The power of nothing

t’s official — US Vice-President Dick Cheney is above the law. All you have to do is ask him, and he’ll tell you straight up.

t’s official — US Vice-President Dick Cheney is above the law.

All you have to do is ask him, and he’ll tell you straight up.

When he and his staff were asked to provide their publicly funded salaries and expenses in an annual report provided to congress, he simply refused.

Of course, it was all explained in a footnote to the report: “The Vice-Presidency is a unique office that is neither part of the Executive branch, nor a part of the Legislative branch.”

What isn’t said is, ‘nor can it be a part of the Judicial branch,’ and as such, it isn’t a part of the US government in any real way.

During a recent House Committee hearing in the US Congress, Cheney’s office called this special status “non-executive privilege.”

That is, he is nothing, so he can do anything.

Omniscience by negation.

Like the CIA prisons that don’t exist across the world and the trial rights that dissipate once a prisoner walks through the Gitmo gates, Cheney’s own office is a black hole of power that sucks in opposition, never to be seen again.

If it hadn’t been put forward by Cheney himself, the whole idea would be dismissed as a crackpot conspiracy theory.

Instead, Americans are left to grapple with a hawk who asserts that his power comes from his being outside the pesky confines of the Constitution.

Sadly, here in Canada, no such slight of hand is required.

For Canadians, the black hole is better expressed with a permanent marker.

Take, for example, the recent example of the Foreign Affairs report on Afghan detainees.

After much hand wringing and political flip-flopping, the Canadian government has signed a deal which ensures that any torturing of prisoners may continue, but that it won’t be our fault.

But there is still the issue of the report — and more importantly, what wasn’t allowed to leak out.

The Globe and Mail managed to get its hands on the report, both officially and unofficially.

The unofficial version provided gripping reading. The official version provided a headache from black marker fumes.

You see, before releasing the report as required by federal law, the government had the bulk of it blacked out.

The truth was literally wiped off the page.

Omniscience through negation.

Then there’s the RCMP, our national police force and an enduring image of our nation’s identity?

Issues have been raised in all areas of that organization, most notably by the officers themselves who exposed a massive pension fund fraud.

How did the government react?

With a special investigation that didn’t reveal who was interviewed, what was said by whom, or even what questions were asked.

The investigator didn’t even have the power to compel witnesses to testify and there was no oath required.

The result is a short report that painted a rough sketch of the problem and promised action.

What should disturb Canadians most is that this approach is entirely legal.

In the US, where Cheney is asserting his right to not exist, he is facing challenges from Congress and in the courts.

But here, in Canada, the only real issues are related to public relations.

The opposition raise their voices, like a Greek chorus, singing about the egregious actions of government.

But, like most Greek choruses, their words go unheard by the main actors — the PM and his cabinet.

And there are columns and commentaries and general media grousing.

But that’s it.

There is no Congress, and there is no court action outside of the public opinion.

Parliament goes home for the summer and we all move on to other issues, like Paris Hilton.

This isn’t a call to adopt a US-style government.

Far from it.

Rather, it is a call for two very distinct actions.

One, Canada must beef up its access to information legislation, including provisions to create an independent body, which will handle information requests, gather the documents from government and make unbiased assessments of what can be released and what must remain protected.

That is the only way to have an access to information system that lives up to its title.

And two, Canadians must take themselves and their concerns more seriously.

If we really care about Canada’s institutions, tortured prisoners or other issues we are currently in the dark about, then we need to react for more than one day.

We need to care enough about the issues that we hear about through our free media to get involved and stay involved.

We have a democracy. Let’s use it.

Because doing nothing is only useful if you are the one with all the power.

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