The Fugitive

Like a lot of the folks who walked into Laidlaw Hall last night, I had mixed feelings about Edward Snowden.  (And if emails from a few angry Old Boys are any indication, “mixed” might be the most pleasant way of describing how some alumni viewed UCC’s hosting the world’s most famous fugitive!)

Snowden’s argument is simple and straightforward: while surveillance is necessary (Remember he did work for the NSA), it needs to be limited because the unchecked accumulation of “mega-data” can undermine our democratic values. “If these (surveillance) agencies aren’t accountable to the public, then to whom are they accountable?”

The larger issue Snowden presents is as old as Antigone. What does an individual do when he believes the government’s laws are unjust? Snowden reminded us that Mandela went to jail for breaking the laws of South African apartheid.

As bright and cheerful as Snowden was – despite the fact that it was 4:30 am Moscow time—I found myself wondering about the price he has paid, and the price he may still need to pay for following his conscience. As clear as his thesis was last night, Snowden’s message might be more convincing if he were willing to meet the full cost that civil disobedience demands.

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19 Responses to “The Fugitive”

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. A.L. Says:

    In the words of Joseph Joubert (French Essayist and moralist, 1754-1824): “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it”

    I may not agree with Mr. Snowden’s actions or arguments, however, I am very impressed with a school that decides to expose its pupils to risky topics. Testing of ideas is essential in a democratic society and, in the upbringing of future leaders. It would be interesting to have the students expose to the other side of the argument so that they can analyze and form their own conclusions.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    It’s not Snowden who broke the law, it is our governments who have broken our constitutional rights and as such, they should be the ones on the run.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Jim.

    A couple of responses to your piece.

    While you heard negative comments from alum, my guess is that the majority of these were of an age, an identifiable demographic who attended UCC when it was a different place. There might even be, among such a constituency, a view of what the College should be–as it continues to change and adapt in the twenty-first century. I think there might be a correlation between age and interpretation–Conor said as much in his interview. (You would of course know better than do I).

    I spoke to many parents who either attended the event or watched the speech streamed. Not all of them agreed with Mr. Snowden’s actions, but each mentioned his knowledge, well-spokenness and apparent sincerity. Each also said they felt he constituted a powerful keynote.

    While Mandela did indeed serve jail time, you don’t mention Daniel Ellsberg; neither example if perfect, but Ellsberg is perhaps a closer fit. And it isn’t entirely clear that Mr. Snowden would or could have received justice in his country.

    The Antigone example is complicated. In my recollection, the newly-decreed head of state, Creon, establishes a law in the aftermath of a violent conflict that Antigone immediately violates. She eventually commits suicide in prison. But her argument is crucial. She points out that Creon sought to legislate beyond his authority by creating a law that had an impact on the soul’s transit to the underworld. Creon, Antigone argues, has no jurisdiction in this realm. And without jurisdiction his ‘law’ is a sham.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I FIND THE WHOLE BUSINESS OF INTERNET SECURITY,NATIONAL SECURITY AND AND
    OF COURSE PERSONAL PRIVACY SOME WHAT CONFUSING. TO ME IT IS LIKE FREE SPEECH
    AND THE FACT THAT YOU CAN’T YELL FIRE IN A THEATER. WHEN DO WE PROTECT AND HONOR
    FREE SPEECH AT ALL COSTS? IN FACT MY EXPERIENCE IS THAT AT MOST COLLEGES FREE SPEECH IS
    NOT REALLY HONORED. BUT THEN HOW DO WE DEFINE BIGOTRY RACISM AND HOMOPHOBIA ETC.
    AND DO WE NEED TO PROTECT THOSE THINGS TOO? THE POPE’S COMMENTS ABOUT FREE SPEECH
    AND HOW HE WOULD PUNCH YOU IF YOU OFFEND HIS MOM WAS CUTE..BUT REALLY NOT VERY
    HELPFUL. ARE HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS ABLE TO HANDLE SNOWDEN AND NOT BE CONNED? Our
    COLLEGE WOUD SHUT DOWN A NEWSPAPER THAT OFFENDED THE KORAN, THE BIBLE AND
    PROBABLY TOM BRADY. CHEERS.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    There seems to be a misconception that Snowden ended up in Russia by choice. He was trying to get to South America. But the United States made it clear they would not allow Snowden to cross the Atlantic, even forcing down the plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales on the (false) rumour Snowden was on board.

