Roundup: Justice bill under fire

The big news over the long weekend was the Liberals’ major criminal justice reform bill, which was tabled at the end of last week. It’s a big bill because it’s a big topic, but also because the government decided to fold in two previous bills that have been languishing on the Order Paper so that they can all get passed at once. One of those bills has clauses that have been overtaken by a previous bill that again, languishes on the Order Paper. And yet, despite this major reform push, one of the biggest problems facing the justice system, mandatory minimum sentences, which are clogging the courts, remain intact because this bill doesn’t address them, and the minister is shrugging in terms of saying the debate is still ongoing with provinces and courts over those. Among changes in this bill are severely limiting preliminary inquiries, which could mean that a number of cases go to trial where they wouldn’t have otherwise given that the point of a preliminary inquiry was to determine whether there was enough evidence to secure a conviction. Another change is to eliminate peremptory challenges in jury selection, something which has gained a lot of attention in the past couple of months after the Gerald Stanley trial in Saskatchewan had an all-white jury.

None of this is without controversy, and defence lawyers are raising the alarm. Lawyers like Michael Spratt say the changes will not speed up trials, and will actually eliminate some procedural fairness from the system. The elimination of peremptory challenges is far more contentious, with some defence lawyers saying it won’t fix anything while another says it could eliminate the current abuses. One law professor calls it a good first step, but lists other recommendations to increase access to justice in remote communities and improve jury selection.

On a related note, it looks like Saskatchewan hasn’t been selecting juries in a way that complies with their own provincial laws. While this may not be enough to cause an appeal in the Stanley trial, which has put much of the focus on the issue of peremptory challenges, it does raise questions about jury selection laws in this country that are part of these reforms.

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QP: Inventing a conflict from whole cloth

With the Easter long weekend upon us, it was Friday-on-a-Thursday in the House of Commons, and Question Period was no exception — only slightly better attended than a regular Thursday. Candice Bergen led off with a disingenuous framing of the Raj Grewal non-story, and Bardish Chagger noted that everything was cleared with the Ethics Commissioner, and that Grewal’s guest at the event registered through the Canada-India Business Council. Bergen demanded to know who in the PMO authorised the invitation, and Chagger reiterated her response. Alain Rayes was up next, and demanded the prime minister to sign off on a human trafficking bill from the previous parliament, to which Marco Mendicino noted that there was a newer, better bill on the Order Paper (but didn’t mention that it has sat there for months). On a second go-around, Mendicino retorted with a reminder that the previous government cut police and national security agencies. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, and raised the fact that Stephen Bronfman and a government board appointee were at a Liberal fundraiser last night, to which Andy Fillmore reminded him that they have made fundraisers more transparent. Charlie Angus carried on with the same topic in a more churlish tone, got the same answer, and on a second go-around, François-Philippe Champagne praised the appointment to their Invest Canada agency. Brosseau got back up to list allegations of harassment at Air Canada, to which Roger Cuzner reminded them that Bill C-65 will cover all federally regulated industries.

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QP: A sweater and an overnight bag

With all leaders in the House, and all hands on deck, we were ready to see just what fireworks would transpire. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, concerned about the “inappropriate gift” that the PM received from the Aga Khan that was not disclosed. Justin Trudeau stood up to reiterate well-worn talking points about the previous Ethics Commissioner’s report and how they worked to strengthen future disclosures. When Scheer pressed, Trudeau assured him that during the holidays, family friends exchange gifts and he gave the Aga Khan a sweater, and got an overnight bag in return. Scheer changed topics, and demanded the briefing from Daniel Jean for the committee. Trudeau retorted that a briefing was offered to Scheer and he refused, and after a second round of the same, Scheer thundered that he was only offered a classified briefing so that he could stop asking questions. Trudeau gave the riposte that only a Harper Conservative would think that giving information to the media was hiding the truth. Guy Caron was up next, and he returned to the question of the “unacceptable” gift, insisting that it had to be worth over $1000 to be deemed such, and it couldn’t have been an overnight bag (Really? What if it was a Louis Vuitton bag?). Trudeau reiterated that he disclosed the gift to the Commissioner as part of the investigation. Caron was not mollified, and he railed that this was not open or transparent. Trudeau disagreed, and insisted that they were delivering on their promises. Charlie Angus got up next to deliver some sanctimony — and some swipes at the Aga Khan along the way — and Trudeau reminded him that the system is to disclose to the Commissioner. Angus went for a second round, and got the same in return. Continue reading

