Op-Ed

ON MARCH 13, former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney decided to cancel an April 24 speaking engagement in Toronto on the grounds that, as the Ottawa Citizen’s headline put it, Canada is “too dangerous” for him.
A spokesperson explained it was because the risk of “violent protest” was too high, alluding to the events of Sept. 26, 2011 when protesters outside Cheney’s speaking engagement at a private club in Vancouver were dispersed by riot police. Beyond the disingenuous labelling of a sit-in at the club entrance as “violent,” this story raises a number of questions.

The first that comes to mind is: Why did the police arrest the protesters and not Cheney? This may sound hyperbolic, but hear me out. We have a Conservative government in this country that purports to be deeply concerned about who they allow into the country on speaking tours. In 2010, they tried to ban British member of Parliament George Galloway from touring Canada for allegedly sponsoring a terrorist group.

Although it was clearly made in bad faith because of Galloway’s pro-Palestinian views and resoundingly struck down by a judge, this decision belies an interesting principle that ought to be applied to Cheney and others like him.

While Cheney has written a memoir and is promoting it like he’s simply a “controversial” elder statesman whose views some might disagree with, the truth of the matter is quite another thing.

His decisions to wage a war of aggression against Iraq and authorize the torture of detainees are not simply bad policies to be scoffed at by the more liberal mainstream. They are violations of international law for which such august organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for him and other members of the Bush administration to be put on trial.

In comments as part of a 2009 panel on 9-11 at the University of California at Berkeley Law School, dean Christopher Edley Jr. said he was party to high-level talks in which Obama considered prosecuting the crimes of the Bush administration.

The president decided not to out of fear of a catastrophic backlash from Republicans, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the military. Doesn’t that sound exactly like the politics of the rich and powerful looking out for themselves that Kony2012 claims to subvert?

Here in Canada, we had our own opportunity to be a part of Cheney2012, or at least Cheney2011. Faced with the complete failure of the American government to prosecute Bush-era officials for their crimes, Human Rights Watch actually called for the Harper government to step up to the plate and arrest Cheney during his last visit to this country.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but that’s no reason to give up hope. If, as Kony2012 contends, the world is indeed getting smaller and we ought to rove its surface in search of war criminals to arrest, why don’t we in North America start a little closer to home?

—Eddy Roué