Roundup: Jury selection in the crosshairs

The fallout from the Gerald Stanley trial continued in Ottawa yesterday, where the family of Colten Boushie met with ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott about their frustrations with the justice system, and in particular the focus seemed to be on jury selection, and in particular the use of peremptory challenges in order to screen out any potential juror that looks Indigenous. In Question Period, justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that this was under consideration as part of their broader criminal justice review, but this is a project that seems to be travelling at a glacial pace (as so many things do in this government), and we have no idea when any report or formal recommendations by the government will actually be released in advance of legislative fixes. Boushie’s family are due to meet with Wilson-Raybould, Ralph Goodale and the prime minister at some point today, but I’m not holding my breath for any timelines on action on these issues. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the premier of Saskatchewan says that he’s open to discussions about more Indigenous representation on juries, but it doesn’t sound very concrete.

The attention that the Stanley verdict has given to the problems around Indigenous representation on juries have reminded us that this is a long-standing problem that has been on the radar for many years, such as with the report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci written for Ontario about the issue, complete with a number of recommendations. (That report spawned the Debwewin Committee, whose report is more than a year-and-a-half overdue by this point). The National Post last week had a look at the issues of stacked juries and biased media in cases like Stanley’s, and noted that there is a current study underway by an Ontario Superior Court justice looking into representation on juries with an eye to training judges in the future. Meanwhile, Senator Murray Sinclair says he will advocate for concrete changes such as limiting peremptory challenges, and provincial jury selection processes.

In terms of commentary, Colby Cosh tries to take a more dispassionate look at the jury system and wonders what we risk if we try to overturn it because we don’t like one decision out of hundreds. In a piece from 2016 that was reposted in light of recent events, Jonathan Kay wrote about his experience in a jury pool where, in a case involving a domestic homicide, the defence used their peremptory challenges to assemble an all-male, mostly visible minority jury.

Continue reading

Roundup: Scheer unveils more reheated policy

While at the Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa yesterday, Andrew Scheer unveiled another policy plank – that he was going to support a free trade deal with the United Kingdom, post-Brexit. And a short while later, put out a press release and “backgrounder” (which was a bit content-free) to say that he was going to travel to the UK next month to start talking about just this.

Scheer is behind the times on this, because Justin Trudeau announced that he and Theresa May were already having this discussion back when she visited in September, and Scheer knows this. So he’s reiterating this for a couple of reasons, beyond the fact that he’s trying to paint the picture of Trudeau being unable to adequately handle trade negotiations (never mind that his government concluded CETA that was in danger of going off the rails, and similarly extracted concessions from TPP talks, and they haven’t rolled over on NAFTA talks).

  1. Scheer is a Brexit supporter, and his trip to the UK is at a time where the UK Parliament is dealing with their Brexit legislation and not doing very well with it. One suspects that this trip is more about offering Canadian support for Brexit from his position as Leader of the Opposition, never mind that I suspect that the vast majority of Canadians would oppose Brexit (and hell, the number of Britons who regret voting for it seems to be growing daily). But Scheer does seem to want to offer that encouragement from his position.
  2. This announcement was to a crowd of small-c conservatives who feel a great deal of affection for the Anglosphere, and suspicion for other trade deals, particularly with China. It doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility that this is a bit of red meat for that base.

Suffice to say, if this is a new bit of policy, this awfully thin gruel.