QP: Twin moral panics in play

While Justin Trudeau was off to Toronto, Andrew Scheer was present for Question Period, and he led off with the role that Christopher Wylie, the infamous “Facebook whistleblower” had worked for the Liberals, and demanded answers. Scott a Brison pointed out that the Liberal Research Bureau had already issued a statement saying that they decided not to go ahead with his services and that he had no access to voter data. Scheer lamented that Trudeau didn’t answer — being cute because Trudeau was not present — and when he continued to rail about Wylie, Brison reiterate his response, and hit back with contracts the Conservatives tendered for their own data services. Alain Rayes took over in French to ask the same thing two more times, and Brison repeated his responses (albeit in English). Scheer got back up to rail about the “peoplekind” joke and the apparently scandalous news that Service Canada is not supposed to use the honourifics of “Mr.” of “Mrs.” The horror! Jean-Yves Duclos assured him that they can still use the honourifics, but that they were working to be more inclusive of all gender identities. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, condemning the lack of action on tax evasion despite the $1 billion investment to do so. Diane Lebouthillier got up to assure him that they were looking into tax evasion and had new agreements to get necessary data, and when Caron got up to rail that CRA was slapped with a $1 million fine for abusive behaviour, Lebouthillier reiterated that the case dated back to the Conservatives. Peter Julian got up to repeat the condemnation around tax evasion in English, and Lebouthillier reminded him that they now have the data they need. Julian tried one more time, throwing every thing else in the question, and Lebouthillier retorted that the OECD has recognised Canada’s leadership in data-driven combatting against tax evasion.

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QP: Circling back to Atwal, yet again

A frigid Tuesday in Ottawa, and all of the leaders were present in Question Period, for a change. Andrew Scheer led off, mini-lectern on desk, and he immediately returned to the Atwal issue, wondering who was telling the truth about Atwal — him or the Indian government. Justin Trudeau stood up and said that he would always believe the advice of non-partisan public servants over anyone else. Scheer pressed, and Trudeau reminded him that Randeep Sarai took responsibility for proffering the invitation, but he trusted public service. Scheer tried again in French, and Trudeau repeated that same point about believing public servants. Scheer reverted to English, reset his preamble to provide a fresh media clip, and wondered if it was Chrystia Freeland who was telling the truth this time when she said it was an honest mistake. Trudeau reiterated the same point about believing public service. Scheer demanded an answer as to whether the “conspiracy theory” was baseless, and Trudeau reminded him that for ten years, the Harper government diminished and belittled the work of public servants, and the Conservatives hadn’t moved on from those habits. Guy Caron was up next, and worried about the Facebook data used by Cambridge Analytica. Trudeau noted that they take privacy seriously, and it’s why the Minister of Democratic Institutions was looking into electoral interference, and the Privacy Commissioner also indicated he was taking a look. Caron demanded that the issue of data protection be raised at the G7 meeting in June, and Trudeau assured him that they had already had these conversations and they would continue to do so. Hélène Laverdière raised the armoured vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia, and Trudeau first pointed asked her to ask her caucus colleague from London Fanshaw if she wanted them to cancel that contract, but that they were taking the issue more seriously than the previous government did. Laverdière demanded to know if human rights were for sale, and Trudeau took up a script this time to insist that they respect human rights obligations.

