By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 0 Comments
An exchange from QP last spring, a day before Stephen Woodworth’s motion was debated in the House.
Niki Ashton. Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister promised Canadians that he would not reopen the debate on abortion. Nevertheless, that is exactly what one of his Conservative members is going to do tomorrow in the House. Canadian women have been fighting for decades for this right. Why is the Prime Minister not speaking out loudly and clearly against what his own party is trying to do here in the House?
Rob Nicholson. Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows the rules with respect to private members’ bills. That bill will be debated as all other private members’ bills are debated in the House, in accordance with the rules of the House. I do not see why that should be a problem for the hon. member.
Niki Ashton. Mr. Speaker, during the election and in the House the Conservative government has said that it is not going to reopen the abortion debate, but that is exactly what it is doing in this very House. While other members have done this in the past, the Prime Minister has done something to stop it. This is not the case this time. He is saying one thing in the House while through the back door he is rolling back Canadian women’s rights. Will the Prime Minister stand in the House right now and tell his party that a woman’s right to choose in Canada in 2012 is not up for negotiation?
Rob Nicholson. Mr. Speaker, the government’s position has been very clear. Unlike the NDP, we do not muzzle our members as that party now does. The bill will be debated as all private members’ bills are debated.
The Justice Minister’s comments about muzzling and private members’ business are interesting in light of what has lately occurred with Mark Warawa. But Ms. Ashton’s complaints are worth parsing too. The implicit or explicit suggestion would seem to be that the Prime Minister is somehow responsible for his caucus and could have (should have?) done something to stop Motion 312 from coming forward. Or at least that the Prime Minister is accountable for what’s going on behind him.
Here is something Francoise Boivin said in a scrum earlier this year.
The Prime Minister said abortion is legal in Canada. I mean that was strong words … And he made promises during campaign. So there’s obviously a problem with the way he controls his caucus or it satisfies him because it satisfies some part of their supporters.
And here is what Ms. Ashton told the House when Mr. Woodworth’s motion was debated.
If the Prime Minister did not want a woman’s right to choose to be debated, we would not be here tonight.
Of course, an an entirely separate front, the New Democrats have mocked Conservative MPs as messengers of the PMO.
It’s easy to fall into circular logic here—the Prime Minister controls what his MPs say and do, so why isn’t he controlling MPs like Mark Warawa and Stephen Woodworth?—and from there it’s easy to fall into conspiracy theories. (See my interview with Brad Trost for some discussion of this). So it’s maybe worth sticking with a basic question: Should MPs be free to table bills or motions that do anything other than express full and complete support for unlimited access to abortion? (Or is access to abortion sacrosanct?)
The Conservatives would seem to have run into trouble now after attempting to say no (or at least, no more). But it is a question the opposition parties might be asked as well.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 5:57 PM - 0 Comments
Shortly after Conservative Brian Jean had stood to accuse the New Democrats of advocating for a “job killing carbon tax” and Conservative MP Scott Armstrong had stood to say that “the policy of the NDP is to go south to recruit foreign criminals to come to Canada” and Conservative MP David Wilks had stood and claimed to possess “a long list of attacks on Canadian interests from the NDP” and Conservative MP Robert Sopuck had stood and ventured that the NDP leader “leader rejects sound science and works hard to kill Canadian jobs” and Conservative MP James Bezan stood and said Thomas Mulcair had “attacked Canadian jobs, attacked Canada’s national interests and took up the cause of a convicted cop shooter” and shortly before Justice Minister Rob Nicholson stood and declared that “New Democrats are never on” the side of victims of crime, Stephen Harper stood and declared himself quite disappointed with Mr. Mulcair’s tone.
“Mr. Speaker, Peter Penashue broke… the… law,” Mr. Mulcair had enunciated, now pausing for effect. “If our law and order Prime Minister considers Peter Penashue, a known lawbreaker, to be the best Conservative MP, what does that say about the rest of his caucus?”
In fairness, Mr. Harper had not said that Mr. Penashue was the best member of the Conservative caucus, rather that he was the best MP that the riding of Labrador had ever had. Though perhaps that description too raises questions about how the Prime Minister measures quality.
Regardless, Mr. Harper was now profoundly saddened. “Mr. Speaker, obviously, I disagree with that categorization,” the Prime Minister sighed. “I am sad, but not surprised, to hear that kind of negative campaign from the—”
He could not finish because the New Democrats had burst out laughing.
The Speaker called for order and returned the floor to Mr. Harper.
“Mr. Speaker, in Labrador, Minister Penashue,” the Prime Minister continued, apparently still struggling to come to grips with the reality of Mr. Penashue’s resignation, “will be able to point to a record of respecting his promises, working against the federal long gun registry and for such things as the Trans-Labrador Highway, the Lower Churchill project and obviously for the strong record that he has presented to the people of Labrador.”
So Mr. Penashue might not have rightfully won a seat in the House of Commons, but at least while he had it, some things happened that the people of Labrador might have reason to be happy about.