Continue reading

Roundup: Vote – and then stay involved

This is it – after that interminable election campaign (79 days! Eleven weeks!) it’s finally time to vote. And yes, you totally need to vote because that’s your duty and obligation for living in a democratic society like ours. When you do vote, remember that ours is a system whereby you are electing a person to fill a seat in Parliament, so that is always your primary consideration – party and leader should always be a secondary concern, and while important, the MPs you’re electing is your representative, and not the representative of the party to your riding. And then once the election is over, you get to hold that person to account. Not only that, but if the person or party you support didn’t win in your riding, fret not – your vote wasn’t “wasted,” as some would have you believe, because vote margins matter in the mandate that your local MP received. And so does your ongoing participation. Our system of democracy is not simply voting once every three or four years, but rather, it depends on constant grassroots participation, and that means you need to go out, join a riding association, help your chosen party determine future policy, help decide on who your riding’s next candidate is going to be (even if you have a sitting MP – let them know that they can’t take you for granted), and if things go the way they look determined to today, two of those parties just might be in leadership contests soon, and that means even more of a role for party members (as much as I disagree with membership selection of party leaders). In other words, voting today is just the beginning. But it starts with your casting a ballot, so go out and do that.

Continue reading

Roundup: Munk debate a success

The Munk Debate on foreign policy was actually really well done – probably the best and most substantive debate we’ve had so far during this election, with a good format, good moderation, and bilingualism that more or less worked out (though there could have been a bit more effort into the French). (Kady’s liveblog here). We also started to see a bit more of a change in the leaders. Harper was more or less his usual self, and in foreign policy, well, he’s got ten years of experience, but he also has a record to defence. Trudeau stepped up his game in this debate, and was the most confident and self-assured he’s been of any debate. The improvement was marked, and given the low expectations going in, where people figured that foreign policy was his weakest area (especially as it’s where most of his notable gaffes going into the election were), but those fears were largely put to rest. As for Mulcair, people expecting a statesmanlike performance were largely dashed as he tended to more personal attacks and swipes, while avoiding a number of answers – possibly because his party’s foreign policy platform is the thinnest of the three. Trudeau also defended his father’s record from attacks by Mulcair, and seemed to have a few of his best moments doing so, and it did get notice over the Twitter Machine. (It was also, he noted the fifteenth anniversary of his father’s death, so that certainly did weigh on his mind at the time). Here is some debate reaction from Michael Den Tandt, the Ottawa Citizen’s panel, and over Twitter, Bob Rae (who was subject of another of Mulcair’s swipes on stage). Oh, and audience polls seem to indicate that Trudeau was the big winner. Make of that what you will.

Continue reading

Roundup: Tweet storms over Greece

On an otherwise hot and sleepy Monday in the Nation’s Capital, an otherwise innocuous-sounding tweet turned into a bit of a flap, which of course feeds the broader narrative of the coming election.

Suffice to say, both positions were both pretty ridiculous. Ashton (who later made it clear this was a personal position and not a party one) being ridiculous of course in trying to infer that there is some kind of oppositional dynamic between democracy and austerity (would a “yes” vote have been anti-democratic? Really?), while Poilievre ridiculous in trying to make any kind of economic comparison between Canada and Greece, even if Canada were to have an NDP government. It would take decades of structural and even cultural factors for us to even approach a Greece-like situation, but that doesn’t fit well into a tweet. Poilievre kept on, tweaking the opposition parties about their previous support for joining a Greek bailout, which would mean that Canada would now be on the list of countries owed billions, had we opted to do so. And then both the NDP and the Liberals chipped back with both Harper’s mediocre economic record and the ridiculous comparisons to Greece. So, I guess it gave us all something to talk about, but it’s still kind of lame – and did I mention ridiculous?

