Sunday, February 12, 2012

Torture: A Fear Based Reaction

On February 7, the Globe and Mail reported that “[t]he federal government has directed Canada’s spy agency to use information that may have been extracted through torture in cases where public safety is at stake.”

On first reading I was shocked. How can we, as citizens of a country that disallows and, from all accounts, abhors torture, permit others to be hurt, maimed or even killed for information that is, at best, dubious? As Bob Rae stated: “The law in Canada has been pretty clear that information based on torture, first of all, is not reliable and, second of all, is not permissible”.

I read the article again. Two quotes stuck out. The Canadian government has directed CSIS to “make the protection of life and property its overriding priority.” This was followed by: “Our government will always take action that protects the lives of Canadians.”

Of course, I thought, the safety of Canadians must be the government’s overriding concern. And thus began a convulsive penduluming as I explored the various pros and cons of allowing information gained through torture.

If I knew someone was withholding life saving information about a loved one, would I limit the methods I use to force it out of him or her? Would I turn a blind eye to someone being threatened, emotionally battered or hurt if I knew it would coerce them into saving another? Would I, as captain of a shipwreck, ask the weakest member to jump ship in an overburdened lifeboat?

It is the age old question: do the rights of one supersede the rights of others or do the rights of the collective override those of the individual? It is also the interdependent question: how can I create a safe and respectful environment that supports my needs, desires and goals while still respecting those same rights in others?

Interdependence requires conscious awareness and, therefore, a creative response to life that is built on a foundation of respect, mutuality and self leadership. Every day we make decisions that affect not only ourselves but those around us. Each decision is an opportunity to show how we can respect and honour our interconnectness. Torture is not a creative response. It is, instead, a reaction to fear—one that devalues both the life of the abuser and the victim. By allowing information gleaned from torture we diminish ourselves.

Please write your Member of Parliament and tell them how you feel. As Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada stated: “The bottom line is that as long as torturers continue to find a market for the fruit of their crimes, torture will continue. Firmly rebuffing torturers when they offer up information extracted through pain and suffering is a critical plank in the wider campaign to eradicate torture once and for all.”

Sample Letter

Dear Mr. Toews:

I cannot understand the recent policy reversal that has information gleaned from torture considered as potentially reliable intelligence. Torture is illegal and morally wrong. The information obtained from torture is dubious in value and founded on the blood of others. There is no hierarchy as to human value: the life of one is not more or less worthy than that of another. Do not let Canada slide down this slippery slope of repugnant disrespect for human rights.


Write your letter to:
1. Minister of Public Safety - Vic Toews

2. Critics
Sandhu, Jasbir (New Democratic Party)
Baker, George (Liberal Party of Canada)
Scarpaleggia, Francis (Liberal Party of Canada)
Mourani, Maria (Bloc Québécois)

3. Your Member of Parliament

To find your MP go to

I believe letters sent by snail mail are taken more seriously than petitions or email. Letters sent to the following address do not need postage.

Name of MP
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6