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QP: Concerned about Mali

While Justin Trudeau was present after two weeks away, Andrew Scheer was not, spending the day in Winnipeg instead. Lisa Raitt led off in his stead, mini-lectern on desk, and she raised the announcement of a peacekeeping mission to Mali, and the risks that it would entail given the rate of casualties there. Trudeau led off with some words about engaging in peacekeeping and that they were responding to a direct request from the U.N., and would work with the opposition on how to hold a debate on the mission — but didn’t really answer about risks. Raitt wondered about whether our troops there would be able to engage in direct combat. Trudeau took up a script, and recited about how personnel would have appropriate equipment and training, but they couldn’t eliminate the risk. Raitt demanded information on what the risk was, and how many soldiers were projected to be lost. Trudeau insisted that they would remain open and responsible rather than wrap themselves in the flag and use Special Forces troops for photo ops, as the previous government did. Pierre Paul-Hus took over in French, accusing the PM of being unconcerned for troop safety. Trudeau took up a script to remind him that they were alive to the risks and would ensure that troops had equipment and training that were necessary. Paul-Hus demanded the operational guidelines, but Trudeau reiterated the plan to hold a debate in the near future. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, also asking about the Mali announcement, and Trudeau read off some more details about helicopters and medical assistance. Caron switched to English to concern troll about how this promise fell short of the promises. Trudeau noted it was odd how the Conservatives thought we were doing too much with the military and the NDP not enough, before he went off the cuff about the upcoming debate. Tracey Ramsey was up next, demanding the government stand up to US tariff threats. Trudeau noted that he was pleased to meet workers in those industries last week, and to hear their concerns. Ramsey raised Trump’s made-up facts, and Trudeau reiterated how much he enjoyed hearing from workers in those industries.

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Roundup: Jagmeet Singh’s past catches up with him

Yesterday was a bit of a day for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. After the Globe and Mail published a piece that showed him at a 2015 rally of Sikh separatists in San Francisco under a banner featuring the armed extremists leader of the group that prompted the raid on the Golden Temple in Punjab, Singh put out a statement saying that he was there as a “human rights activist” and that he condemns terrorism – but was vague in just whom he was denouncing, which raised yet more questions.

Since then, more information came to light by the National Post which showed Singh at a 2016 panel devoted to Sikh sovereignty along with a particular leader who advocated violence, and another organizer later said that he appreciated Singh not denouncing the architect of the Air India bombing when he was on Power & Politics, essentially feeding the conspiracy theories that said architect was set up. And since even then, Ujjal Dosanjh has come out with video where Singh has denounced him as an opponent of Khalistani separatists. So, it looks like Singh could be in for a difficult time ahead as more questions get asked, and we’ll see if his comms team remains as cagey as they have been so far.

Paul Wells notes that Singh’s half-answers and the lengths to which he’ll go to give clear answers demonstrates that he is, after all, a lawyer. Martin Patriquin notes that Singh will have a hard time saying that he can support Sikh separatists with regard to Khalistan while opposing Quebec separatists in Canada.

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Senate QP recap: Fisheries under the microscope

For the first ministerial Senate Question Period of the year, fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was the special guest star. Leading off as always was Senator Larry Smith, who first wished LeBlanc well given his cancer treatment, and then asked about the impact of the Phoenix pay problem on the Coast Guard. LeBlanc noted that this was a problem and he was working with the senior management of the Coast Guard on the problem, he acknowledged that it was an unacceptable situation that was costing them personnel that had a cascading effect on their capacity, which is why they were trying to deal with it. Smith asked if there was a timeframe to sort it out, and LeBlanc said that because previous timeframes have slid, they were simply continuing to do the work to deal with the most urgent cases and working toward stabilising the system. Smith asked if this message was relayed personally to the Coast Guard members, and LeBlanc said that he had every time he visited a Coast Guard facility. Continue reading