Continue reading

Roundup: Getting ahead of the story

As we inch toward the full release of the Auditor General’s report, more material is leaking out, while some senators are trying to get ahead of the story and highlighting what they see as problems with the audits. Conservative Senator Janis Johnson, for example, was flagged for a couple of flights, and she even provided ample documentation to show that it was parliamentary business, however the auditor made a value judgement – he “felt” the trips were personal, never mind that the personal aspects to said trips (also perfectly allowed and not billed to the Senate) were booked after the work trips had been arranged, and yes, documentation supports it. That the auditor insisted that the problem was that she didn’t use the Outlook calendar is an exceedingly bizarre criteria for finding the expenses questionable, despite other supporting documentation. Given the legitimate dispute over the audit report that he has expressed publicly, and that of Speaker Housakos, it’s no doubt that we’ll start to get a better taste of what could be a very problematic audit from the auditor’s side. Meanwhile, we’re starting to get more boneheaded commentary from the pundit class again, wondering why the government just can’t stop funding the Senate – as though it wasn’t a completely separate house of Parliament with institutional independence and not answer able to the government. Why not cut off funding to the Supreme Court as well? Oh, right – we have a thing called the Constitution. Other hosts are stoking this hysteria over what they are trying to claim is a conflict of interest between the Senate leadership and the establishment of the arbitration process with Justice Ian Binnie, but when you look at the facts, it’s just not supportable, as Senator Cowan amply pointed out on The House over the weekend. When it’s pointed out that Duffy and company didn’t get this kind of a process, Cowan said point blank that he didn’t agree with that process at the time and that two wrongs don’t make a right. Elsewhere, Thomas Mulcair vowed he would consult with the premiers to try to abolish the Senate if he should be elected, to which I say good luck with that. You think the Atlantic provinces will give up that representation, or that Quebec wouldn’t have a laundry list of other demands? Keep dreaming.

Continue reading

Roundup: Eroding financial controls

Talk about the “permanent campaign” has been around for much longer than most people credit it for. In fact, the earliest mention I’ve seen was in a letter that then-PC youth leader Joe Clark sent to then-party leader John Diefenbaker warning about the implications of the permanent campaign, and well, things have only gone downhill from there. The advent of the “fixed election date” did nothing to temper the permanent campaign – instead of fearing an election that could come at any time, we are instead treated to a fixed date that everyone builds their campaigning around, and year-long campaigns are certainly now the norm, following in more of an American example than we have traditionally had in this country. Amidst it all, the former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, is warning that the fixed election date is eroding the campaign rules that we’ve developed over years, and in particular, campaign finance rules. Those rules, built for the era of when a campaign could come at any point, have no sway over the election spending limits that happen outside of the writ period, which means that they can spend as much as they want, particularly on advertising, and don’t have to report it. When the writ does eventually drop, people will have been bombarded by this messaging over the summer, and it’ll get pretty tired. But Kingsley is right – we have developed the best system in the world for election spending controls, and the permanent campaign of the fixed-election date is undermining that. There is a bill in the Senate that has stalled at committee for years that would see the same caps from an election apply to the writ period also apply to the pre-writ period, so that if you do a blitz of pre-writ advertising, well, it’ll deduct from your total spending cap in the writ period. It’s a novel idea, but it’s no surprise that nobody has picked up on it. It goes to reinforce that while fixed election dates sound swell on the face of it, if you look a little bit deeper, you’ll find that all of their supposed good aspects are in fact swamped by the unintended bad ones, which is what we seem to have completely taken over. Time to pull the plug on them.

Continue reading

Roundup: More documents and arguments

With more Duffy-related documents being filed and their separate proceeding going ahead in trying to get that secret internal report on residencies going ahead, there is a flurry of stories in the news related to the ongoing expenses issue in the Upper Chamber. Those new documents filed show that the steering subcommittee of the internal economy committee – meaning particularly Senators Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk – altered the section of the report on Mike Duffy seven times to tone down the criticism of his residency and travel patterns after he repaid the $90,000 (as it turned out thanks to Nigel Wright). It does seem mystifying that other Conservative senators are not insisting that Stewart Olsen and Tkachuk be removed from that committee to clear the air, but these kinds of decisions tend to rest in the Senate leader’s office, and well, the current Leader of the Government in the Senate is a yes-man for the PMO, and those two senators did the PMO’s bidding. It does stink, and one would think that the rest of their caucus would take issue – but then again, they may be but it would be happening behind closed doors. And the current rumour is that the Auditor General is going to recommend that the RCMP look at 10 senators’ expenses, but said rumour also says that most of those 10 have seen retired. I guess we’ll see what happens when the report is released, but the Senate Speaker has said that they will send files to the RCMP if that is what is recommended. As for that internal report that the Senate refuses to turn over to Duffy’s lawyers, they seem to be making the argument that Duffy has been treated unfairly by having his expenses turned over to the RCMP but others haven’t – which isn’t true, considering that Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb also had theirs turned over and had charges laid, while the RCMP continue to investigate Pamela Wallin’s expenses. And they may have more company on the way, but the Senate is in the process of making its rules more stringent, and hopefully the next time appointments are made, they will be vetted a little better than those of the Class of 2008.

