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Samuel Mosonyi

Samuel Mosonyi graduated from the University of Guelph in 2014 with a BA in Political Science and Criminal Justice. His writing focuses on Canadian legal, political, and constitutional issues.

Mulcair’s Attack on Speaker Unwarranted

A sad spectacle occurred in Question Period this Tuesday, with an exchange between Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair and Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary. Mulcair asked the government whether the Canadian military mission in Iraq would extend beyond thirty days. Calandra responded by questioning the NDP’s commitment to Israel by discussing inflammatory statements made by one of its fundraisers. Mulcair, with a witty retort on Paul Calandra’s confusing Iraq and Israel, asked the question again, to which Calandra gave the same reply. After Mulcair tried for a third time, he used his subsequent question to challenge the Speaker’s neutrality: “Mr. Speaker, that does not speak very favourably of your neutrality in the House.” According to the House of Commons Compendium of Procedure, Government Ministers (or Parliamentary Secretaries acting on their behalf), when responding to a question, may:   1: Answer the question 2: Defer their answers 3: Make short explanations as to why they cannot furnish an answer at that time; or 4: Say nothing   A Member cannot insist on an answer, and moreover: The Speaker has not authority to compel a particular Minister to respond to a question […] The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or the content of replies to questions. Attacking the neutrality of the Speaker, who is enforcing parliamentary procedure, is a serious charge to be levelled. It is a challenge against an impartial arbiter of Parliament. Thomas Mulcair often challenges Harper for failing to respect parliamentary institutions. We must be careful to differentiate between substance and procedure in Tuesday’s debacle. Mr. Mulcair would have been rightly justified in attacking the Conservatives for failing to respond to a pertinent question that the Canadian public deserves to… Read More

University of Calgary abortion display verdict not a victory for free speech

The University of Calgary recently reversed the guilty verdict of seven pro-life students who were found guilty of non-academic misconduct for setting up a display with graphic photos comparing abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. The University of Calgary initially demanded that the students set up their display facing inwards so passersby would not see the images. After the students refused, the University charged and found the students guilty of misconduct for failing to follow the demands issued by Campus Security. The students appealed to the University’s Board of Governors, which found their appeal groundless and dismissed the case. The students appealed to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, which ordered the University to rehear the appeal, after which the students were found not guilty. The court decision has been heralded by some as being a victory for free speech on campus. The court ruling focused on the procedural aspect of the law rather than the substantive claim that the students’ right to free expression had been violated. The Court shied away from making any finding on the students’ right to erect the display: it directly stated that “it would be premature at this juncture” to rule on the right of students to erect the display on University property, or to force a change in University policy. Rather, the decision focused solely on the decision of the Board of Governors’ Committee denying the students their appeal hearing on the basis that it was groundless. The Court found that legitimate grounds for an appeal did in fact exist. The suggestion that the students had no claim on which to base an appeal “is unreasonable and is set aside.” A letter sent from the Chair of the Appeal Committee to the students’ lawyer noted that the University consented to granting… Read More

Ontario Election: Political Speech & Advertising

Political speech is seemingly under attack from the last place we might expect: Canadian media broadcasters. CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, Rogers, and Shaw (which owns Global TV) announced last month that they would no longer air political advertisements that include material taken from their airwaves without express authorization. "As news organizations, the use of our content in political advertisements without our express consent may compromise our journalistic independence and call into question our journalistic ethics, standards and objectivity," they wrote. According to the CRTC, “during an election campaign, broadcasters play an important role in informing Canadians about the issues, political parties and candidates involved.” Under section 335(1) of the Canada Elections Act, every broadcaster is required to provide prime-time advertising to all registered political parties. The Act also appoints a Broadcasting Arbitrator, who issues specific guidelines on the content of messages, as well as to deal with disputes between political parties and broadcasters. Under the most recent guidelines issued by the Broadcasting Arbitrator, the political messaging must accord with the federal Broadcasting Act and to the conditions of the broadcasters’ licences under the Act. A broadcaster can refuse to publish an advertisement that is obscene or profane, exposes individuals or groups to hatred, or is in contravention of the law. These criteria are strict and reflect the importance our society places on protecting political discourse. Furthermore, a broadcaster is not allowed to censor a political ad “unless the political ad contravenes the regulations or the licence conditions.” The rationale provided by the broadcasters appears not to meet this criteria. The Supreme Court noted in Libman that “political expression is at the very heart of the values sought to be protected by freedom of expression [under the Charter].” Ironically, last year, the Liberal Democratic Reform Critic, Stéphane Dion, wrote to the… Read More

The Senate Reference and the Path Forward

The Supreme Court just released its long-awaited Senate Reference decision. And the response was spectacularly rebuking. Harper posed the following questions to the Court and the following responses were provided: Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally impose term limits on Senators? Supreme Court: No, they may not. Imposing term limits is a change that engages the interest of provinces. It requires the general amending formula to be used (7 provinces with at least 50% of the population), also known as the 7/50 procedure. Imposing fixed terms is not specifically written in the Constitution, imposing term limits would alter the fundamental nature and role of the Senate. Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally develop legislation that allows citizens to be consulted for potential Senate nominees? Can the federal government establish a framework for provinces and territories to enact legislation to consult their citizens for Senate nominees? Supreme Court: No, they may not. Imposing consultative elections would change the architecture of the Constitution. Such an amendment falls under the 7/50 general amending rule. Even though consultative elections are informal, and the federal government would appoint the winner, it still falls under “the method of selecting Senators” that falls under the 7/50 procedure. Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally abolish property qualifications for Senators? Supreme Court: S. 23(4), the $4000 property requirement, can be. However, s. 23(3) would also require the consent of Quebec. Harper: Can the Senate be abolished using the general amending formula (7/50 procedure)? Supreme Court: No, it may not. All provinces must unanimously support abolition. Outright abolition of the Senate goes beyond just its reform. The 7/50 rule can be used to change the powers of the Senate or the number of Senators. However, abolishing the Senate is a significant structural modification would eliminate bicameralism. All bills and amendments… Read More

Supreme Court sentencing ruling not a rebuke

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the application of the Truth in Sentencing Act was depicted in various media outlets as being part of a trend of recent decisions rebuffing the Conservative government’s justice agenda. While this could describe a number of recent decisions, the current ruling is more nuanced.     According to the Canadian Press: They also represent the latest in a series of court rebukes of the Conservative government's law-and-order agenda.   Sean Fine in The Globe and Mail likewise stated: The Conservative government’s attempt to detain thousands of prisoners for longer periods has been blocked, in the newest in a series of crushing defeats at the Supreme Court of Canada.   As the Supreme Court decision notes, enhanced credit is often provided for accused who have been remanded in jail, and historically, there were no restrictions on the reasons for giving credit or the rate at which it was granted. A practice developed over time to grant credit at a 2:1 rate. The new Truth in Sentencing Act caps pre-sentence credit at 1.5:1, but does not discuss which circumstances justify enhanced credit. The challenged amendments to the Criminal Code are underlined below: (3) In determining the sentence to be imposed on a person convicted of an offence, a court may take into account any time spent in custody by the person as a result of the offence but the court shall limit any credit for that time to a maximum of one day for each day spent in custody.   (3.1) Despite subsection (3), if the circumstances justify it, the maximum is one and one-half days for each day spent in custody […]   What was contested in this case was the sentencing judge’s application of enhanced credit for pre-sentence detention. This was applied because when individuals are… Read More
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