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Bush on Trial for War Crimes in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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December 6, 2004

Bush on Trial for War Crimes in Halifax, Nova Scotia

by Shannon Hines

George W. Bush was on mock trial for war crimes this week in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The trial, attended by over 300 spectators, was based on a play by Lawyers Against the War (LAW) and was performed by the Halifax Peace Coalition. On Nov. 30, the eve of the US President's visit to the Eastern Canadian capital, protesters gathered in Victoria Park to hear the President's plea. He pled not guilty.

Although the trial was staged, the lawyers actors, and George W. Bush's accent distinctively East coast (not Texan), the verdict was meant to be taken seriously. The cries of "Guilty!" from the crowd, and the sombre testimony from the prosecution's witnesses (representatives of the Iraqi people, soldiers, prisoners, and Gaia, Mother Earth herself) all sought to raise the same question: could – and should – Bush be prosecuted under Canada's Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act?

In his Nov. 16th editorial in the Toronto Star, Thomas Walkom admits the question is an interesting one. He writes that the act, passed in 2000 to bring Canada's ineffectual laws in line with the rules of the new International Criminal Court, holds that "Anyone who commits a war crime, even outside Canada, may be prosecuted by our courts."

What constitutes a war crime? As Walkom puts it, "Any conduct defined as such by customary international law or by conventions that Canada has adopted. War crimes also specifically include any breach of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, such as torture, degradation, willfully depriving prisoners of war of their rights 'to a fair and regular trial,' launching attacks 'in the knowledge that such attacks will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians' and deportation of persons from an area under occupation."

In a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin, LAW outlines in detail Bush's responsibility for the estimated 100,000 Iraqi lives taken by the war. "This includes his personal involvement not only in the devising and waging of an aggressive, illegal war, but also of the unlawful refusal to grant prisoner of war status to prisoners of war, contrary to specific provisions of the Geneva Conventions, an act repudiated in the US Courts."

The reality of bringing these accusations to the court is much more complicated. Walkom mentions three great hurdles: 1) When Belgium attempted to formally indict Bush last year, the US reacted with such fury that Belgium not only backed down, but changed their law to avoid future problems. Canada would not be exempt from the same response; 2) Heads of state are immune from prosecution when in Canada on official business, so action would have to wait until Bush is out of office; 3) Such political decisions would have to be made by the Canadian government, and so Canada would have to want to launch the suit against Bush.

Recognizing these hurdles, LAW also mentions in their letter to Martin that his own inaction and invitation to Bush could also be seen as a crime: "You and your colleagues could be personally liable to prosecution under the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act by virtue of section 21 of the Canadian Criminal Code, for crimes so serious that they are punishable in Canada by up to life imprisonment."

Whether or not the US President will undergo trial in the near future remains to be seen, but one could safely bet that it would not take place in Nova Scotia. During his official visit to Canada this week, Bush decided not to address parliament but to make his speech in friendly Halifax, where protesters were plentiful but peaceful.

One particular group of protesters, however, did address parliament with its remix of Canada's national anthem. "Raging Grannies" urged all Canadians "off of their fannies" before it's too late:

"Woah Canada
Don't be surprised
When Star Wars clutter up our Northern Skies
They say it wouldn't happen
Would they lie?"

» LAW: Letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin

» Resist!ca: Toronto Star article "Should Canada indict Bush?" by Thomas Walkom

» Halifax Peace Coalition: Official Website

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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