Continue reading

Roundup: On official birthdays

It should not be unexpected that on Victoria Day, you would get some usual trite releases by the Prime Minister and the Governor General about the importance of Canada’s relationship with the monarchy, and so on. We got them. What we also got was a bunch of ignorant backlash.

Immediately a bunch of geniuses started to tweet back that it was celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, not Queen Elizabeth’s, and that Harper was an idiot, and so on. Err, except that those people were the ones in the wrong because since 1957, it was decided that the Official Birthday of the Canadian Sovereign would be Victoria Day, not the April birthday of the current Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II, nor the same official birthday as the Queen of the United Kingdom, which is in June. It’s like we have our own monarchy or something! Also, it has to do with the distinction between the legal person of the Queen of the Canada, and her natural person.

Suffice to say, it’s a pretty sad statement as to the current state of civic literacy in Canada that this basic celebration of our Head of State has been completely lost to your average person. Granted, the PM’s tweet could have been better phrased, such as “official birthday” instead of “officially celebrate,” but still, the point stands. It’s time to take this basic education more seriously, Canada. Yesterday was pretty embarrassing.

Continue reading

Roundup: Overreading mandates

In the wake of Tuesday’s election victory in Alberta, there has been no shortage of jubilation and outright triumphalism amongst NDP-types here in Ottawa, who have rushed to claim their own share of the victory – or at least the reflected glory – while mouthing trite sayings like “only New Democrats can defeat Conservatives!” without actually understanding the actual facts on the ground. There was no shortage of congratulations for either Thomas Mulcair – who future Alberta premier Rachel Notley quite explicitly distanced herself from during the campaign – or Linda Duncan, their only federal MP, as though she was somehow a key player in that victory. But amidst all of this self-congratulation comes to mind a warning that Bob Rae made after the last federal election – be careful not to over-read your mandate, advice that applies not only to the federal, but also the provincial NDP. To wit, I would posit that Tuesday night was not so much a victory for the NDP as it was a defeat for Jim Prentice and the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta, which Notley was able to capitalise on. It’s not like there was much else in the way of alternatives – she was articulate and had some experience as an MLA, whereas the Alberta Liberals were rudderless and in a tailspin after the departure of Raj Sherman, and the Wildrose had Brian Jean for a leader for all of five minutes before the election was called. Absolutely none of this has to do with some great leftward shift in the province. No, Virginia, Alberta did not suddenly become a bastion of socialists. Quite the opposite, as Notley has run on a relatively centrist, populist platform that has all but repudiated a number of planks of her federal cousins, and she will live in constant awareness that it could all be gone by the next election if the political right’s vote coalesces around Wildrose, or the centrist vote in the province fragments once again around a hypothetical renewed Alberta Liberal brand, or gains by the Alberta Party to replace them. None of this leaves a lot of room for Mulcair and the federal NDP to make gains, particularly as their particular brand is much more hostile to the oilsands and pipelines than Notley is. Alberta may have had a desire for change, but there are no guarantees as to how that translates federally. Meanwhile, federal NDP MPs are giving advice to their new rookie provincial cousins. Paul Wells sets up the eventual victory by Notley, while Colby Cosh cautions about some of the lessons to take from the election. Kathleen Petty gives us a reminder of some of the political demographics and history that has played out in Alberta over the length of the PC dynasty there, most especially that the party was built on centrism.

Continue reading