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Michael Van Pelt: Canada’s top public servant led a life well-lived: Remembering Ian Shugart

Commentary

HAMILTON, ON – The fact that few knew that Ian Shugart was a regular gospel preacher in many Ottawa churches leads to a fitting way to describe the man. Ian rose to be the head of Canada’s public service, some 300-thousand people strong. He was a quick mind with steady judgement and an observer of character.  He was cautious, wise, and thorough—a model public servant. Mostly though, and especially as he travelled the vocational path to the highest position in the civil service as clerk of the Privy Council, he was a pastor. By that, I mean he always looked for the person behind the professional. In the most straightforward way, he got to the heart of things. He had an eye for things that matter to the heart without losing sight of the job at hand. 

I met Ian in 2011 as part of the Advisory Council for Social Innovation. He sat two chairs away from me. He seemed quite at ease to be invisible until he spoke. When I listened to him speak my internal voice exclaimed, “I know that language.” I know the careful wording about human dignity, I know the language of respect, and I know the language of history and wisdom. Simply, I knew right then he was a man of faith. I left the meeting, quickly jumped on to Google, and to my great surprise the first entry on Ian Shugart was a faith-filled speech he presented at the very think tank I worked for, Cardus. 

Not long after that meeting, I was waiting in a government boardroom as part of the long cadre of people deputy ministers meet in a day. Ian walked into the boardroom and said “You know I am a founder of your organization.” With discernable disbelief in my eyes, I listened as he shared that he was part of the early group of Parliament Hill staffers that founded the Centre for Cultural Renewal (which is now a part of Cardus.) 

Since that day we have met many times for more than a decade. Our deal was this. First, let’s not do day-to-day politics, but let’s talk about ideas that matter—and we did that. The second was: don’t ask me to share what you know I can’t—and I didn’t. Only one time did I catch a glimpse behind the scenes. It was a very public scandal that clearly landed on his plate to fix. I was teasing him about his easy life and his eyes went wide and frustration lines reshaped his face, for maybe a second. He never wavered from his commitment to respecting confidentiality.

In the last few years as clerk and then as a senator, Ian paid special attention to the emerging leaders in the Cardus community. As he weakened, his words had a growing intimacy and urgency to them. He spoke less of strategy and more of character and faithfulness. I watched these future leaders—young men and women—allow the voice of Ian Shugart to burn into their hearts and set their trajectory of public service. 

I know from Ian’s own words and worldview that he was deeply concerned about the cultural and spiritual direction of the country he served. Despite his deep concern, he stubbornly remained a public servant in its purest form. Ian would often remind me, “Michael, worry more about the cultural and spiritual state of yourself, your neighbour, and your community. Politicians will follow the culture and the public servant must serve the government. And that is as it ought to be!” Many times I imagined what power a deputy minister could exert by bending an issue in my direction. But here, Ian Shugart was in the tradition of Saint Thomas More, known as the virtuous statesman who never used the means of power to advance a matter of personal interest.

I miss Ian Shugart. Just as the prime minister gave him space to truly voice the wisdom of a Godly and wise man, cancer was breaking his earthly form. I had dared to imagine tackling legislative files with mutual mission. 

When I think about Ian, I can’t help but think of another ancient public servant from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures: the prophet Daniel. Daniel, who spent time in the lions’ den, served in the courts of Babylon all while staying true to his own faith. I know my long-time friend and Cardus co-founder Ray Pennings often saw parallels between the prophet Daniel and Ian. And Ian himself deeply studied the model of Daniel as a faithful leader and public servant. It’s a model worth following and one I hope others take to heart.

Ian faced the brokenness of the world, including cancer, while holding to a hopeful future. I have no doubt that the words he hears today are, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

Howard Anglin: The trap that Hamas set for the world is ready to spring

Commentary

Hamas has set a trap for the state of Israel in which they and their fellow Gazans are the bait and the rest of us are the spring-loaded jaws waiting to snap shut on the Jewish state. Hamas is counting on the fact that when Israel inevitably begins its offensive against its terrorist army in Gaza, the governments, pundits, and people of the world will clamp down on Israel, restraining it militarily just when Hamas is most vulnerable. Of course, this trap will only work if we are credulous enough to play along with Hamas’s plan.

So far, the Canadian government has resisted calls from a vocal minority to stop Israel from defending itself, but there are signs that the resolve with which almost all mainstream political parties initially reacted to the Hamas massacre will not last long. Last week, 33 members of Parliament sent Mr. Trudeau a letter “demand[ing] that Canada join the growing international call for an immediate ceasefire.” Most of these were members of the NDP, Green, and Bloc, which was to be expected, but several were prominent Liberals from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own backbench.

No doubt the letter’s signatories mean well—so many of the most dangerous voices in history have meant well—but it is important to be clear about what a ceasefire would mean at this time. First, it would not be just. A ceasefire after one side has committed an atrocity rewards the aggressor’s violence. Second, it would not be neutral. A time-out gives the advantage to the party on the defensive. Finally, a ceasefire would not mean peace, only a pause. It would give Hamas time to retrench and rearm, which means a harder, bloodier confrontation when it does come, with more dead on both sides.

