Known typically as a place to debate municipal policy, Kingston’s City Hall was revamped on Feb. 13 to talk about a broader significant political issue within the global community: targeted killing.
The Kingston International Lecture featured Department of Justice Counsel Leah West Sherriff. Her topic, “Killing Citizens: Legal Dilemmas in the Targeting Killing of Canadian Foreign Terrorist Fighters” attracted an engaged audience from Queen’s, Royal Military College (RMC) and the Kingston community.
Sherriff attended RMC for her undergraduate degree in political studies. Following this, she served with the Royal Military for 10 years and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010-11 as an Operations Officer. In 2012, Sherriff returned home to attend the University of Toronto for law school and is now completing her Masters in Law at the University of Ottawa.
The lecture was hosted by the Centre for International and Defence Policy (CIDP) at the University as part of the Kingston International Lecture series established in 2010. Sponsored by CIDP and RMC, the series presents lectures concerning international topics of interest.
As expressed by CIDP Deputy Director Christian Breede, the purpose of the lecture is to “inform the public at large on security and policy issues.” He said they tend to be “timely, unfortunately.”
This year’s topic was concerned primarily with the legal implications of targeted killing. In particular, the lecture examined the growing prominence the mechanism has in respect to counter-terrorism efforts by Western democratic states. The main concept of her talk was concerned with understanding targeted killing from the perspective of international and domestic law.
Before proceeding with the subject matter, Sherriff said that understanding where Canada stands on issues of counter-terrorism needs to be made clear to citizens.
“Would targeted killing of a Canadian by Canada be legal?” Sherriff asked those in attendance. She set the tone for a lecture that discussed the fragility of international and domestic law, but also the power of transnational movements.
“I believe that regardless of if targets of attacks are private or not, if a state enters a sovereign state for their own prerogative, you’ve crossed the Rubicon,” she said.
Despite this position, she identified that transnational groups, namely terrorist groups, “hide” behind state sovereignty to protect themselves.
“The idea that a non-state actor can arise to that level of violence but hide behind the state is repugnant,” she said.
To end the lecture, she emphasized the fact that regardless of the moral implications of state actions, “this is all governed by law.”
A short discussion period followed Sherriff’s lecture. Here, audience members were encouraged to engage with the topic and ask questions.
Political studies professor Kim Richard Nossal posed the question of how targets for these state-sanctioned killings were identified. Through her own experiences within the Canadian Royal Military and the Department of Justice, she said the information is often shared between states, non-state actors and foreign sources.
“The issues come from foreign actors where they can’t be used for evidence as witnesses within court,” she responded.
The Journal spoke to Sherriff following the lecture about her experiences with the topic and its significance.
“These are really big weighty questions. I think we should demand answers [from our leadership] as to where they fall in response,” she said. “In order to ask good questions we need to be educated, so that’s why I’m trying to educate people.”
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