secrecy has descended on Ottawa, especially anything related to the PMO and his minions. Scientists are coerced into forfeiting freedom of speech. Integrity commissioners are chosen from fellow bureaucrats to hold their peers accountable and we wonder why only one bureaucrat in a decade has been found wanting…and secrecy keeps its name private.
Facts and statistics, the bedrock of any solid and transparent government, have been soundly attacked and now sit cowering under political oversight where once Canada enjoyed greater independence and international respect.
And those who dare point out that rule of law, human rights, and democracy are being eviscerated: violate their privacy, bully, harass and emotionally destroy them and their reputations, and then fire them in their last gasp of defending our democracy.
The excuses for all this are in and outside Parliament: any means justify keeping power from the faceless enemy.
Now wasn’t that the reason we went to war in 1939? To defend us and others against regimes that would use any means necessary to achieve, maintain and spread their power that sought to destroy freedoms and democratic will? We held these regimes to account, regimes intent on destroying rule of law and human rights, which used minorities and the disabled as scapegoats, laying waste to opposition.
Canada’s auditor general, more than a decade ago, spelled out clear principles and definitions of accountability: “Accountability requires that people accept responsibility for their mistakes—that goes without saying,” and “transparency is the sustaining element of accountability; transparency implies that one can see clearly into the activities of government.”
The AG tells us, accountability isn’t just about holding others responsible for the results, it is holding them equally responsible for the means that they used to achieve results.
One can always spot the ethical decline of an institution or a nation when we start hearing, ‘You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,’ which is another way of saying only results matter, not the principles or people destroyed getting those results.
However, what democracy ultimately stands for is that whatever we achieve must be achieved in accordance with all the principles we hold dear and nothing less.
Fewer than 10 per cent of those more than one million Canadians who served in World War II are still alive. How disappointed are they to see the very values for which they tried to hold others to account “over there,” whither, erode and disappear in their own country?
Canadians, for the most part, can distinguish the soldier’s burden from any questionable debate about the justness of war. What is troubling is that Canadians have become increasingly blind to distinguishing right and wrong in allowing those in power to do what they wish.
What we can expect is that fewer Canadians will be willing to sacrifice their careers, let alone their lives, to defend a system eroding into partisan selfishness, lies, secrecy, bullying, and autocracy. How can we send our sons and daughters into harm’s way when the enemies we vilify share far too many traits with our own government?
Sadly, far too many Canadians may have stopped believing we justly deserve better from our politicians and bureaucrats. However, for those who have fallen or came home broken, our veterans deserve the best democracy possible. And true democracy can only be guaranteed by transparency, responsibility, inclusiveness, open dialogue and representation of all (not just the party core).
The stick to enforce all of this: Canadians must every day hold our government accountable to a higher standard, accepting no excuses for less. Our veterans and their fallen comrades never asked for excuses to protect us and hold others accountable: we must learn from the eternally expensive lessons they teach us.
Sean Bruyea is a director for Canadians for Accountability. He is also a retired Canadian Air Force intelligence officer and frequent commentator on military and veterans’ issues.
The Hill Times