Letters

February/March 2004

by
• 2,140 words

The ICC on Trial
With respect to the article “Reasonable Doubts” on the International Criminal Court (Larry Krotz, Nov/Dec 2003), your magazine has succeeded in provoking and even annoying me. The ICC is starting out on shaky ground, as most revolutionary ideas do, and because of this has to prove itself to be a body devoid of random and politically motivated prosecutions. But the Rome Statute of the ICC contains many safe-guards against this, including a pre-trial chamber – where all prosecutions are investigated formally before charges are laid – and a rule stating that there can only be charges laid if the home country cannot or will not prosecute the criminal. Every judge of the ICC is a legal professional; there are no serving diplomats or country representatives involved anywhere in the proceedings of the ICC.

These factors, combined with the threat of certain failure if politics enters into the equation, surely help keep the courtroom focused primarily on the task at hand.

With respect to the possible effect of the ICC on our domestic courts, where was that criticism when Canada signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? For that matter, where was it with any of the many international treaties that Canada has signed and ratified over the past fifty years? These treaties all affect Canada’s domestic laws, and sometimes in very drastic ways.

There are certainly some problems with the ICC, including the lack of participation of many prominent members of the international community. But if it’s viewed as the start of a new regime, where people can and will be prosecuted for the worst kinds of crimes against human rights, then what we have is an effective mechanism for distributing a kind of justice that the world has never before known.
Nathaniel Lowbeer-Lewis
Montreal

Larry Krotz quotes Alfred Rubin, one critic of the ICC, as saying that “[t]he attempt to create an international criminal court assumes that in all important ways the international legal order is similar to the municipal legal orders with which we are familiar.” But that assumption, which I agree is wrong, doesn’t underlie arguments in support of the ICC. The very fact that states need to accept the Court’s authority suggests that its architects are well aware of the difference between international and domestic law. More importantly, however, the international legal order is similar to domestic legal orders in one very important respect: both are inescapably political.

The furor that surrounds abortion and the death penalty in the United States (and there are countless other examples) illustrates plainly that domestic law is by no means immune to politics. Members of the critical legal-studies movement have long argued that the principles underlying Western legal systems are not neutral, but reflect particular historically and culturally contingent understandings about reason, right, justice, etc.

The claim that differing legal traditions doom the ICC is also unfounded. While adversarial and inquisitorial systems are clearly different in important ways, they share a common European heritage. Moreover, as those two systems have spread throughout the world – to, for example, Latin America – they have been blended with local legal practices in ways that are not obviously problematic. This suggests that having the two operate side-by-side is not necessarily unworkable.
Jacob Schiff
Chicago

Rearming Russia?
I am skeptical about Paul Webster’s thesis that we might be rearming Russia (“Is the West Rearming Russia?”, Nov/Dec 2003). First, I do not think Russia is rearming; rather it may be modernizing its navy, and although the sums being spent are relatively large, they are minuscule compared to what the U.S. devotes to military spending.

Second, I think the reason for at least some of the modernization on the nuclear side is directly connected to U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and its decision to move forward on a National Missile Defence system, which the Russians need to consider how to counter.

Third, some would argue Russia’s military capability has seriously deteriorated, to the extent that its blue-water (open sea) naval capability is in question – i.e. most of its naval assets are tied up and rusting. I do not think the Russians will be able to afford to return to the military might they once had.

As to whether Canadians are contributing to rearming, our resources are very carefully targeted at what both we and the Russians see as important priorities for a more secure world. By the way, the Russians are also contributing resources to the securing and disposal of nuclear fuel and the destruction of biological and chemical weapons.
Rod Irwin
Former Canadian Ambassador to Russia
Ottawa

Paul Webster seems to wish to shock us by disclosing that Canada is spending (perhaps) one billion dollars to assist in the clean-up of military nuclear waste in post-communist Russia and avert a potential environmental disaster. That Canada might be gaining some advantage (commercial, scientific, political) in so doing is not given much ink. Rather, his thesis seems to be that those naughty Russians are taking advantage of our generosity in order to spend the astronomical sum of eleven billion dollars (U.S.) on “defense.”

You might consider running an exposé of Canadian support for the U.S. In its campaign to bring “freedom” to the world, our southern neighbours have budgeted just about $400 billion (2004 defense budget) to advance “democracy.” Ever wondered just why it is that a nation that is so “nice” needs so many weapons?
Jim Johnson
Winnipeg

I was pleased that Paul Webster high-lighted the dangers associated with Russia’s decommissioned nuclear sub-marines and how the G8 and other countries are co-operating to address this problem. These subs represent a serious security and environmental threat to Canada, the Arctic, and, indeed, to the international community as a whole.

Russia has more than 120 retired nuclear subs awaiting dismantlement. These boats are in deplorable condition. The threat posed by these retired subs is considerably more acute because the majority still retain nuclear fuel in their reactors. In addition, there are a number of other radioactive materials and poisons that, if released, could cause significant damage.

In recognition of these threats, the G8 launched the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction at the 2002 Summit in Kananaskis. Under this initiative, G8 Leaders have undertaken to raise up to $20 billion (U.S.) over the next decade to address a variety of weapons legacies of the Cold War. The dismantlement of nuclear subs is listed among the leaders’ priority concerns, as is the destruction of Russia’s massive stockpile of chemical weapons (some 40,000 tons), the disposition of fissile materials (enough for over 50,000 war-heads), and the employment of former weapons scientists who may be a target for terrorists as a means to acquire weapons know-how. Six new donor countries have joined, highlighting the seriousness with which this issue is regarded.

