Ottawa to the courts: Don’t be so judgy



If certain Tory Members of Parliament are beginning to suspect that the bull’s eyes painted on their backs are not, in fact, figments of their fevered, paranoid imaginations, they might be right.

Never in recent times has the gulf between the executive and judicial branches of government been so cavernous as now. Consider the latest trouncing of the Harperites by the courts, as reported recently by the Globe and Mail’s justice writer Sean Fine:

“The Conservative government’s latitude to choose its own policies was curtailed yet again on Friday when a (Federal Court) judge called health-care cuts for failed refugee claimants a form of ‘cruel and unusual treatment’ and ruled them unconstitutional.”

What’s more, he observed, “So rare is the use of Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – ‘cruel and unusual treatment or punishment’ – that neither the government nor the refugees’ representatives were able to identify a single successful claim outside of criminal cases.”

Hardly able to contain his glee, Lorne Waldman, the lawyer for the Canadian Association of Refugee Doctors told Mr. Fine, “It’s huge – it opens up a whole new claim that we can make when we want to challenge government conduct.” 

For its part, the government remains undeterred. True to form, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander stiff-upper-lipped his reaction to the ruling, insisting he will appeal. “Failed claimants and those from safe countries like the U.S. or Europe should not be entitled to better health care than Canadians receive.” 

This is, of course, utter nonsense. Decent health care for refugee claimants (failed or successful) does not preclude similar service and treatment for citizens and immigrants. It never has.

But it is a response that’s typical of this government when it has been thwarted in pursuing its sometimes incomprehensible social agenda. And the whining, it seems, is growing louder with each passing day. 

In April, the Supreme Court slapped Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hand by ruling that, no, he can’t just go ahead and make the Senate an elective body without the consent of the provinces, because that, dear boy, would be patently unconstitutional.

“The Senate is a core component of the Canadian federal structure of government,” the ruling read. “As such, changes that affect its fundamental nature and role engage the interests of the stakeholders in our constitutional design – i.e. the federal government and the provinces – and cannot be achieved by Parliament acting alone.”

To which Mr. Harper rejoined, just a wee bit petulantly, “(it is) a decision for the status quo, a status quo that is supported by virtually no Canadian. . .(the country has no interest in) “a bunch of constitutional negotiations. We know full well that there’s no consensus among the provinces, there’s no willingness to reopen the Canadian constitution.”

Only the month before, the Supreme Court ruled, in a precedent-setting decision, that Ottawa had no right to retroactively annul the early-parole entitlement of three federal inmates in British Columbia.

The government’s March 2011 legislation effectively, “deprive(d) the three respondents of the possibility of being considered for early day parole, which was an expectation they had had at the time they were sentenced (and) had the effect of punishing the respondents again,” the court found.

Again, the Tories were unrepentant. “Our Conservative government has been clear,” Jason Tamming, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, declared. “We do not believe that white-collar criminals and drug dealers should be released after a mere one-sixth of their sentence.”

Then, there were the kerfuffles over imposing longer prison times (nope, no can do), closing a B.C. drug clinic (we’d rather you not) and even a sketchy appointment to the Supreme Court, itself (nice try, pal, but no cigar).

In all of this, the preponderance of evidence yields one of two possible conclusions: That the various levels that comprise Canada’s justice system has it out for the sitting government and the merry pranksters it calls its cabinet ministers; or that the federal Tories know more about the ideological preferences of their voting base than they do about the actual law.

I might wish for the former, and all the court-issued bull’s eyes; but I fear that the latter is closer to the truth.


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