Small Talk

October 18, 2011 - Raymond J. de Souza

It didn't take Michael Ignatieff long to land on his feet after leading the Liberal Party to its worst showing ever. He cleaned out his desk and acquired a new one at Massey College in Toronto within days of his catastrophic defeat. For the 10th anniversary of 9/11, he offered one of those essays he spent a lifetime abroad writing: the great thinker explaining "What It All Means." For this declaration, he could have been back at Harvard, writing about America in the post-9/11 decade, though this time he did not use the first person. The piece casts 9/11 as the first in a series of "sovereign failures," wherein the state failed spectacularly—9/11, Katrina, the financial crisis, and now the sovereign debt insolvencies. All these state failures have meant that "people have lost faith in government." The lesson should be the opposite, Professor Ignatieff argues. The repeated failures of the State ought to remind us how important the State is and how rebuilding its "legitimacy" is our most urgent political task. It's counter-intuitive to be sure, but that's why the professor was too clever for elected politics. In defence of state power, he writes: "A sovereign is a state with a monopoly on the means of force. It is the object of ultimate allegiance and the source of law. It is there to protect, to defend and to secure." A hand goes up at the back of the class: Is the State really the object of ultimate allegiance? Is it really the only source of law? Canadians chose wisely in keeping such ideas far from political power.

What's the difference between Orthodox and Roman Catholics anyway? Not much, apparently. "The differences are slight," we are told by the Toronto Star. "They use the same liturgies, though Orthodox Christians don't consider the Pope a divine figure." So writes Murray Whyte. No one expects Whyte to know anything more about religion than anyone else at the Star, so it is sad but not surprising that he doesn't know that Catholics don't consider the Pope divine. But does he really consider a dispute about whether a man is or is not divine to be "slight"? Imagine if the Star had been covering the court of Constantine back in the fourth century. Breaking news from Nicaea: Arius and Athanasius quibble over slight differences.

During the G20 Summit in Toronto last year, some 90 police officers removed their name tags to prevent identification in the case of police misconduct, charges of which soon followed. There can be disputes about police tactics, but none about an attempt to be unaccountable for those tactics. The 90 officers were docked a day's pay as punishment. This past summer the Toronto police chief submitted his annual recommendations for promotions, and they included nine officers who had removed their name tags. The police board declined to approve promotions for those nine, an unprecedented step that led the police union to file a grievance against the board. Being promoted in the same year as being punished seems rather an unusual practice, and good on the police board for insisting on serious consequences for officers who orchestrated a scheme to avoid accountability for their actions. The conduct of the police during the G20 left much to be desired. Even worse, after the fact, the various inquiries faced all manner of obfuscation from the police. The police chief and the union evidently believe that it's business as usual. The civilian police board is right to insist that it's not.

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