The House proceeded to other matters, but after Rob Nicholson had declared his concern for the victims of crime, Bob Rae detected a segue back to Mr. Penashue.
“Mr. Speaker, the victims of the latest Conservative crime are the people of Labrador. Those are the victims we need to stand up for,” Mr. Rae ventured. “It is now clear that there was a completely orchestrated-from-central-casting resignation by the minister. Peter Penashue held press conferences. He used government money to hold press conferences. He placed ads. The Conservative Party transferred money to the riding association in Labrador. The entire thing was orchestrated by the Prime Minister of Canada and orchestrated by the Conservative Party of Canada.”
There was not a question here, but the Prime Minister stood anyway.
“Mr. Speaker, the member for Labrador has taken the correct action,” Mr. Harper said. “The people of Labrador will decide.”
But, once more, the Prime Minister was besmirched.
“They will have the difference between that kind of negative, ugly campaign,” he said, drawing laughs from the Liberals, “and, on the other side, a record of positive achievement for the people of Labrador by minister Penashue and, obviously, we will respect the decision of the people of Labrador.”
Mr. Rae saw another segue.
“Mr. Speaker, if the Prime Minister wants to see ugly, he and his cabinet colleagues should simply look in the mirror and assess their own conduct—”
The Conservatives groaned their displeasure. The Speaker called for order.
“I do not think we need to make those kinds of personal characterizations,” Speaker Scheer suggested. “It is certainly not adding to the debate today.”
Mr. Rae pleaded innocence. “Mr. Speaker, if looking in the mirror produces unacceptable results,” he offered, “it is hardly the fault of the people who are asking the questions.”
The interim Liberal leader again failed to register a question, but the Prime Minister stood again nonetheless.
“Mr. Speaker, I think the real problem is the positions that the Liberal Party of Canada has on issues that matter to the people of Labrador,” Mr. Harper ventured. “The people of Labrador value the seal hunt; they value investments in their infrastructure and in their Internet; and they certainly value the Lower Churchill hydroelectric electric project.”
The questions about the former minister persisted and it was Pierre Poilievre who took up the cause of defending his honour.
“Mr. Speaker, in anybody’s mind, writing cheques for nearly $50,000 is a clear admission that Conservatives broke just about every law in the book during the Labrador campaign and that they knew they broke them,” Liberal MP Gerry Byrne charged. “With that said, the Prime Minister also knows that sanctions with serious consequences remain inevitable against Mr. Penashue and his party. With absolutely nothing left to lose under those circumstances, a byelection is about to be called to try to dull some of that reality. Does the Prime Minister really feel that holding a byelection could ever trump the rule of law in Canada and that the process of justice might actually be able to be turned off for a byelection?”
Somewhere in this distance, or perhaps only in Mr. Poilievre’s head, a string quartet began to play the national anthem.
“Mr. Speaker, there they go, launching a nasty, negative campaign full of slurs,” he sighed. “Never did a slur create a job. Never did a slur protect a traditional aboriginal way of life that Peter Penashue has fought for.”
The anthem swelled. Watching at home, mothers gathered their children to listen. In office towers, business halted. In the fields, plowing ceased. Tears trickled down the cheeks of grown men.
“Never did a slur help a school child in a remote community have access to the world through high-speed Internet, the way Peter Penashue delivered. Never did a slur protect CFB Goose Bay,” Mr. Poilievre continued. “Slurs do not do that, but Peter Penashue did.”
And lo was the nation stirred and lo did all who heard Mr. Poilievre now rush to Labrador, cheques in hand and the Elections Act in mind, to donate the maximum allowable funds to Mr. Penashue’s re-election campaign.
For sure, Mr. Poilievre was so very right. And thus it is to wonder why so many others waste so much of their and our time with such empty words.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 11:32 AM - 0 Comments
Ed Schmidt, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, is currently challenging the department in Federal Court—see here and here—over the department’s obligation to inform Parliament if a piece of legislation violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The NDP’s Pat Martin has now taken this issue to the House, raising it as a matter of privilege.
Mr. Schmidt alleges the Department of Justice counsel have adopted a policy of interpreting the constitutional duty as meaning “no advice is given to the minister that he or she…has a duty to report to the House” so long as “some argument can reasonable be made in favour of its consistency with the charter, even if all the arguments in favour of consistency have a combined likelihood of success of 5% or less”. If these allegations are in fact true, my privilege as a member of Parliament, indeed the privileges of each member of Parliament, have been breached.
Supposedly, when a bill is placed before the House as government bill, every member can be reassured by law that the bill is not in violation of either the Bill of Rights or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the fact that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has examined the bill and finds it to be compliant with these fundamental Canadian laws. If the allegations of Edgar Schmidt are true, we members cannot rely on the performance of these statutory and constitutional duties to know that a bill is consistent with the Bill of Rights and charter in deciding our vote as the bill proceeds through the committees and the House. Based on these allegations, the Department of Justice is approving proposed legislation that has only a mere remote possibility of being consistent with the charter or the Bill of Rights. In contrast, Schmidt argues that the statutory examination provisions require the Department of Justice to determine whether the proposed legislation is actually consistent with the charter or the Bill of Rights, not on the possibility of whether or not the legislation could be consistent.
