Thursday, August 17, 2006

Racial Profiling is "Fundamentally Stupid"

by Sara Robinson

I really do like living in a sane country. It means I get to pick up my morning paper (in this case, the Vancouver Sun), and read stuff like this:

CSIS boss calls racial profiling 'fundamentally stupid'
Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said Tuesday that the spy agency avoids racial profiling because it is "fundamentally stupid'' and does not knowingly use information gleaned under torture offshore because the practice is "morally repugnant.''

James Judd told a gathering of Canadian judges on Tuesday that he is "acutely aware'' of complaints that the agency, along with several other organizations, targets the Muslim community in fighting the war on terror. "We don't profile because it's fundamentally stupid and we don't have enough resources,'' said Judd. "From a national security perspective, we can't afford to have whole communities feel alienated.''

Rather, the agency has embarked on community outreach efforts to combat "this legend that this is how we do business,'' Judd told a panel discussion on human rights and national security.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International, told the panel that "when it comes to the issue profiling, there is "obviously a reality'' that has been well documented since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"There is a varied landscape,'' he said. "There are a number of reports prepared by cultural and religious groups that have tried to compile and document some of the experiences that people across the country have had, be it in airports or other situations ,where they feel they have been pulled aside or questioned or have someone show up at their place without an appointment and start asking questions.''

Justice Dennis O'Connor, an Ontario judge who presided over the inquiry into Maher Arar, agreed there are "perceptions out there among some in those communities that they are unfairly targeted.

"That's not healthy for anyone,'' he said. "It's certainly not healthy for agencies that are trying to develop co-operation for those communities to help with their investigations.''

Arar, an Ottawa engineer and Canadian citizen, was detained by U.S. authorities in September 2002 during a stopover in New York on a flight from Tunisia to Canada. Suspecting him of terrorism ties, he was sent to Syria under a policy called "extraordinary rendition."

A federal inquiry into Arar's detention found he had been tortured while in Syrian custody. O'Connor's report into the affair is slated for release next month.

Judd also took aim at information obtained under torture, adding his voice to a growing international debate over whether confessions obtained under torture should be used in criminal investigations or as evidence in court. ``Like most Canadians, I find torture to be sort of morally repugnant ... and from an operational perspective it's not particularly reliable. Certainly in my own case, I'd probably admit to anything if I was tortured.''He added CSIS does "not knowingly'' use information obtained through torture.

Neve said international conventions dictate that information gleaned under torture is not admissible in court."It is less clear whether it should be used in the investigation itself and we take the position that it shouldn't. It is simply condoning torture and we can't allow that.''

Part of the difficulty with torture , he said, is the definition is not legally set so "where do you draw the line on what torture is?''

Just to make it clear: James Judd is the Canadian version of the head of the CIA. O'Connor is one of the most esteemed judges in the country. These public officials are acutely aware of the way profiling sows deep mistrust in a diverse society. And trust, as I'm going to argue in a future post, is one of the most essential communal assets any country can have. It's the key piece of social capital that makes every other investment possible. Allowing it to be eroded by stupid, thoughtless, fear-driven policies like profiling is like giving a three-year-old a pair of scissors and telling them to have at the very fabric of your civilization.

To their credit and that of Canada, these men understand this. This is what it looks like when Canadian patriots stand on guard for the True North, strong and free. Would that more American patriots would stand up and do the same.

They might start by inviting Alex Neve and Amnesty International to speak at a few public hearings. Wouldn't that be different?

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