Roundup: Fallout from the Stanley decision

The verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial came down late Friday night, and the Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie for the same kinds of actions that a white person would not have been shot at for. That the jury did not contemplate a manslaughter conviction instead of second-degree murder is the more puzzling aspect of the verdict, and why there is such a cry about racism in the justice system – especially since the defence counsel was able to successfully challenge any of the potential Indigenous jurors and wind up with an all-white jury, which is when the family knew that the fix was in, and that this was not doing any favours to the cause of reconciliation, nor for faith in the justice system for people who aren’t white.

The PM and justice minister tweeted that more needs to be done when it comes to ensuring that there is justice for Indigenous people in this country, leaving some Conservative observers a little aghast that they got involved. That said, the wording was carefully chosen in order to not criticise the jury itself, or promise that there would be an appeal or some kind of attempt to overturn the verdict. That’s probably a good thing overall, while it acknowledges that there is a problem and that the government is aware of it, and it’s worth nothing that the government is talking about this situation where there is a good chance that they wouldn’t have just a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, this hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from accusing the government of “political interference” with the courts (never mind how many times they criticised court decisions, especially by the Supreme Court of Canada, while they were in power). But what can be done? Well, there is already an ongoing review of the criminal justice system that this government has undertaken (but is very, very slow about rolling out any concrete measures about), so we can be sure that this will be part of it. But better resourcing the justice system is something that they need to confront, which means hiring more Crown attorneys, and giving them more time and resources to tackle cases is going to be part of the solution as well (and we can all think of a number of high profile cases in recent years that the Crowns have utterly ballsed up). And indeed, in this case, there were apparently questions going in as to whether the Crown attorney in this case was capable of handling a trial like this. But this is also a provincial issue as well. Ontario is working on a strategy about getting more Indigenous representation on juries, but its report is already more than a year overdue. The Boushie family has arrived in Ottawa to meet with ministers, so one suspects we may hear more later in the day.

And there has been no dearth of commentary around this case already. Lawyer David Butt talks about the need to limit the peremptory challenges that allowed Stanley’s defence lawyer to create an all-white jury. Defence Lawyer Allan Rouben suggests that maybe it’s time to loosen the rules that forbid jurors from discussing what happens during deliberations. Tammy Robert reminds us that no, you can’t shoot someone to protect your property in Canada. Robert Jago says that the trial and verdict show that the attitude remains that Indigenous people are simply animals that Canadians are taught to fear.

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Roundup: Brown’s creepy town hall

A story out of Brockville yesterday is a bit disconcerting, where local Conservative MP Gord Brown held a town hall in the community about the Omar Khadr settlement, saying that he wanted to get people’s views because everywhere he went, it was all people would ask about. He also claimed that it “wasn’t a partisan issue,” but I would be willing to bet actual money that the way in which Brown presented the case was through a deeply partisan lens, regurgitating the party’s disingenuous talking points and legal prevarications that distort the crux of the matter. And what disturbs me the most is that listening to the reactions in the write-up of the event, it starts sounding an awful lot like a Two Mintues Hate than anything, where people recited the completely wrong tropes about Khadr’s situation and situation as it regards the rule of law. It was at least heartening that a local lawyer turned up at the event, brandishing a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and laying down the law about why there was a settlement, and it’s quite the photo that ran with the piece – but I doubt that it would change very many minds, considering the distortions that are continually spread by the partisans (on all sides, to be completely fair, given that many a Liberal partisan conveniently forgets the roles that Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin played in this). Nevertheless, the fact remains that holding a town hall on this issue is deeply creepy.

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Roundup: A small government climbdown

Sometimes it’s not just that the Senate is everyone’s convenient punching bag in federal politics – it’s also what they like to dangle before the media to show that they’re serious about some issue or another. Early on in the parliament, it was Conservatives who were supposedly going to flex their muscles to defeat all kinds of government bills in the Senate, which never happened, and now we’re getting threats from the new independent cohort. This time, it’s Bill C-29, the government’s budget implementation act, and a provision therein that has Quebec all hot and bothered because it would affect their consumer protection legislation as it relates to the banks.

The government has maintained that because this is a federally-regulated sector that they have jurisdiction. Quebec disputes this, says that they have a Supreme Court of Canada decision to back up their position, and premier Couillard has been asking the government to remove this section from the bill, and impressing upon Senators to do something if the government won’t. New Quebec Senator André Pratte has apparently been making the rounds to do just that, while Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” – Senator Peter Harder has responded with the usual plaintive wail that the Senate should respect the will of the House of Commons, never mind how much he was praising up and down the work they did on amending the assisted dying legislation just a few months ago.

But the pressure from the Senate may have already come to good effect. In Question Period of Friday, the finance minister’s parliamentary secretary, François-Philippe Champagne, announced a particular government climbdown on the issue:

We are going to continue working with consumer groups, stakeholders, and the provinces and territories to develop regulations and enforce the law. We are going to delay the implementation of some provisions of division 5 of the bill so that the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce can examine this important issue more closely.