This hinders us as members of Parliament in the performance of our parliamentary duties. It constitutes an interference in the performance of our duties to exercise due diligence of the bills before us. I believe every member of the House would agree that if these allegations are proven to be true, they show contempt for the authority and dignity of Parliament.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler is due to add his concerns and there will no doubt be a response from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson before the Speaker makes a ruling.
By Philippe Lagassé - Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 11:48 AM - 0 Comments
Why the Conservatives must rethink their approach to succession
Canada’s most monarchist government in decades has just dealt a serious blow to the Canadian Crown. In an effort to quickly enact changes regarding royal succession, the government has introduced a bill that undermines the concept of a truly independent Canadian Crown, the foundation of Canadian sovereignty. Equally troubling, the government claims that altering succession to the throne does not require a constitutional amendment. In making this argument, the government has overlooked the very nature of the Crown in law and the Canadian constitution. However commonsensical the proposed changes to the law governing succession may be, such a cavalier approach to the Crown, to the foundation of sovereign authority of and in Canada, merits scrutiny.
Heritage Minister James Moore laid out the government’s thinking at a press conference this past Wednesday. According to the minister, succession to the throne is not a matter of Canadian law. Instead, succession is a question of British law alone. Only the British Parliament can set the rules for who ascends to the throne, while the Canadian Parliament’s only authority lies in assenting to the changes. Put differently, the authority to legislate the rules of succession belongs with the British Parliament because the Canadian constitution does not address matters of succession. The legal pretext for this interpretation is the preamble to the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which states that the United Kingdom will obtain the assent of the Dominions when altering succession to, and royal titles and styles of, their shared Crown.
For Mr. Moore, the absence of an explicit reference to succession in the codified parts of the Canadian constitution also explains why no constitutional amendment is needed to alter succession in Canada. Although the Constitution Act, 1982 states that changes to the “office of the Queen” require a constitutional amendment that is approved by Parliament and the provincial legislatures, the government interprets “office” to mean only those powers and privileges of the Crown that are identified in the codified constitution. Hence, succession doesn’t pertain to the office because succession isn’t mentioned in the codified constitution.
Unfortunately for the government, these interpretations of the Statute of Westminster and office of the Queen are problematic.
The conventions outlined in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster depended on the power of the United Kingdom to legislate for the Dominions and on the idea that all the realms were under a single Crown. Neither of these conditions holds anymore, as Australian legal scholar Anne Twomey has shown. When Canada and the other Dominions altered their royal styles and titles in 1953, the realms did not assent to British legislation; they legislated for themselves. And Canada’s act made no mention of the Statute of Westminster. In the 1970s Australia and New Zealand enacted new royal styles and titles without consulting the other Dominions, sapping the prescriptive authority of the Statute‘s preamble. Claims that the preamble still applies to succession were further undermined in the 1980s. The authority of the preamble depended on section 4 of the Statute, which allowed the British Parliament to legislate for the Dominions. The Canada Act, 1982 ended the British Parliament’s authority to legislate for Canada and abolished s. 4 of the Statute. Australia followed suited with the Australia Act, 1986, as did New Zealand with its Constitution Act, 1986. The United Kingdom is no longer able to legislate for Canada, Australia or New Zealand, even in matters of succession and even if they assent.
As important, the United Kingdom cannot legislate the succession to the Canadian throne because the British and Canadian Crown are no longer one and the same. The British and Canadian Crowns are legally distinct and independent entities.
The emergence of the distinct and independent Canadian Crown happened gradually and it took time to be properly recognized. Somewhat ironically, the process began with Statute of Westminster, which granted the Dominions legislative independence. As Canadian cabinets monopolized the authority to advise exercises of the Crown’s powers in right of Canada in the decades that followed, the idea of a Canadian Crown took shape. In the early 1950s, the title of Queen of Canada was created. During her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed the Queen of Canada. As the government’s own publication, A Crown of Maples notes, “The proclamation reaffirmed the newly crowned monarch’s position as Queen of Canada, a role totally independent from that as Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.”
The final step toward a distinct Canadian Crown was achieved in 1982, when the Canadian constitution was patriated and Canada became a fully sovereign and independent state. While the 1982 patriation ended Canada’s legal ties to Great Britain, the expanded Canadian constitution retained the Crown as the concept of the Canadian state and as ultimate source of sovereign authority in Canada. This fully independent Canadian state could not have the British Crown as the source of its sovereign authority. Nor could it be a shared Crown. The only way Canada could be completely sovereign and independent was to decouple the Canadian Crown from its British counterpart.
