Regressive Cons

Over here you’ll find Law Prof Lorraine Weinrib’s piece, reprinted with permission from the Law Times. It’s an article about Harper and his Justice Minister addressing the Charter’s 25th anniversary. Here’s a sample from it:

Conservatives cling to the old Bill of Rights

Stephen Harper overlooks courts’ role in interpreting Charter.

Dateline: Tuesday, May 15, 2007

by Lorraine Weinrib

Monday, 14 May 2007 The 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Charter, in mid-April, presented the rare opportunity for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to join with many others in expressing their views of the Charter, its place in our constitutional order, and the effect it has had on Canada in its first quarter century.

Neither took advantage of invitations to the formal academic and professional events held to mark the occasion, where they might have presented an expansive account of their views. Their limited comments in the House of Commons in question period are therefore all we have. These statements, despite their brevity, reveal quite a lot.

2475ad.jpgBoth Harper and Nicholson offered partisan responses to questions seeking a comment marking the occasion. Nicholson, for example, stressed that the Conservative party “has an enviable record with respect to human rights in our country” and needed no “lessons from anybody in this Parliament on the subject of human rights.”

He cited the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights and the extension of the franchise by Conservative governments to women and Aboriginal Canadians, indeed the full extension of the franchise, as elements of that “proud history.”

As to his own government’s accomplishments, he noted the federal victims’ ombudsman, stable funding for legal aid, and action on the Chinese head tax. He concluded by noting, “We did things that the Liberal party was never able to get done.”

Harper also took a partisan stance. He stressed the difference between his government, which actually promoted rights, and the Liberal record, which he described as catering to lawyers’ concerns and pocketbooks.

Like his minister of justice, the prime minister referred to the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights as the legislated beginning of Canadian human rights protection. He then cited a long list of his own government’s accomplishments and summed up in these words: “The government is acting on rights, unlike the record of that government which did not get the job done.”

His examples were noteworthy: protecting the rights of women and children from acts of criminality, extending the right to vote for the Senate, fixing the historic injustice of the Chinese head tax, the Air India inquiry, the residential schools agreement, and signing on to the United Nations declaration on the rights of the disabled.

These statements tell us a lot about the government’s official position on the Charter.

First and foremost, according to Harper and Nicholson, the Charter fulfils itself through legislation and government action, not through Charter litigation and judicial rulings. Many of the comments described were made in response to criticism of the government’s cancellation of the Court Challenges Program. In that context, the emphasis on this government’s aversion to lawyers’ concerns and lawyers’ work is significant.

Second, Harper and Nicholson consider the Charter’s subject matter to be “human rights” broadly conceived, rather than “constitutional rights” as embodied in its particular guarantees, principles and institutional arrangements….

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