On Treason: A Contemporary Perspective
It seems I am inclined to take the precisely opposite point of view from Mr. Flanagan: I can’t imagine a coherent argument being made in favour of Louis Riel being found guilty of treason, yet I think the charge of treason has both utility and merit in being applied to one or two contemporary cases.
Flanagan cites cases like the Toronto 18, aboriginal protests at Caledonia and the FLQ as examples of cases where applying a criminal charge of treason or high treason would have been counter-productive. I am not at all certain he’s being realistic where aboriginal protests are concerned, for the simple fact that one enters a rather messy zone asserting that any aboriginal defending land claims or treaty rights is somehow guilty of treason. But the issue is one of a treason charge in any sense being a misapplication of the criminal law rather than any conceptual fault with treason being in the Criminal Code.
The acts of the FLQ are a different matter entirely. Clearly, kidnapping and murdering political figures while making demands that further the goal of political autonomy outside of the rule of law is, most will agree, very treason-like behaviour. And applying a treason charge to individuals in such a group does not somehow set a precedent or indicate will or intent to start laying charges of treason against members of the Parti Québecois (either in whole or part). There is a very wide, obvious gap between acknowledging the current political establishment as legitimate and working from within to change it to something else, with the expressed belief of the result being of greater good for all vs. committing acts of violence to achieve some perceived benefit for one’s own group at the expense of the other. The ambiguity Mr. Flanagan sees is, to my eyes, imaginary.
The Toronto 18 were about as close to a textbook case of traitors as one could get, I think. Not only was there a stated goal of killing the de facto head-of-state (Prime Minister Harper), there’s apparently evidence of seizing control of Parliament and blackmailing the government of Canada – without the consent of or any concern for its people. In contrast, the FLQ at least was trying to further the liberty and interests of the people of Québec — absent was any such desire amongst the Toronto 18.
So why not a charge of treason? Regardless of how "feudal" the word sounds to Mr. Flanagan’s obviously learned ear, the crime exists to address behaviour motivated by and executed according to specific criteria. And very real harms result from treason – harms to us all. Do laws exist providing lesser charges to redress the same conduct? Certainly the Anti-Terrorism Act is a good example. And perhaps the Criminal Code definition deserves review and update to constrain its use to cases where the malevolence against the people of Canada is indicated. But when such a crime is committed, there’s no question in my mind the appropriate charge and punishment ought to be applied.
And let those other charges for terrorism, etc. be applied in the less extreme cases absent the criteria matching treason.
We need treason to remain in the Criminal Code more than ever now – to reflect that acting against the people of Canada is among the most serious of offences and an affront to the conscience of our society; with correspondingly severe penalties. Will we remain safer? It’s odd that Flanagan thinks not because surely having the power to hold these traitors in jail for life is better than the relatively lenient penalties outlined in the Anti-Terrorism Act.