Anne McLellan   Letter 08   21-Feb-1998   Are courts weapons?
February 21, 1998

The Honourable Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Room 360, Justice Building
239 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H8

E-mail: [email protected]

Dear Ms. McLellan:

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, LIFE magazine published an editorial discussing whether or not the justice system should be used to achieve political ends:

[T]he attitude of our ... National Lawyers Guild ... says baldly that the "punishment of war criminals ... is a war measure in virtually the same sense as direct military action....  Legal principle and procedure should be used to further our national policy."

Are Courts Weapons?

But what should our "national policy" be?  Should it be to secure the maximum number of convictions?  Or to re-establish in demented Europe a respect for the law?

Before he was appointed prosecutor, Justice Jackson made a speech in which he warned against the use of the judicial process for nonjudicial ends, and attacked cynics who "see no reason why courts, just like other agencies, should not be policy weapons."  If we want to shoot Germans as a matter of policy, let it be done as such, said he, but don't hide the deed behind a court.  "If you are determined to execute a man in any case, there is no occasion for a trial; the world yields no respect for courts that are merely organized to convict."  Mussolini may have got his just deserts, but nobody supposes he got a fair trial.

Anglo-Saxon justice is too precious a heritage to be used as a weapon against men.  But it is a weapon against a system the authoritarian system which almost destroyed Europe.  Indeed, it is the only alternative to that system.  The real lesson of Buchenwald is not that some Germans are beasts but rather that when a civilization goes utterly pragmatic, ceases to place a supreme value on individual human life and denies the possibility of abstract justice and the reality of natural law, Buchenwald is simply the end result.

If law cloaks a blood bath in Germany, the idea of law will be the real victim.  Lynch law, of which we have known a good deal in American, often gets the right man.  But its aftermath is a contempt for law that breeds more criminals.  (Excerpt from Editorial, LIFE, 28 May 1945, p. 34)

Thus, with the war still vivid in their memories, LIFE magazine editors came down on the side of safeguarding the law from use for political ends.  Your Justice Department, however more than half a century later, and reconsidering the very same question applied to the very same events has come down on the side of placing Canada's justice system at the service of political ends.  Where your Justice Department should be prosecuting for war crimes among individuals in their prime, instead it follows political dictates to prosecute for war misdemeanors among the aging.  Thus, your administration has set upon a course of action which can only draw upon Canadian justice the contempt of the citizens of Canada.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak