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Jess De Santi

NDP plays petty politics with SCC appointments

This week, the Supreme Court of Canada will add two highly-qualified members: Mr Justice Michael Moldaver, and Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis. In keeping with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s long-held plan to increase transparency in the judicial appointment process, both Justices sat through a three-hour scrutiny session from an ad hoc House of Commons committee composed of members from all major political parties.After reading some of the reports on the question and answer period with the nominees, I was reminded of a sad reality in Canadian politics, and probably in democratic politics in general: partisan politics tend to show up when they really, really should not.I refer to the very public rejection of Moldaver’s appointment by the NDP. Why did they disagree so vehemently? Because he is an anglophone. For the NDP, that particular characteristic is a problem, since 57% of their seats in the House of Commons currently come from Quebec. For the NDP to maintain that level of support, they will need to promote Quebec ‘interests’ more than they might otherwise. One of those interests would, presumably, be an increased recognition of the French language in the highest court in the country.It is an easily understood position, but it is a less-easily forgivable one.The NDP’s public criticism of one of the members of the SCC could affect public esteem and support for the Court as a whole. Much of the Court’s legitimacy as an unelected branch of government comes from the popular support it receives as an institution. Furthermore, it acts as a check on the powers of the executive, which is needed in a system with a comparatively weak Parliament.The NDP’s public disapproval undermines this legitimacy. If the SCC is seen as an institution that will not fairly adjudicate the disputes presented before it, the requirement of compliance… Read More

The limits of free speech

Søren Kierkegaard once claimed, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”  This week, I am more than inclined to agree with him.Somewhere along the way we seem to have confused freedom of expression and freedom of press with the freedom to say whatever we want without any repercussions. Time for a wake up call: everything has it limits.At the end of October, the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo claimed that it would be “guest edited” by the Prophet Muhammad, supposedly to “honour” the influence of Islam in the Arab Spring.  In particular, it was a reaction to Ennahda’s plurality win in Tunisia’s recent provisional elections and the Libyan NTC’s commitment to shari’ah as being the basis of law in the recently liberated country.  The issue was also renamed “Charia Hebdo.”Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters was firebombed after the news leaked, and the paper’s website was hacked with a message criticizing its use of demeaning cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.I do not support the use of violence to get one’s message across, but neither do I support the use of freedom of expression to justify immature and ignorant attacks on a religion.  These attacks serve no purpose but to further ostracize a group that already has an undeservedly tarnished reputation in Western media.The magazine’s actions cannot be defended under their right to freedom of expression or the freedom of press. The editors should be accused for being ignorant and for spreading prejudice, without making the effort to actually understand that which they claim to critique or satirise.Charb, the editor of Hebdo, called the attack on headquarters “abhorrent and stupid,” claiming that it was done without actually knowing the contents of the paper.You know what else is abhorrent and stupid, Charb?  Reinforcing and promulgating stereotypes for a cheap… Read More

Repatriate Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr recently commenced the process of repatriation to Canada. According to the plea bargain signed by Khadr and representatives of the American government, Khadr would be eligible for repatriation after serving the first year of an eight-year sentence at Guantanamo Bay.The Canadian government’s reaction has been noncommittal. While Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, stated that the government would comply with the decision, a representative for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews did not commit the government to any course of action.Khadr’s case presents an interesting challenge for Canadian constitutional law, particularly on the issue of Canadian citizens’ rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms while abroad.Before looking at Khadr’s repatriation as such, two points need to be made clear.  First, it is likely that Khadr will return to Canada at some point given that he is a Canadian citizen.  According to the Citizenship Act, as amended in 2009, the government cannot rescind a person’s Canadian citizenship if the citizen in question was born into it. With this inalienable right, Khadr is thus free to enter and reside in the country. Given that Khadr has no other passport to speak of, the likelihood of his return to Canada, whether at the end of his sentence or through repatriation, is reasonably high.Second, Khadr’s rights had been violated during his detainment in Guantanamo not just by his American detainers, but also by Canadian officials working on Khadr’s case, having interrogated him and then shared the information with American officials.Two court cases call attention to this fact. In Canada (Justice) v. Khadr (2008) the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Khadr’s legal rights, as protected under the Charter, had been violated by those Canadian officials who withheld the details of their interrogation from Khadr’s defence team, obstructing his right to a… Read More