To ensure that Canadian funds are not misused, all projects will be governed by bilateral or multilateral legal instruments that include provisions re-quiring, among other things, financial transparency and accountability coupled with stringent audit and evaluation frameworks.

Russia inherited a very dangerous legacy from the Cold War, which it cannot address by itself. We have seen that terrorists are only limited by the means of destructive power at their disposal; if they were to acquire some of these weapons or material, the consequences could be catastrophic. We must continue to work to prevent this from happening. To quote Albert Einstein, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
James R. Wright
Assistant Deputy Minister (Global and Security Policy), Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ottawa

Gay Marriage and the Vatican
Sex and the Holy See” (Nov/Dec 2003) is one of the more balanced bits of journalism on the subject of the Vatican and same-sex marriage that I have read. But I was intrigued by one of Jeannie Marshall’s interviewees, who alleged that the Vatican’s attempts to influence legislators on this subject was a threat to the democratic process.

Let me see: if a business or industrial group attempts to influence legislators, we call them lobbyists, and if a group of citizens does so on, for example, environmental issues, they’re activists. So why are the Church’s attempts considered a Talibanesque “interference in the democratic life of a country”?
James Greengrass
Kingston, Ontario

Tony Blair’s Quagmire
I really enjoyed and appreciated Bill Cameron’s thoughtful article “The Briefcase Wars” (Nov/Dec 2003), and particularly that he had the courage to write about the Project for the New American Century. All too few journalists have done so. However, I take issue with his characterization of them as a “lobby group,” which brings to mind the tobacco industry, handgun manufacturers, even organizations such as Greenpeace. PNAC is an organization whose Statement of Principles was signed by such right-wing luminaries as Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. (Not to mention Dan Quayle.)

Their “principles” include the following four aims (and here I paraphrase somewhat): to increase defence spending significantly in order to carry out the U.S.’s global responsibilities; to challenge regimes hostile to American interests and values; to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad; and to preserve and extend an international order friendly to American principles.

PNAC is as much a lobby group as a piranha is a goldfish. Nigel Brachi
Edmonton

Celebrating Django
Deborah Kirshner’s “The Genius of Django” (Nov/Dec 2003) is a gem. It is a fine critical appreciation of the great gypsy’s music and also a look into the strange origins of artistic genius.

Django’s music has reached so many people through recordings and films – plus, he was Gary Larson’s favourite musician. (Like Larson, he came from The Far Side.) Kirshner’s pilgrimage to Samois-sur-Seine and the evocative photos make for a marvellous essay.
Pat Smith
Gananoque, Ontario

Russia’s Lost Children
Reading Paul Webster and Fred Weir’s Field Note (“City of Lost Children,” Oct 2003) I couldn’t help but wonder if Putin and Kibaki (Kenya’s current President, elected in December of 2002) had shared strategies for “combating” the problem of street children.

Nairobi had one of the largest accumulations of street children in East Africa until the spring of 2003, when the new government implemented a round-up of all children under the age of seventeen, and sent them to reform houses.

Since then, little has been heard about them, aside from the average city-dweller’s audible sighs of relief; although they were children, they had managed to instill fear in most urbanites with their reputation for tearing gold chains from women’s necks and pick-pocketing unsuspecting muzungus (white foreigners).

But I believe those sighs of relief stem from our own discomfort and inability to look deeply into the societal problem of homelessness, particularly when it comes to children. In Canada we have shelters and programs, but is our overall approach truly that different?

Few strategies are sufficiently in-countered in Calgary called “The Back Door,” which involves homeless youth in contract-based agreements to get off the street, complete with education, vocational training, and guaranteed job opportunities. Unless we are willing to take much more responsibility for future generations – perhaps even at the expense of our own comfort – we will only continue to mask what is a much larger and universal challenge.
Rachel Perks
Nairobi

Hunting 101
In “Outlook for October” you note that UK hunting enthusiasts are oiling up their rifles in preparation for pheasant season. While I have not hunted pheasants for many years, I believe the weapon of choice is generally a shotgun.
Harvey Graham
Gabriola Island, BC

Don’t Let me Down
My goodness! In your first issue it was “The Walrus does Paul [Martin].” In your second issue, a major article about “Backin’ the USSR.” Are you ever going to stop basing your editorial content on Beatles songs?

Love your magazine, by the way. It’s good to see Fraser Simpson, my nemesis, at another illustrious publication, stretching out in the puzzle pages.
Ken Cory
Oshawa, Ontario

Corrections
In “Blind Trust” (Oct 2003), about Paul Martin, Chaviva Hosek was incorrectly identified as having been an MP. In fact, she served as an MPP under Ontario Premier David Peterson.

In “Punch-Drunk Love” (Nov/Dec 2003) about the National Film Board documentary The Last Round (directed by Joe Blasioli) the photo of the young Chuvalo was provided courtesy of George Chuvalo. The photograph of Chuvalo and Ali was incorrectly credited; it was taken by Boris Spremo.

In our author’s note to Douglas Bell’s “Reader Rage” (Nov/Dec 2003), we failed to mention that the article was adapted from a piece first performed at the Trampoline Hall lecture series in Toronto (www.trampolinehall.net).

“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email ([email protected]), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5A 3S5