Seventy five years ago, farm boys from Manitoba and steelworkers from Hamilton marched to liberate my parents’ homeland, the Netherlands. Thousands remained behind, their graves kept immaculate by Dutch schoolchildren. Under the occupation, judges were appointed by occupying forces, police chiefs became untrustworthy and the rule of law was systematically subverted by the ideology of National Socialism. My parents told me what it meant on a daily basis not to trust the very institutions we assume are there to safeguard our rights and promote justice.
I was reminded of this the other day when I listened to a CBC interview of a Bosnian mother and widow. Her husband and two sons had been murdered in the Bosnian conflict and certain suspects were facing charges. She was asked if she sought revenge and she demurred, saying in her broken English, “I trust courts.”
The rule of law is a thing of remarkable beauty and importance, and also something we take for granted. Whether it is the survivors of sexual abuse or the children whose father has been taken away by an impaired driver. These and others in past millennia would have sought redress in primitive and lawless ways. Today, however, they simply put their faith in our institutions of justice. They say, simply and emphatically, that they trust the courts.