Thursday, February 15, 2007

Harper understands the law less than he understands Canada

Harper's latest little venture into The Law has demonstrated, once again, that he does not fully understand the nature of this country. Harper is attempting to meddle with the judiciary in such a way as has never been seen before in this country. For some reason he seems to think this is just fine.
"We are bringing forward laws to make sure that we crack down on crime - that we make our streets and communities safer," the prime minister declared in the Commons on Wednesday. "We want to make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with those objectives."
And he's going to do it by filling judicial review committees with Conservative Party hacks and the police.

Think about that for a minute. The police get to pick the people who will sit on the bench and adjudicate the propriety and relevance of evidence, the veracity of testimony, the fairness of the proceedings and, in some cases, the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Harper, thinking this is a good idea, does not seem capable of making the distinction between the role of the police and the role of the courts. There were countries in the past which allowed those distinctions to fade. Indeed, there are some in the world today. Do I need to name them?

Devin has written a great post on why this latest move by Harper should terrify you.
Supporters of Canada's New Government will say that judges have been selected along party lines for decades in this country -- and they'd be right. But never has a Prime Minister been so bold as to anounce that he is looking to stack the judiciary with judges who will promote his political agenda. It's one thing to call a "conservative" to the bench, but it's quite another to attempt to turn the judiciary into an extension of the government. Mr. Harper's statement demonstrates his desire to erode judicial independence in this country. Judicial independence allows judges to do their job without worrying about repercussions from the government or the public. Judges in Canada are appointed for life (subject to good behaviour) and not elected because they would have no independence if they had to concern themselves with votes and possible termination if they do not decide cases a certain way. Judges answer only to the law -- not the Prime Minister. For an excellent article on judicial independence, read this article by Mr. Justice Jamie Saunders of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
Devin concludes that Harper is either ignorant of the concept of an independent judiciary or he is intentionally diluting the independence of judges as a means to gain absolute power.

I suspect a good measure of both. Devin referred to Harper's call for a federal office of public prosecutions during the last election campaign. That caught his deputy leader off-guard and Peter MacKay was hard pressed to give an answer to questions which supported Harper's rhetoric. And that's exactly what it was.

Harper, far from a lawyer, didn't appear to have any grasp whatsoever on a reality which is taught to grade 11 students in high-school: prosecution of Criminal Code offenses is a provincial responsibility.

What Harper was proposing would have only been effective in the three northern territories where criminal prosecutions are handled by, oh look, The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, formerly known as the Federal Prosecution Service.

Harper would do well by going back and attending a few high-school level Canadian social studies classes. All that time hanging around right-wing think-tanks has caused his limited understanding of the law to diminish to dangerous levels.

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