    Yes, we can say that Snowden isn’t as courageous as Mandela. Few people are. Being afraid to face torture at the hands of the US intelligence industry does not make one lack credibility.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    This guy has no credibility in my book. I’ll grant that Washington is
    out of control on numerous fronts, but hiding out in Russia (of all
    places) spouting off about privacy issues – why should anybody pay any attention to what he says?

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I thought the counter point suggestion was particularly good. To have had a Secret Service or defense offical to present the counter point of view would, I think, have been a good thing to do. Perhaps an invitation for someone like that to speak in response?
    I have a big problem with Snowden’s line of argument. He claims that he acted in defense of democratic freedoms yet flees to Communist China and lives la dolce vita in Putin’s Russia. I thought his line about having more chance to be killed by lightening than a terrorist was puerile. And It believe that that he should, like Daniel Elsberg, have stayed and made his case in the United States instead of fleeing to totalitarians who have no doubt reaped a windfall of intelligence from him. I am often struck by how these so-called defenders of liberty never turn their hacking/intelligence skills on the totalitarians.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, what a coup!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I read with shock and great concern the article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, reporting on the upcoming student forum at UCC featuring Edward Snowden.

    Knowing that he is a fugitive from US Justice , an accused thief and traitor to his country, and now a resident in Russia, I am absolutely appalled that you as the senior leader at UCC would allow such an individual to address your students. This appears to be a complete shift in values in the school at which I was educated.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    A courageous choice for sure! I am sure you must be hearing from some of the “old boys” who would
    not be happy about the connection between UCC & Snowden.
    His talk had a lot of play on CBC radio.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Congratulations on this – I know others will take an opposing view but to my mind, this is courageous and bold and ABSOLUTELY what a school like UCC should be doing.

    It takes guts to have tough conversations where there are no easy answers. It takes guts to risk being criticized for the sake of a principle (freedom of speech). It takes guts to give kids the chance to confront ‘the grey space’ in our modern world, and not stick to the safety of ‘black and white’. Its very easy to dismiss Snowden as a criminal and adopt a ‘not in our back yard’ stance. What UCC has done is far better — bring him in, open the floor and let the debate cast its own lights and shadows. Wonderful!

    I am so proud of you all.

    Bravo!!!

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Incredible that he spoke with UCC! I have not followed his story very closely, but what a way to spark conversation on campus. Did the potential controversy or backlash ever make you consider not allowing the address to happen?

    Very impressed that you pulled it off, no matter how one feels about Snowden.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Proud of you and UCC!

  15. Anonymous Says:

    This was a monumental occasion for your kids, an opportunity for them to hear from a controversial figure, listen to his passion as he expresses his point of view, digest this and provide the grist for their own future conversations and debates.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Would UCC invite someone on the run from a white collar criminal accused of a Ponzi scheme, bilking thousands of people out of their savings? Would UCC invite Bill Cosby, a man accused of drugging and raping over 20 women? What about a person accused of killing for religious reasons and hiding in Iran?

    The issue comes as to who at UCC do we commit the trust to subject our students to wanted fugitives? Who decides what crimes are “acceptable” and which are not? Until we have a policy at UCC no criminals of any crime should get to hurt Canada and our allies, or any citizen of Canada and be put on some platform to give our students only one point of view, justifying their crimes as they hide from the consequences in less than friendly countries over sees.

    A very disappointed loyal UCC alumni.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Impressive. Great PR for your school!

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Old boys aside, I still think the evening was great and it was good that you allowed it to happen!

    We can’t all be Nelson Mandela (do you see this iconic prototype happening any more?) and I thought Snowden a lot better than most these days. Especially his emphasizing what each of us can do (when and if we can) and the idea of issues versus personalities…in reading his Wikipedia profile there was mention of how in his consideration of becoming a whistle blower he did not want to be eviscerated. More people will step up to the plate I think if they can figure out how not to be destroyed by the process. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) they will not become “heroes” but perhaps people we can relate to more, and not from such a distance.

    Again, old boys aside.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Almost unbelievable.

    (Kissinger next year?)

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