It is also curious that the MP’s letter doesn’t offer a plan. A ceasefire for what? The question is left hanging, as though the point were not to solve the problem but to salve their consciences. If the goal is to buy time to negotiate the release of more hostages, that would at least be a plausible rationale. But the letter doesn’t say that, and it doesn’t offer a timeline to avoid Hamas’s apparent plan to dangle the possibility of hostage releases indefinitely. If it is to broker peace, then it’s a futile and foolish gesture. Hamas has had 18 years to show it can be a viable government for Gaza and partner in peace for Israel. Instead, it used that time to plot the first pogrom of the 21st century. There can be no peace with Hamas.

Israel must remove Hamas. Expecting them not to is unreasonable. Demanding they not, while forensic investigators are still gently prying apart piles of charred bodies to identify victims, is obscene. Even thinking that Canada should have some say in how Israel chooses to protect its people is presumptive. You don’t tell a mother how to protect her remaining children from a murderer who has already killed some of them and has his eye on the rest. About the only condition that the world can reasonably raise is the expectation that Israel defend itself within the laws of war.Even then it’s pretty rich for a Canadian government that doesn’t have to worry about its own borders, and couldn’t defend them in any case, to lecture another country on how to guarantee its existential security.

Which brings us to the word of the day: proportionality. While the mobs in our streets are quite happy to see Israelis—let’s not kid ourselves, Jews—suffer, Israel’s more sophisticated opponents couch their objections in the airy language of international law. Israel’s response, we are repeatedly told, must be “proportional.” But what does this mean? The first thing to recognise is that it doesn’t mean what Twitter jihadis would like us to think it means, which is equivalency in casualties. Proportionally in war is not some kind of macabre double-entry bookkeeping in which bodies are stacked beside bodies until they reach an equal height.

As a moral concept, proportionality informs the goal of Israel’s response, which is to secure lasting peace. It is clear that the decade of relative peace that just ended—a decade that many Israelis are already looking back on as a brief golden age of security, prosperity, and, yes, perhaps complacency—was in fact just a prelude to the resumption of the existential threat Israel has faced since 1948. Nothing has fundamentally changed. October 7th showed that it is not enough to contain the threat posed by Hamas, it must be eliminated. Whatever that takes is proportional, in the broad sense, to the legitimate goal of ensuring Israelis are safe in their homes.

As a legal precept, proportionality in war means that before each military decision—each long-distance missile strike or engagement on the ground—the IDF must weigh the likely military advantage against the likelihood of excessive civilian deaths. Combined with the principle of “distinction,” which says that you can’t deliberately target civilians or civilian infrastructure, “proportionality” is intended to minimise loss of civilian life. Note: minimise, not avoid altogether. In practice, this means no war has ever been fought without civilian deaths. The laws of war do not unduly restrain the military from doing its job of winning the war.

It is also important to remember that human and technical errors mean mistakes will happen, and a mistake is not necessarily a war crime. Even a military that scrupulously follows the laws of war may accidentally kill civilians, and that becomes a near-certainty when the enemy deliberately maximises civilian deaths by embedding military targets in civilian infrastructure. Hamas welcomes the martyrdom of the people of Gaza as a way of delegitimising Israel, which means the majority of civilian deaths in Gaza will be Hamas’s responsibility, not Israel’s. If we forget that Hamas’s entire battle plan is a war crime—from rape to murder to hostage-taking to the use of human shields—we will only encourage more of them.

The ground war that Hamas has been preparing for in Gaza will be slow and brutal. They have forced civilians to remain in the war zone despite warnings from Israel telling them to leave; booby-trapped every block of Gaza’s cities; dug hundreds of miles of underground tunnels that will have to be cleared; and they hold more than 200 hostages they won’t hesitate to use as human shields alongside their own people. On the other side, Israel will incur additional casualties as a result of the caution that comes with attending to the laws of war. Those extra deaths are the tragic price Israel will pay for its humanity, and we should bear them in mind before calling on Israel to show any more “restraint” than is absolutely necessary to win.

We should also prepare ourselves for a high death toll and devastating images. It will be hard to watch at times, even for those who believe Israel’s cause is just and its methods justified. To avoid losing perspective, I recommend watching old war documentaries for comparison. A good place to start is World War II in Colour, especially episodes 7-13. The charred landscapes and flattened city blocks are a reminder of what it takes to win a war decisively, the terrible price paid on both sides, and the hard decisions our own civilian and military commanders took—most defensible, some indefensible, and others somewhere in between—when we faced our own enemy that could not be reasoned with.

This war will be a test of whether any war can be fought, let alone won, in the age of instant information and misinformation. Every decontextualised image will be exploited for its emotional potential, regardless of what it actually shows. We will see the chaotic aftermath of each attack in graphic detail, but will not be privy to the decision-making calculus that preceded it. We will know only what we see on our screens (and perhaps not even that), but we won’t really know what we are seeing. I doubt we could have fought either World War for long under these conditions without demoralising the home front; I am fairly sure couldn’t have won them. So, that is a new challenge that Israel faces.

Finally, we should not forget that this is not our war. Even supporters of Israel’s fight should remember that we are not the ones fighting and resist the temptation to second-guess Israel’s tactics and strategy. It won’t be easy. Social media has conditioned us to feel before we think and to speak before we understand. Hamas is counting on this. Every civilian death is awful, and as feeling humans we should mourn their deaths. But as thinking humans we should remember what war is and has always been. It is hell, as Sherman said, which is why you don’t start one unless you believe the cause is just, and why, once it starts, you have to make sure you finish it on your terms. That is Israel’s responsibility now. All they need from us is not to play the part that Hamas has set for us in its trap.