The Harper government is once again butting heads with that all-powerful nuisance, the judicial system of Canada, as another of its laws has been struck down.
Lacking only in spandex, folding chairs, and seats filled with hollering hillbillies, we, as Canadians, find ourselves in a situation unfortunately reminiscent of the WWE: In this corner, weighing 162 MPs, a parliamentary majority, and an enigmatically powerful Prime Minister is the Conservative Government; and in this corner we have the Constitutionally endowed, legally independent, and democratically mandatory independent court system.
This time, it was Ottawa judge David Paciocco who has decided that the means of handing surcharges to criminal’s counts is a disproportionate punishment, despite government assurances that it isn’t, in fact, a punishment. Not a punishment then, just a suggestion that the perpetrator of a crime must pay a fine. Hard to believe the judge didn’t exactly buy that argument. The mandatory victim surcharge will now be added to a quickly filling mantelpiece of laws that the Conservatives have seen struck down during their time in power. Despite this fact, the majority of their majority are lawyers; each time a judge claims their legislation is unconstitutional, they react with incredulous belligerence. Government officials must be asking “what gives them the right to simply pick up pieces of legislation passed by a legally elected government and decided it isn’t really legal?” Well, apart from that other particularly persistent nuisance, the Constitution.
“Aren’t the courts supposed to complement and not fight parliamentary legislation?” a vague, hypothetical member of the government may cry. “Why do they have to pick on this particular government so much? They’re trying to make life difficult for a Conservative government trying to help Canadians through conventional legal means, right?”
Wrong. This government cares about conventional legal means as much as they care about conventional expense payment methods and their own party convention. And, if anyone has seen the video of Stephen Harper singing and playing guitar at said convention, they will agree that this isn’t saying much.
But, back to conventional legal means, throughout their tenure as Supreme Leaders of the Northern World (a title they have probably stitched onto their sweaters), this Conservative government has fought the judicial system and the Supreme Court many times. Every time, they paint themselves as the unfortunate victims of extrajudicial vigour. However, what they tell their own lawmakers is slightly different. According to Edgar Schmidt, a suspended whistleblower formerly of the Department of Justice, they say they will only reject legislation if there is no constitutional argument for its enforcement. Pay no notice to the inefficiency of manufacturing improbable laws and then whining when they turn out to be unconstitutional. They must instead concentrate on making more of them. Hopefully, one out of a hundred will get through. That is, after all, the most likely chance, seeing as government policy is to forge ahead on legislation even with a 99% chance of failure.
It is therefore quite obvious to see that the court system hasn’t been picking on this government, so much as this government has been consistently picking a fight. Emmett Macfarlane, author of Governing from the Bench, claims their consistently illegal legislation betrays their inherent mistrust of the constitution. But of course that does not threaten the stability of the country; it is perfectly normal for the government not to like or follow the founding documents of their respective nations. Take China, for instance. Its ruling party does not follow a word of its constitution and it’s turning out fine, provided you forget the jailed dissidents, the smog, the lack of a rule of law, and the rampant corruption. In fact, its main problem may be the far-from-independent courts that run the justice system within the country.
Or, if you think that comparison is a bit too dramatic, take Russia. Its government is ruled by an enigmatic string-puller who is content with sitting in the shadows and doing as he pleases. Its courts also do as he pleases. If only Canadian courts were so submissive, Mr. Harper must say to himself as he practices his acoustic guitar in bed at night.
There are many problems with this particular symptom of puritanical conservative tyranny, the least of which is the fiscal recklessness of concentrating on laws that will never reach the everyday citizens of Canada. But even this is a symptom of a larger problem. The Harper Government is content with fighting against and attempting to subdue one of the pillars of our democracy. It is content on criticizing it for doing its job. Perhaps Stevie should head to Moscow for the next presidential election, where I’m sure he will find judges less likely to strike down his laws and stuff them in their ears at his next part convention.