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Lawyers support colleagues in Pakistan

|Written By Helen Burnett

Hundreds of members of the Canadian legal community marched through Ottawa in a show of support for their legal and judicial colleagues in Pakistan.

Members of the Canadian legal community march through Ottawa to support lawyers and the judiciary in Pakistan.
And in Toronto, a demonstration organized by the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Ontario Bar Association was held late last week to support the rule of law and colleagues in Pakistan.

Over 300 lawyers from across the country attended the Ottawa march - co-sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association and the County of Carleton Law Association - that quietly wound its way from the Delta Hotel in Ottawa to the steps of the Supreme Court of Canada. Asked to march in dark business attire in a silent vigil rather than a demonstration through the streets of Ottawa, lawyers carried the flags of Canada, Pakistan, and the CBA, as well as a banner that read “lawyers defending the rule of law.”

At the Toronto gathering, law society treasurer Gavin MacKenzie remarked: “Today we join our voices with those of our colleagues at the bar in Pakistan and with lawyers from around the world. We let them know that we support them; we let them know that we too will speak out against the abuse of power. And we let them know that we will stand up for the rule of law whenever and wherever it is subverted by those who consider themselves to be above the law.”

The Ottawa march, which CBA president Bernard Amyot says is potentially the first such event in the CBA’s history, was the culmination of several steps that the CBA has taken since emergency rule was declared in Pakistan last month.

Following the proclamation of emergency, which suspended the country’s constitution on Nov. 3, Pakistan’s chief justice was removed and placed under house arrest and a number of other judges were dismissed, with some estimating that as many as one in four lawyers and 80 per cent of the judiciary are behind bars, says the CBA.

Earlier this month, the CBA noted in a letter to Pakistan’s high commissioner that the emergency rule suspending the constitution was “not due to any emergency, but rather was a reaction to the anticipated imminent negative decision by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf’s authority to stand as president during the previous elections.”

Musharraf has stepped down as military chief, and was sworn in as civilian president.

He announced late last week that he is “determined to lift the emergency by Dec. 16,” and that January’s “elections, God willing, will be held free and transparent under the constitution,” according to news reports.

In its letter to Pakistan’s high commissioner, the CBA requested an interview to convey the organization’s concern, and noted that it is “horrified at the images of bloodied lawyers who are defending a fair and impartial justice system in their country.” Amyot says the association did not receive a response.

A similar letter was written by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, calling for an end to emergency rule and the release of those who are unjustifiably detained, and the law society issued a media release, urging the legal community to intervene in support of the legal profession in Pakistan.

The next step, says Amyot, was to make the issue even more public, to make those outside of the legal community aware of the bar association’s position.

“I think we have the duty . . . to show them our full support and admiration,” he says.

The initiatives of Canadian legal organizations are similar to various steps being taken internationally by groups such as the American Bar Association, the Law Society of England and Wales, and the Law Council of Australia.

Last weekend’s march ended on the steps of the Supreme Court, where Amyot told participants, “Today, in front of the Supreme Court of Canada - a symbol of the rule of law - we express our outrage at the treatment endured by our colleagues in Pakistan. We wish to reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental principle of the independence of judges and lawyers, and of the rule of law in a free and fair society.”

Tom Conway, past president of the County of Carleton Law Association, tells Law Times that the association wanted to get involved, as many of the lawyers were shocked by the images they had seen on television and what they read in the newspapers.

“We have a fairly active law association and we thought we should do what we could to signal our support with our colleagues in Pakistan, and we also wanted to make the public aware of how serious this kind of attack on the rule of law is,” he says.

While the association is normally politically active, in terms of meeting with ministers and submissions to legislative committees, the march was an unusual step. However, Conway says, “It was such a shocking and appalling attack on the rule of law in another country that we really felt very strongly that we needed to respond to it in a very clear way.”

A statement sent to the CBA last weekend through the International Commission of Jurists (Canada) by an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan thanked those who participated for the “demonstration of solidarity with our struggle to preserve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, for the rule of law, and for judicial independence in our country.”

“We call upon the international community, particularly the lawyers, to support our demands for the revival of the constitution, the restoration of the judiciary with full guarantee of respect for its independence, the lifting of all curbs on the independent media, and the release of all lawyers, judges, journalists, and others who are imprisoned because of their actions to defend human rights,” wrote lawyer Hina Jilani.

In terms of next steps, the CBA has a petition to restore the rule of law in Pakistan on its web site, which it will be sending to the country’s high commissioner.

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