QP: Emerging from the fog of repayment demands

Thursday, and with the PM off to Edmonton, and Andrew Scheer giving his first major economic policy plank in a nearby hotel, it was a bit odd that Scheer didn’t bother to show up since he was in town. Alain Rayes led off, reading some heroic praise about how the Conservatives insisted the prime minister be investigated for his vacation, and demanded repayment for it. Once again. Bardish Chagger dutifully stood up to read the approved talking points about the PM taking responsibility and making changes going forward. Rayes tried again, got the same answer, and on his third attempt, Rayes tried in vain to link it to previous repayments, and Chagger reiterated her points a third time. Candice Bergen got up to try the same again in English, and with added indignation, and Chagger added praise for the PM’s town hall in her talking points. Bergen tried another tortured analogy with Trudeau saying that harassment codes apply to him so why not repayment, and while Chagger reiterated her previous points. Guy Caron led off for the NDP, noting how much other countries have recovered from the Panama Papers, while Diane Lebouthillier responded that they were investigating. Caron raised the bonuses that CRA executives were getting, but Lebouthillier stuck with stats on how combatting evasion. Ruth Ellen Brosseau stood up to sound the alarm about investment funds being involved with the Infrastructure Bank. Marc Garneau praised the fact that the Bank was now in operation and had a diverse board, and after another round of the same in French, Garneau responded in English about what a great optional tool the Bank could be for communities. Continue reading

Roundup: Bad takes versus obstinacy

The bad takes continue to roll in on the Canada Summer Jobs brouhaha – so many bad takes – all of them written by straight white men who can’t fathom that these “sincerely held” religious beliefs that women and LGBT people shouldn’t be allowed to have equal rights, are in fact actual points of contention rather than some kind of Liberal Party demand for ideological orthodoxy. There seems to be not a clue that the governing party’s values are such that they have the gall to suggest that if you believe that women or LGBT people don’t deserve equal rights and you actively campaign against those rights, then maybe you don’t need taxpayer funds.

This isn’t to say that the government has done a stellar job of communicating this effectively, nor have they done a great job in drafting the wording of this attestation they want groups to sign. That’s fair criticism, and even pro-choice groups are saying hey, maybe you should clarify that language a bit so that you’re not freaking out the religious groups, and of course, the minister is obstinately saying no, I’m good with the wording as it stands – and I’m sure that they’ll be true to form and back down and agree to amend the wording after they get in another two or three weeks of self-inflicted damage, particularly after a week or two of mind-numbingly repetitive questions in QP about how this is all about feeding Christians to the lions, or some such bullshit – but we’ll hear all about it, and the Liberals will let this self-inflicted damage carry on until then.

This having been said, I’m at the absolute limit of my patience over the assertion of the pundit class that “if it had come from Conservatives but in reverse, there would be an uproar across the land.” That’s a quote from Chantal Hébert on The National on Thursday night.

There was uproar when the Conservative defunded anything to do with abortion internationally, and if you remember then-Senator Nancy Ruth’s blunt advice to women’s groups to “shut the fuck up about abortion,” it was well-meaning advice to stop poking the bear (for which she was unfairly castigated and her words being taken entirely out of context). Let’s not pretend that outrage didn’t happen then. Meanwhile, there was a hell of a lot less outrage when the Conservative defunded any LGBT festival or group that used to be funded, and the one time that they did give tourism funds to Toronto Pride, they got so petty about damage control that they literally trotted out Brad Trost to ritually humiliate the Minister of State, Diane Ablonczy, in order to placate their social conservative base.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!” was the common Twitter response to this, and no, they don’t. My point, however, is that every single government engages in this kind of thing based on their values, and we can’t pretend that they don’t, or that this isn’t unique to the Liberals, nor can we pretend that the Liberals are getting an easier ride than the Conservatives did, because there wasn’t that outrage across the land when LGBT groups lost funding, or when HIV/AIDS service organizations lost funding, or when the Harper government pissed away millions in funds from the Gates Foundation in HIV prevention because they engaged in petty bullshit around local politics over facilities. Some of us covered those fights, and they didn’t get weeks of coverage or a plethora of terrible hot takes in national newspapers because that government was petty and ideological as opposed to inept about their communications strategy like the current one is.

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