The fact that only the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures can amend the constitutionally entrenched office of the Queen is a testament to this development. The Canada Act, 1982 and Constitution Act, 1982 gave the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures absolute control over the office of the Canadian Sovereign and the wholly independent Canadian Crown. Any claim that Canada and Britain share a Crown in the legal or constitutional sense is therefore incompatible with the complete sovereignty that Canada achieved in 1982.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson implicitly admitted as much when the succession bill was introduced in the House of Commons on Wedenesday. The minister noted the Governor General had given the bill his consent, a requirement for any bill that touches on the powers and privileges of the Crown. Since the British Crown had already given its consent to the British succession bill and the Canadian government claims that the Crown is shared, it is unclear why the consent of the Governor General, the representative of the Queen of Canada, was required. The only plausible answer is that the succession bill affects the separate and distinct powers and privileges of the Canadian Crown.
If the United Kingdom cannot legislate the rules of succession for the Canadian Crown, it follows that Canada must have the power to determine the rules of succession for its Sovereign and head of state. At present, the Canadian rules of succession are those that were inherited from the United Kingdom. And an argument might be made that they must mirror those of Great Britain absent a constitutional amendment, owing to the preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867. But mirroring the British rules does not mean Canada can simply assent to British bills to bring its succession into line with the United Kingdom’s. If Canada is a sovereign state and has an independent Crown, the Canadian legislatures—Parliament and the provincial legislatures—must pass substantive legislation to ensure that Canada’s rules of succession reflect those of Great Britain, not merely assent to a British law. Here again, the Governor General’s granting of Crown consent to the Canadian bill indicates the government is at least partially aware the British and Canadian Crowns cannot be affected by the same British law.
If we accept that Canada is fully sovereign and that the Canadian Crown is fully independent, then there must be some part of the codified constitution that addresses succession, whether explicitly or implicitly. A strong case can be made that the “office of the Queen” mentioned in s.41(a) must be that provision that addresses the succession to the Canadian throne. Accordingly, any change to the succession to the throne must trigger the amending process identified by s.41(a).
Succession must pertain to the office of the Queen because of the Crown is a “corporation sole.” Corporations sole fuse an office and an office holder. The office and office holder are treated as synonymous in law. This means that, legally speaking, all references to the Queen, Her Majesty and the Crown in Canadian statutes and the constitution refer to the same thing. When the constitution speaks of the office of the Queen, then, it is referring to both the Sovereign and the Crown in the broadest sense.
Most importantly for our purposes, this further means that the office of the Queen extends not only to the current office holder, but to those who will succeed to the office. This is necessarily true precisely because the Crown is a corporation sole.
The purpose of having the Crown as a corporation sole is to ensure that successors to the office of the Sovereign retain all the powers, duties, constraints of the Crown when they ascend to the throne. Hence, when one monarch dies and is replaced by their successor, there is no need to reiterate the established powers, duties and constraints of the Crown. Nor is there any need to rewrite any statutes. Having the Crown as a corporation sole allows for a seamless and automatic transition between the current Sovereign and her successor. So, when the Prince of Wales becomes King Charles III, all references in Canadian statues and the constitution to the Queen and Her Majesty will automatically apply to him because the Crown is a corporation sole.
It is the idea of corporation sole that underlies the cry of “the king is dead; long live the king!” The Crown is never vacant and the Sovereign never dead because, as a corporation sole, the office of Queen (or King) is immediately filled by successors when a monarch passes. Hence, as the canonical jurist of English law William Blackstone noted when discussing the concept: “Corporations sole consist of one person only and his successors, in some particular fashion, who are incorporated in law, in order to give them some legal capacities and advantages, particularly that of perpetuity, which in their natural persons they could not have had. In this sense, the king is a sole corporation.” The office of the Queen necessarily refers to both the current Sovereign and her successors.
To reiterate, then, altering the rules of succession requires a constitutional amendment under s. 41(a) because the Crown is a corporation sole, a legal status that was purposefully designed to ensure that the office of the Queen includes matters of succession.
Recognizing that the Crown is a corporation sole also helps us answer the question that hovers over this entire discussion, namely: how can the Canadian and British Crown be distinct if they’re both personified by Elizabeth II?
The Canadian and British Crowns are distinct corporations sole. As a result, the Queen of Canada and Queen of the United Kingdom are legally distinct office holders, just as the Canadian Crown and British Crown are distinct offices. However, the natural person who occupies these offices, Elizabeth Windsor, is the same. One woman personifies distinct and separate offices. This means that the Canadian and British Crown are under a personal union, but not a legal or constitutional one. Elizabeth Windsor holds the legally independent offices of the Queen/Crown of Canada and the Queen/Crown of the United Kingdom. But when she acts as the Queen of Canada, she is not acting as the Queen of the United Kingdom. The fact that Elizabeth Windsor is both the Queen of Canada and the United Kingdom does not mean that the two states shared a single Crown or Sovereign.
To conclude, it is worth discussing what might happen if we accept the government’s argument that succession is only a matter of British law and that changes to the rules of succession do not require a constitutional amendment. The most obvious consequence of the government’s position is that Canadian republicans will have been proved right: the Crown is an inherently British entity and Canada cannot claim to be an independent state until our ties to the House of Windsor are cut or we become a republic. The government’s view would also mean that Canada would effectively cease to be a constitutional monarchy if the United Kingdom decided to become a republic. The concept that underlies Canada’s entire system of government, the Crown, could be dismantled by another country.
