Harper Conservatives “on the attack” against courts

5849107155386368POSTED ON JULY 23, 2014

justice-gavel-wooden-300x200Remember in 2006 when Stephen Harper tried to reassure Canadians that they didn’t need to worry about his “extreme tendencies” because three “safeguards” in our system of governance would hold him in check?

One was the Senate as a chamber of sober second thought. Well, so much for that idea! Mr. Harper has mangled the Senate with wrong-headed appointments and constant manipulation. Trust is gone.

Secondly, a strong public service was supposed to keep him within the confines of decent public policy. But Mr. Harper quickly made it known that advice from government officials is not valued and those who “speak truth to power” get punished. So intimidation reigns.

The third safeguard was the Courts. And that’s where the rubber hits the road.

The judicial system has a measure of constitutional authority and independence that the first two do not. Governments are not above the law. When Prime Ministers, Parliaments and bureaucracies go wrong, citizens must have the right to challenge them in court.

A number of courts at various levels – including judges who have been on the Bench for years and some who only just arrived – have questioned the legality and constitutionality of various Harper government actions and pieces of legislation. The issues at stake frequently involve the Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms, like a recent ruling that this government’s treatment of refugees is, in some ways, “cruel and unusual”.

This enrages Harper Conservatives who have never accepted the legitimacy of the Charter – unlike some 80% of Canadians who regard it as a defining characteristic of our nationhood.

So you have the unseemly spectacle of Stephen Harper and his entourage on frequent rampages against the courts and judges (including attacks on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada) and the interpretations of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter.

What these Harper Conservatives ignore is that the Charter itself was duly and laboriously crafted, debated and enacted according to law. It reflects the democratic will of Canadians, which cannot be easily trumped.

And it contains a safety valve – i.e., the “notwithstanding” clause – which dissidents can use, if they’ve got the courage. In other words, the Harper Conservatives could, in fact, legislate their distasteful ideology, but they would have to declare, upfront and explicitly for all Canadians to see, that they are doing so “notwithstanding” the traditions and values of a free and democratic society.

Of course they’d rather not invoke the Notwithstanding Clause because it destroys their facade of respectability. So instead, they rant against the courts, accusing them of bad faith and “end runs” around democracy.

Before embracing such criticism, note the prevailing mentality among the folks around Mr. Harper which led his Chief of Staff to think it was “okay” to make a $90,000 payment to a sitting Parliamentarian. Is that the kind of judgment you can trust, without recourse? And that’s not all – take a hard look at the bruised and battered “democracy” that characterizes this Harper regime:

  • Hundreds of millions of tax dollars squandered on partisan government advertising to skew public opinion. Vicious attack-ads paid for with tax subsidies. Campaigns of character assassination aimed against charities, non-governmental organizations, church groups, public servants, scientists, statisticians, Officers of Parliament and public-interest watchdogs.
  • Tampering with Access-to-Information procedures. Stonewalling the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Limiting the work of House of Commons Committees.
  • Blatant misuse of Omnibus Bills, Prorogation and Closure to stifle reasonable debate and avoid accountability.
  • The conviction of the Conservative Party for more than a million dollars in illegal election campaign spending. The resignation of a Conservative Cabinet Minister over election violations in Labrador. The “robocall” electoral fraud trial now underway in Guelph. The Prime Minister’s former Parliamentary Secretary on trial for other alleged election offences in Peterborough.
  • A Conservative scheme, defended publicly by Stephen Harper, to use robocalls to influence an independent electoral boundaries commission.
  • The new Conservative “Elections Act” which makes it harder for many Canadians to vote and easier for electoral fraud to go undetected.

Given this perverse approach to democracy, it’s probably a good thing that ordinary citizens have at least some ability to fight for their rights in court. continue reading…….
Published on Feb 18, 2014
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