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Over The Edge

Opinion: Conservative Attacks On Supreme Court A Danger To Canada

The Conservative government’s attacks on the Supreme Court constitute the single greatest threat to Canada’s democracy. Over the past decade, the Conservative Party has been launching a misinformation campaign against the Supreme Court in an attempt to convince Canadians that this institution is superseding the legislative power of Canada’s elected representatives.

Either Mr. Harper believes that Canadians do not understand how the Supreme Court operates, or he does not actually understand how Canada’s institutions of governance work.

The Supreme Court is the highest appeals court in Canada, and therefore its decisions are legally binding on all other Canadian courts. When legislation is passed through the House of Commons and Senate, and is granted royal assent by the Governor General, it becomes law. If Canadians believe that this law violates their rights, or is in any other way unconstitutional, they have the legal right to challenge it in court. If the Supreme Court rules that a bill is unconstitutional, it must be returned to the House of Commons and subjected to reform. As a result, Supreme Court judges are often chosen from among the top legal minds in the nation.

The Conservative government has often spoken out against Canada’s institutions of governance, claiming that legislation should not be determined by unelected institutions. However, the Supreme Court has no power in drafting or changing legislation. That role lies exclusively in Parliament. Rather, the Supreme Court, through extensive legal knowledge, is able to determine the constitutionality of bills that have been passed by Canada’s elected representatives. The decisions made in the Supreme Court are determined through the interpretation of law, rather than the judges’ individual ideology.

As a result, many of the Conservative’s bills have been found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Some of the Conservative policies that have been deemed unconstitutional include mandatory minimum sentencing, denial of safe injection sites, and the elimination of extra credit for inmates who spend time in jail before their sentencing. As a result, the Conservatives continually disrespect the Supreme Court, claiming that it is either acting inappropriately, or that it is seeking to supersede parliament.

The Conservatives attacked Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin when the Supreme Court ruled that the Conservative’s Supreme Court appointee Marc Nadon was ineligible. The Conservatives claimed that Chief Justice McLachlin had inappropriately attempted to contact the government regarding the case while it was being ruled. A scathing letter with the signatures of 11 former Canadian Bar Association presidents released on May 6, 2014 explains how this claim was false, since Chief Justice McLaughlin provided her input before Justice Marc Nadon’s nomination, which the presidents describe as a “long-standing tradition.” The presidents state that Mr. Harper’s actions undermine the Supreme Court’s ability to “render justice objectively and fairly.”

The government approached the Supreme Court regarding the issue of Senate Reform,
and inquired as to whether they’d be able to pursue Senate Reform without enacting the Amending Formula. The Supreme Court (and any high school student who took Social Studies 10) informed the government that this was not possible. However, on April 25, 2014, Stephen Harper informed television viewers that the Supreme Court had decided to choose the “Status Quo” on the issue of Senate Reform. This statement was purposefully disingenuous, since the Supreme Court can only interpret the constitutionality of Mr. Harper’s inquiry.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that legislation forcing Medical Marijuana users to ingest marijuana through their lungs is unconstitutional. They ruled that medical marijuana users have the right to choose the most comfortable means to ingest marijuana. The Conservative government took this opportunity to portray the Supreme Court as attempting to “normalize marijuana use” by superseding the House of Commons.

Mr. Harper is not stupid, so it is unlikely that he doesn’t understand exactly how the Supreme Court works. As a result, one must conclude that these direct attacks against the Supreme Court are an attempt to misinform Canadians of the role of the one institution in Canada with the power to disrupt unconstitutional legislation.