The government’s narrow construction of the office of the Queen under s. 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982 may lead to some interesting outcomes, too. If the office of the Queen covers only those powers of the Crown that are explicitly identified in the codified constitution, a future Parliament could pass various statutes to undermine the monarchy without consulting the provinces. One could image, for instance, a future Parliament passing a regency act that transforms the Governor General from the representative of the monarch to the personification of the Crown in Canada, owing to the Sovereign’s absence in Canada. Coupled with a new set of letters patent that transferred all of the Sovereign’s remaining authority to the Governor General, this regency act could be used to exclude the royal family from all Canadian affairs. Since this kind of act would not affect the powers of the Crown included in the codified constitution, Parliament could pass it without consulting the provinces. Of course, it is difficult to imagine that this was the intended spirit of s.41(a), but a narrow construction of the office of the Queen might allow it.
Suffice it to say, while the changes to the succession are laudable, a greater degree of caution and debate is warranted here.
Philippe Lagassé is an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa. He thanks James W.J. Bowden for his research assistance.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 11:11 AM - 0 Comments
In tabling the royal succession bill yesterday morning, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson reported to the House the following.
Mr. Speaker, it is my duty and honour to inform the House that His Excellency the Governor General, having been informed of the purport of a bill entitled “An Act to assent to alterations in the law touching the Succession to the Throne” has given his consent as far as Her Majesty’s prerogatives may be affected to the consideration by Parliament of the bill, and that Parliament may do therein as it thinks fit.
So before the bill was tabled, the Governor General was consulted and provided consent for the legislation to go forward. Is that odd? Not really.
The consent of the Crown is necessary anytime a bill involves the prerogatives of the Crown—see here, here and here. Here is a list of bills that have passed Parliament with Crown consent. If the royal succession bill passes, it will be the first such bill to do so since 2001.
Crown consent has become a bit of a controversy in Britain.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 4:41 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. It is not necessarily Peter Penashue’s fault that he is the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. And it is not necessarily Mr. Penashue’s fault that the existence of the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister is something of a mystery. But so long as Mr. Penashue is the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister it is for him to justify that existence.
Indeed, to accept the job is to take on something of an existential crisis. To be the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister is to consider why we have an Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. It has been this way for some years. And it is something Stephane Dion—a former Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, but one who had an identifiable job description—began to ponder a year ago.
“Mr. Speaker, is there a Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in this Conservative government?” he asked last December.
“Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, if this government even has such a minister,” he sighed last March.
Mr. Penashue might’ve had only to contend with Mr. Dion’s fussiness were it not for the questions about the accounting practices of his election campaign. Such questions have now led to those larger questions. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 11:44 AM - 0 Comments
First drafted in 1892, the ever-resilient law has withstood repeated Senate, House of Commons and Supreme Court challenges to keep Canada as one of the world’s only developed countries to sanction corporal punishment.
That is unlikely to change, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Tuesday. “Parents are in the best position to raise their children,” Julie Di Mambro wrote in an email to the Post. “We believe it is up to them, not the government, to decide what is best for their children so long as it is within reason.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 4:52 PM - 0 Comments
A joint statement from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino (the Conservative MP for Vaughan) on the shooting in Scarborough last night.
“Our Government was very saddened to hear about this shooting in Toronto last night. We condemn this brazen shooting and extend our heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families.
“Canadians are concerned about violent crime, that’s why over the past six years our Government has introduced tough-on-crime legislation, like the Safe Streets and Communities Act, to keep dangerous criminals and gang members off the streets and out of our communities. We have also taken steps to ensure our border is open to legitimate travel and trade but closed to criminals and gun smugglers.
“Our Conservative Government has introduced mandatory minimum penalties for all serious firearms offences. We call on the Opposition to support victims and our actions to improve the safety of Canadian families. Canadians can count on us to stand up for victims and to continue strengthening our justice system so that those who commit serious crimes, particularly with firearms, serve serious jail time.
“Illegal guns and the criminals who use them have no place in our society. Our Government is committed to ensuring criminals are held fully accountable for their actions and that the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians comes first in Canada’s justice system.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 13, 2012 at 1:27 PM - 0 Comments
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announces an appeal of the British Columbia Supreme Court’s ruling on assisted suicide.
“After careful consideration of the legal merits of the June 15, 2012 ruling from the British Columbia Supreme Court, the Government of Canada will appeal the decision to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, and will seek a stay of all aspects of the lower court decision.
“The Government is of the view that the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical professionals, or anyone else, from counselling or providing assistance in a suicide, are constitutionally valid.
“The Government also objects to the lower court’s decision to grant a “constitutional exemption” resembling a regulatory framework for assisted suicide.
“The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities. The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation in Rodriguez (1993).
