Craig Scott: The NDP’s brand new MP and public intellectual

Craig Scott photo from CTV

As a New Democrat, nothing makes me prouder than to hear that the latest edition to the team blew his nearest rival (Gritty Grant Gordon) out of the water, in his resounding victory (nearly twice as many votes!) in Toronto-Danforth’s recent by-election. Jack’s spirit can rest easy knowing that his riding is still in good hands, and that his successor will continue his valuable work there. As a academic constitutional/human rights lawyer I couldn’t be more proud that my fellow dippers in that riding chose one of the best international human rights lawyers this country has ever produced to represent them.

The second point is the focus of my column this week. My apologies to those of you who have come here looking for Stanley Cup Playoff predictions (incidentally, if the Habs are out, I really can’t be bothered). Scott has had just about one of the most distinguished careers imaginable for an academic human rights lawyer, and it’s so rare in these anti-intellectual times to see what is sometimes called a “public intellectual” of his caliber throwing his hat in the ring, in the grand tradition of a Charles Taylor or Pierre Trudeau. So when it does happen, I think it’s worth celebrating. After all, if they all received as rough a reception as the highly egg-headed liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, then we will no doubt be surrendering our political culture to the cretinous conservatives and their flat-earth-society-logic.

What makes Craig Scott so special? It is quite simple: the length and breadth of his career. He’s accomplished much more than mere ivory tower accolades or publishing. Apart from graduating from Oxford and London School of Economics with a bachelors and a masters in law and teaching at one of the most elite law schools in the country (Osgoode Hall), Scott’s most impressive feat may have been his remarkable efforts to support the African National Congress’ case for including socio-economic rights in its post apartheid constitution.

To this day, one of the only constitutions in the world to effectively erase the traditional hierarchy between classical civil rights (freedom of religion, expression, etc.) and the basic human rights long recognized as crucial internationally, but seldom respected at the national level (right to education, housing, etc.). In doing so, South Africa is blazing a trail in creative interpretation and application of what might be called the next generation of human rights law.

Speaking as someone who has devoted the better part of the past seven years to studying the law, I think it’s high time that people recognize that these human rights are on the same level as those rights that we have achieved widespread consensus on since at least the age of revolutions (i.e. US and French). The fact that these sometimes involve spending of tax payer’s money is no argument against their enforcement.

Consider that the right to a fair trial costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year, but we regard it as inviolable, nonetheless. Besides, can we realistically expect people to exercise their right to vote or their freedom of expression properly without the right to a decent education? As the message being conveyed by protesters to the government of Quebec, as I write this, goes: education is not a privilege it’s a right that all of us should enjoy.

Finally, Scott worked, along with several others eminent legal minds, on the critically important fact finding mission that investigated the massive injustice suffered by Maher Arar at the hands of various government agencies both here and in the US. The result of his research can be found in the highly influential Report of The Events Relating to Maher Arar, which documents the gross incompetence of the RCMP, CISIS and other government so called “intelligence” that rendered an innocent Canadian to Syria to be tortured.

With the government’s growing threats to our human right of privacy (C-30) and our right to habeas corpus (see my previous column on the expansion anti-terrorism act), we need a strong advocate of human rights like Scott on the Hill more than ever!

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