In light of this development, should the Andrew Coynes of the world really be wailing and gnashing their teeth about the Senate supposedly overstepping their authority, or not respecting the will of the Commons? Or should we acknowledge that they heard the concerns that the government steamrolled over with their majority and forced the government to acknowledge that hey, maybe there is a problem that we should fix? Because I’m getting awfully tired of constantly hearing about how the Senate is somehow becoming this de facto ruling body of appointees, when it’s anything but. It’s doing the job that it was intended to do, which is sober second thought – particularly when there is a government with a majority, and with more independent senators in the chamber, they’re not taking orders from PMO to push things through. This is their job. This is what they’re supposed to do. Can we please tone down the histrionics about it?

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Roundup: Making adjustments on the fly

Lots of developments in the Senate, so let’s get to it, shall we? Kady O’Malley looks into the ways that the Senate is going through the process of reshaping itself to fit the new reality that they find themselves in, and so far they’ve been doing it in a fair-minded way, tempering some the partisan excesses of the previous parliament while they start adjusting their rules around things like Question Period in the new scheme they’ve developed. I’m still a little hesitant, considering that they’re losing some of the pacing and ability to make exchanges that made Senate QP such a refreshing change from Commons QP, but we’ll see once they start working out the kinks. Meanwhile, the Senate is trying to adapt its Conflict of Interest committee to a reality where there are no “government” senators, and more debate about how to include the growing number of independent senators into that structure. We’ll see how the debate unfolds in the next week, but this is something they are cognisant about needing to tackle, just as they are with how to better accommodate independent MPs with committee selection as a whole. Also, the Senate Speaker has ruled that the lack of a Leader of the Government in the Senate does not constitute a prima facia breach of privilege, convinced by the argument that the lack of a government leader doesn’t affect the Senate’s core ability to review and amend legislation, and that the primary role of the chamber isn’t to hold government to account. I would probably argue that it may not be the primary role, but it is a role nevertheless, but perhaps I’m not qualified enough to say whether that still constitutes an actual breach of privilege, as opposed to just making the whole exercise damned inconvenient and leading to a great number of unintended consequences as they venture into this brave new world of unencumbered independence. At this stage, however, things are all still up in the air, and nothing has really crashed down yet, but it’s a bit yet. By the time that Parliament rises for the summer, we’ll see if all of those broken eggs wound up making a cake, or if we just wind up with a mess.

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Roundup: Looking forward to the first QP

It’s the first full sitting of the new parliament, which includes the first Question Period of the new session. Hooray! It’s going to be exciting, but there remains so much to be seen, so it’s hard to pre-judge the whole thing. Not to mention, the Liberals are keen to change the rules around QP by the New Year, so what happens this week may be a glimpse into a future that never will be. Will Speaker Regan enforce his heckle ban? Will MPs respect it? While Kady O’Malley offers a preview of what to expect, and the rest of the Ottawa Citizen staff gives their expectations for some of the match-ups, I’ll offer a few of my own observations. First of all, the first few QPs of any new parliament aren’t likely to be exciting because, frankly, everyone’s still a bit sanctimonious at this point. There’s all this hope and optimism, and of course they’re going to be civil and constructive because why wouldn’t they be? It’s also early enough that there really haven’t been too many screw-ups or missteps by the new government yet, so there’s not too much for the opposition to sink their teeth into just yet. We’ll see if Trudeau is going to show up, and how many questions he’ll answer, seeing as he plans to change the rules so that he’ll only be required to show up one day per week (but answer all questions on that day). As for some of these match-ups the Citizen staff came up with, well, it’s pretty obvious that they didn’t really watch QP in their last parliament because some of their descriptions and predicted “winners” are complete nonsense. Advantage Irene Mathyssen over Kent Hehr? Seriously? Mathyssen who reads her questions with sheets of legal-sized paper in front of her face is more impressive than Hehr, who has years of provincial experience? Sorry, no. Cullen as a “strong performer?” Seriously, did anyone actually listen to him ask questions in the last parliament? Because he didn’t so much ask questions as give soliloquies as to how terrible the government was with no actual question asked. Not sure how that makes him a “strong performer.”