“In April 2010, a large majority of Parliamentarians voted not to change these laws, which is an expression of democratic will on this topic. It is an emotional and divisive issue for many Canadians.
“The Government of Canada will provide its full position before the British Columbia Court of Appeal when the matter is heard. As the matter continues to be before the court, the Government will not comment further.”
Mr. Nicholson’s mention of a vote in April 2010 is presumably a reference to Francine Lalonde’s private member’s bill, which was defeated 230-57.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Liberal MP Scott Andrews has formally requested that the ethics committee be recalled to hear from Dean Del Mastro.
“Mr. Del Mastro says he wants a process put in place by which he can clear his name,” said Mr. Andrews. “By proposing this meeting, the Liberal Party is providing Mr. Del Mastro the opportunity, with full Parliamentary immunity, to respond to these very serious allegations. This is a process that he has been asking for and we hope that he will put his money where his mouth is, agree to appear and provide the documents that he claims will exonerate him.”
As Kady O’Malley notes, Mr. Andrews needs three more members of the committee to second his request before the committee can be recalled, but it appears unlikely that the NDP will support Mr. Andrews. Charle Angus tells me he is happy to talk with Mr. Andrews about this proposal, but he is not sure how effective and appropriate a committee hearing would be—would it, for instance, draw enough witnesses to explore the charges involved?—and he is concerned about providing Mr. Del Mastro with a platform to speak with immunity.
If this is about a gong show then count me out. I want to know that we’re getting a serious investigation of what happened there and it’s done fairly. And I also don’t see the point of giving a forum to allow someone who is under investigation by Elections Canada, or potentially by the Director of Public Prosecutions, to walk in, say what they want to say in a majority-controlled Conservative committee and then walk out with immunity.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 11:39 AM - 0 Comments
The Star finds funding slashed for youth justice programs.
The Conservative government has slashed 20 per cent of federal funding for youth justice programs in Canada, cutting $35.6 million used to supervise and rehabilitate young offenders, the Star has learned. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson made no mention of the drastic cut Wednesday in a news release that trumpeted “continued support” for the Youth Justice Services Funding Program.
It is a key federal initiative that has directly transferred money to provinces and territories to deliver services to troubled youth ever since the original Young Offenders Act was passed in 1985. Instead, Nicholson said only that starting next spring, the Conservative government will “continue” to fund the program at $141.7 million annually.
Meanwhile, guided tours of Parliament Hill are being reduced.
See previously: The quiet cuts
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 29, 2012 at 8:38 AM - 0 Comments
Stephen Harper, June 2008. It’s one thing that they, the criminals do not get it, but if you don’t mind me saying, another part of the problem for the past generation has been those, also a small part of our society, who are not criminals themselves, but who are always making excuses for them, and when they aren’t making excuses, they are denying that crime is even a problem: the ivory tower experts, the tut-tutting commentators, the out-of-touch politicians. “Your personal experiences and impressions are wrong,” they say. “Crime is not really a problem.” I don’t know how you say that.
Rob Nicholson, July 2008. “We don’t govern by statistics in our government.”
Rob Nicholson, July 2009. “We don’t govern on the latest statistics.”
Rob Nicholson, September 2011. “We’re not governing on the basis of the latest statistics.”
Vic Toews’ spokeswoman, yesterday. But a spokeswoman for Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews disputed their claims, saying since the Conservatives took office, firearms-related homicides have decreased by 28%. “These statistics show that our government’s tough-on-crime approach is working,” Julie Carmichael said in an email.
The national homicide rate peaked in 1975 at 3.03 homicides per 100,000 people. It has gradually declined since then, first falling under 2.0 in 1997.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 22, 2012 at 1:33 PM - 0 Comments
The only thing more fun than a cabinet shuffle is speculating about a cabinet shuffle. The Star, Huffington Post, CBC and Postmedia have your first guesses, including mentions of Peter MacKay, Bev Oda, Julian Fantino, Christian Paradis, John Duncan, Peter Kent, Vic Toews, Maxime Bernier, Denis Lebel, Rob Nicholson, Jason Kenney, James Moore, John Baird, Chris Alexander, Michelle Rempel, Candice Hoeppner, Kellie Leitch, James Rajotte and Greg Rickford.
That leaves just 144 Conservatives (excluding the Prime Minister) left to be speculated about between now and whenever Mr. Harper goes to Rideau. Actually, 145 if you include the stuffed dog that participated in last week’s C-38 vote marathon.
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Five years, two tribunals, secret hearings, a court challenge and a turning point
For all the passion it stirred, you’d think it would get a noisier send-off. An ovation, maybe. Or tears. Instead, Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act slipped quietly beneath the waves last week during a night-time sitting of the House of Commons—victim of a private member’s bill and a trailer load of toxic publicity. Brian Storseth, Conservative MP for Westlock-St. Paul, had glanced anxiously around the chamber as his kill bill went through its third reading. “The benches weren’t full,” he recalls. “That always makes for a bit of extra heart pumping.”
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson had voiced support for the legislation. So had the Prime Minister. The result, then, was never in doubt: at 9:35 p.m. on June 6, by a vote of 153-136, Parliament got Canada’s human rights bureaucrats out of the business of policing speech on the Internet. There was a scattering of applause, and handshakes for Storseth (the bill requires the rubber stamp of Senate approval). “To be honest, it’s all a blur,” says the three-term MP, laughing. But if the passage of Bill C-304 represents a fundamental shift in Canadian culture, you’d never have known it that night. Members dealt with a few housekeeping matters, then waded through a supply bill. Finally, one by one, they trickled out into the cool Ottawa night.
The effect of killing Section 13 will be debated for years among anti-racist groups and civil libertarians. But it is undoubtedly a turning point. Since 1999, Canadians who felt aggrieved by material transmitted online have been encouraged to seek redress under federal human rights law, which targeted material “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” based on grounds of discrimination like race, religion or sexual orientation. Storseth’s bill repeals the provision outright, leaving the Criminal Code as the primary bulwark against the dissemination of hate propaganda by electronic means.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 6:22 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Apparently something of a fussy TV critic, Thomas Mulcair seemed not to appreciate the Stephen Harper’s demeanour during last night’s showing of “The Prime Minister & The Queen (And The Continent That Is Like A Plane That Is Running Out Of Runway).”
“Mr. Speaker, last night in London” Mr. Mulcair reported, seeming to sound out the city’s name in a certain la-de-da tone, “the Prime Minister mused about catastrophic events about to hit the Canadian economy. He laughed about Canadians having to face the most volatile stock market since the Great Depression.”
There were groans from the government benches.
On the matter of the stock market, the Prime Minister did seem to smile, perhaps in hopes of projecting reassurance or confidence or so as not to scare the Boomers watching at home who are fretting about their RRSPs. Mr. Harper did also seem to acknowledge that the last time Peter Mansbridge asked him about the markets, the Prime Minister had perhaps not expressed himself that well. But to suggest he had openly guffawed seems to apply a loose measure of frivolity.
In any event, the leader of the opposition was most interested in whether the Prime Minister had a plan for the next recession. And, if so, what was in that plan. To answer this stood Peter Van Loan, the Government House leader having apparently come away quite moved by last night’s broadcast. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Michael Geist dismisses Vic Toews’ attempt to link the case of Luka Rocco Magnotta and the government’s “lawful access” legislation.
The Toews comments continue the longstanding trend of unsubstantiated claims by government officials about lawful access. In this case, there is simply no question that law enforcement can obtain the necessary warrant on customer name and address information (if an ISP refused as part of an investigation) and police have presumably obtained warrants for far more detailed information. Moroever, the surveillance capabilities at ISPs mandated by C-30 – which focus on real-time surveillance – appear completely irrelevant given that Magnotta fled to France. In fact, reports indicate that there were early warnings about Magnotta and the video openly available that were dismissed by police.
Bruce Cheadle considers the Eaton Centre shooting in the context of Conservative crime policy.
That the lesson — do the crime, do the time — apparently hasn’t sunk in after more than six years of Conservative rule could be construed as an admission of failure. Nicholson declined an interview request Monday but his office, in an email, listed various gun crime provisions it has enacted and stated “our government has a solid track record when it comes to cracking down on gun crime.”
Christopher Husbands faces one charge of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in regards to the shooting at the Eaton Centre. The mandatory sentence for first-degree murder of life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years was established in 1976. In December 2011, the Harper government repealed the “faint hope” clause for those convicted of first-degree murder.
By Mitchel Raphael - Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 7:31 AM - 0 Comments
Capital Diary gathers stories of a storied hotel during its 100th birthday bash.
Celebrating service with a smile (and a wink)
Queen Elizabeth II dined in their ballroom. Nelson Mandela and the Rolling Stones stayed in their rooms. This is just a small fraction of the rich history of the Fairmont Château Laurier which held a big bash Thursday to mark its 100th anniversary.
Maxime Bernier, minister of state for small business and tourism, and other guests signed a giant bottle of Moët champagne worth $3,000 as they entered.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson stopped to admire a man wearing a vintage uniform of the North West Mounted Police from the late 1800s. People in a variety of other period costumes walked around the room as part of the entertainment. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney noted that his grandfather Mart Kenney, a legend in the big band era, played at the hotel several times.
Retired CBC host Don Newman joked, “I laid the cornerstone. I wanted to be the first one to get laid at the Château Laurier.”
Toronto Conservative Sen. Don Meredith, who stays at the Château when he is Ottawa, complimented the hotel’s general manager Claude Sauvé on the hotel’s impeccable service.