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Roundup: A largely fictitious distinction

While the battle over what’s happening at Veterans Affairs continues to rage, we are continually reassured by both the Prime Minister and the Original Series duotronic computer system known as Julian Fantino that we shouldn’t worry – that any cuts that have been made are all “back office” bureaucrats, and that front-line services haven’t been affected. Really! And while the example of cutting 12 photocopy clerks by moving to digitised medical records may be an example of those “back office” cuts, we should stop kidding ourselves – there is no neat dividing line between what is a front-line service position and a back-office bureaucrat because it’s the job of those bureaucrats to process the work of the front-line providers. If anything, this notion that back-office positions are being eliminated means anything, it’s that it forces more front-line workers to do the processing work themselves, essentially increasing their workload and making them less able to help veterans because they’re the ones busy processing the paperwork rather than focusing on the service aspect. Using the excuse of it being “back office” is largely a fictional distinction made for the sake of optics – but then again, that is the way that this government likes to operate, by photo op and announcement rather than by actual results, so this really should surprise nobody.

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Roundup: A looming second empty Quebec seat

The Chief Justice has written to the Prime Minister to remind him that Justice LeBel will retire on November 30th, which would mean a second Quebec seat vacant on the bench. It’s notable because often a soon-to-retire Justice would retire before the next session began, and just finish off any decisions still in the works on their way out. Instead, Justice LeBel is staying on to the bitter end, likely because the Court is not confident that the PM will have a suitable replacement in time, given the way that they handled the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Fish. Peter MacKay has promised that they’ll have a name for the currently vacant seat (that Justice Nadon was retroactively never appointed to) “soon,” but it’s also a reminder that they’d better get the process started for the next appointment as well. It’s also leading to more calls that the process as it stands needs to be reformed so as to be more transparent, so this might be the impetus to make those changes.

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QP: A premier present, but not the PM

BC premier Christy Clark was in the Speaker’s gallery, here to watch QP in the federal parliament after signing some agreements with the federal government. Alas, despite being back in the country, Stephen Harper was not present to take questions in the House. Neither Thomas Mulcair nor Justin Trudeau were there to ask said questions either, for what it was worth. That meant that it was up to Libby Davies to lead off for the NDP, decrying the expiration of the 2004 health accords. Rona Ambrose reminded her that they were still providing record levels of funding to the provinces, that the provinces were asking for funding predictability, and they were providing that. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet asked the same again in French, and got the same response in English. Boutin-Sweet moved onto infrastructure funding, which Denis Lebel assured her of how great the new Building Canada Fund really was. Scott Brison led off for the Liberals, and asked about expanding the CPP, as recommended by the Finance Department’s own reports. Despite Joe Oliver being present, Kevin Sorensen got up to answer to say that the Fragile Economy™ could not afford more payroll taxes. Brison reminded him that they were keeping EI premiums artificially high to balance the books, and that those payroll taxes could be better spent on CPP enrichment, but Sorensen decried all of the things the Liberals voted against. Ralph Goodale got up to ask about the loss of infrastructure funds coming tomorrow (Lebel: We are giving record funding).

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Roundup: Suspensions and scripts

It is done – Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau have been suspended without pay after two weeks of anguished debate in the Senate about the role of fairness and due process, with the official motion here for your perusal. And once it was all over, Senator Carignan, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, went out to the Foyer to dutifully read a PMO script about how the “Trudeau Liberals” were trying to defend those Senators – not only an odd characterisation considering that Justin Trudeau hasn’t appointed any of those senators (though a couple of his father’s appointments do remain), nor does he control them. And now begins the wailing and beating of breasts at the need to update the financial rules of the Senate, a process that has been ongoing for a couple of years now. John Geddes paints the scene of the evening’s events here. Michael Den Tandt writes that these expulsions will reinforce the “Angry Harper” narrative. I muse about the loss of due process in the face of political expediency here.

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Roundup: The judge and his hockey pedigree

Justice Marc Nadon appeared before MPs yesterday afternoon as part of the meet-and-greet exercise that serves as a not-really-confirmation-hearing as part of the consultation process for judicial nominees that the government put into place. In a series of softball questions – which are all that are allowed – we learned a bit about Nadon, which seemed to be a lot about hockey. Apparently we now need to establish someone’s hockey pedigree before we can appoint them to a major office, if His Excellency David Johnston, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and Justice Nadon are anything to go by. Also, Nadon claims to have been “drafted” by the Detroit Red Wings when he was 14, though there is no record of this, and makes one wonder if he chose the wrong word, or if he remembers things a little more glorified than they really were. Regardless, any attempt to get an insight into his judicial thinking was rebuffed, so we were left with another round of questions that would have only been improved if one MP had bothered to ask Nadon which Spice Girl he would be if he could be a Spice Girl. (Incidentally, those demanding that MPs have a more active role in the final decision should also remember that in our system of Responsible Government, the accountability for appointments rests with the PM so that he can be held to account – either at the ballot box or by maintaining the confidence of the House – as giving MPs that power would muddy the accountability). Over at CTV, there is a clip of law professor Carissima Mathen explaining her reservations about the way the government has been making their Supreme Court appointments. Irwin Cotler, who began the process of opening up the Supreme Court nomination process to outside scrutiny, writes about the problems with this particular appointment process – especially the timelines laid out by the government.

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