By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:32 AM - 0 Comments
Of duelling ribbons
Columnist Richard Gwyn… took home the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for
Of duelling ribbons
Columnist Richard Gwyn took home the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times; Volume Two: 1867—1891. The prize was awarded by the Writers’ Trust of Canada in the ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier. At the reception, Laureen Harper predicted Gwyn would win. In 2008 she sat near political scientist Janice Gross Stein and said she would be Stein’s good luck charm. Stein took home the prize that year. Medals were also given to authors and politicians in attendance. Prize nominees had theirs on a silver and red ribbon, politicians had yellow ribbons and other writers wore green. Former Liberal leader and author Michael Ignatieff wore a green ribbon. He quipped, “Writers can drink and do anything we bloody well please. And say anything we please.” Ignatieff recently caused a ruckus over comments about Quebec separatism to the BBC. Ignatieff and his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, were among the last to leave the party.
Top ministers, including Jim Flaherty, John Baird and Peter MacKay, were on hand at the Canadian Museum of Nature honouring Barrick Gold Corp.’s $1-million donation, which will help refurbish a popular travelling exhibit. In return, the museum’s prime reception space was renamed the Barrick Salon. The ceremony included a $1-million gold coin valued at more than five times its face value. The coin is owned by Barrick and will be on loan to the museum for a year. Attendees were told that under no circumstances could they touch the coin. Then Barrick chairman Peter Munk put his hands all over it. He said, “I wanted to see if it would rub off.” The RCMP guards confessed that Munk was an exception and added that if former PM Brian Mulroney, also a guest, wanted to touch it they likely would not have stopped him.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 11:17 AM - 0 Comments
A statement from Heritage Minister James Moore and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on the Charter.
Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act of 1982, which was formally signed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on April 17, 1982, in the presence of tens of thousands of Canadians on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
This anniversary marks an important step in the development of Canada’s human rights policy. Building on Diefenbaker’s Canadian Bill of Rights of 1960, the Constitution Act of 1982 enshrined certain rights and freedoms that had historically been at the heart of Canadian society into a constitutional document known as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Constitution Act of 1982 empowered our government to amend every part of Canada’s constitution, for the very first time.
As we look ahead to Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017, we encourage all Canadians to commemorate the milestones that have built our nation and made us the great country we are today.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
The Ontario privacy commissioner dismisses both the government’s argument and its rhetoric.
“Simply put, criminals have moved beyond 20th-century technology,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson declared at a news conference Tuesday. “We need to ensure that law enforcement has the tools necessary to fight crime in the 21st century.” To which Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner, replied: “Nonsense.” She called the bill “a major intrusion into our personal lives.”
… Ms. Cavoukian, the Ontario privacy commissioner, said she “was so offended” by Mr. Toews’ statement in the House. “But what it showed to me was the weakness of their case.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 6:14 PM - 0 Comments
“Mr. Speaker,” the NDP House leader posited, “you cannot be half for torture. You are either for or against.”
Given those choices, the Defence Minister decided to go with latter. ”Mr. Speaker, our government has always respected the law and our position is clear,” Peter MacKay reported. “Canada does not approve of the use of torture and does not engage in this practice.”
Alas, this simple equation seems only to make perfect sense if you leave it at that. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 12:37 PM - 0 Comments
In keeping with his campaign to start a national discussion, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth has tabled a motion that would see a special committee of Parliament created to study Section 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which defines when a human being becomes a human being. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has already responded with a two-sentence statement.
“Private Members motions are considered in accordance with the rules of Parliament. The Prime Minister has been very clear, our Government will not reopen this debate.”
Below, the prepared text of Mr. Woodworth’s remarks this morning to reporters. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 16, 2012 at 3:30 PM - 0 Comments
While it is true that there exists a Canadian residency requirement of one year before a couple may divorce here, this requirement applies to all marriages — homosexual and heterosexual — and existed long before same-sex marriage was adopted in this country. Indeed, this provision is from the 1985 Divorce Act introduced by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. Certainly, if this provision needed fixing so urgently as a result of same-sex marriage, the Conservatives have had ample opportunity to do so since their assent to power in 2006.
While it appears that the couple in this particular court case — comprised of one partner from the UK and the other from Florida — may not meet this requirement, the government could have rested its case here. Instead, the government went a step further and deserves to be called out on its approach — it is one thing to say this couple cannot divorce because the residency requirement has not been met; it is an entirely different contention — and an offensive if not discriminatory one — to assert that the couple was never married in the first place. This is to turn fact and law on its head, while in the process undermining equality for gays and lesbians.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 1:23 PM - 0 Comments
While blaming the Liberals for whatever might be wrong with the laws concerning same-sex marriage, the Justice Minister assures that everything will be fine.
Speaking at a Toronto luncheon Friday, Mr. Nicholson blamed the Liberal government that preceded his for not filling a “legislative gap” that has left thousands of same-sex couples in an agonizing position of being unable to divorce should they feel a need to. The situation has been “completely unfair to those affected.” Mr. Nicholson said. “I want to make it clear that in our government’s view, these marriages are valid.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 3:56 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.
I want to be very clear that the Government has no intention of reopening the debate on the definition of marriage.
This case today involved the fact that, under current law, some marriages performed in Canada could not be dissolved in Canada.
I will be looking at options to clarify the law so that marriages performed in Canada can be undone in Canada.