Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The right wants to shut down the Court Challenges Program; two can play this game

One argument made in recent days in favour of eliminating the Court Challenges Program (CCP) is that it funded mostly left wing groups. There is a question about the issue of equity and whether those on the right should have gotten equal time. Many on that side of the aisle, however, refused to take public funding in the first place as a matter of principle; saying if someone wanted to sue in the courts, they should use their own money. Besides, their thinking goes, the courts have no business in the legislating business anyway.

The problem with that argument is that the Constitution gives the courts the authority to strike down not only legislation from Parliament and the provincial legislatures, but also administrative decisions. The courts are there to prevent excesses, and some groups need a little bit of help to get to the courts. Every province requires every lawyer to do some pro bono work during the year, but this rule has never been enforced -- if it was, there wouldn't be the need for the CCP.

One of the most commonly cited cases is that of the Little Sisters Bookstore in Vancouver, which caters to a female clientele and sells some rather, um, erotic material, much of which was routinely seized by what used to be Canada Customs for being "obscene". They felt they were being unfairly targeted, and to prove their point they asked the mainstream bookstore chains to order the same magazines and videos -- and they went through without even so much as being sequestered. Little Sisters went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, with the help of the CCP, and won on the grounds they were being discriminated against.

Another rallying call for the right is the fact prisoners in Canada now have the right to vote. Lest we forget, until about twenty years ago, judges also were stripped of the right to vote because it was alleged the judiciary had to be seen as neutral; and eventually the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it was unconstitutional and unreasonable to do so. It only stood to reason that if a judge had the right to vote, he or she didn't have the right to strip a prisoner of the right to vote. In an egalitarian society, doesn't a Bronfman or Irving have the same franchise as a homeless person on the street?

Oh, and let's not forget, the Montfort Hospital. Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty wanted it closed as being surplus, even though it serves the French language population for a large part of Ontario. Where was the opposition to closing it the greatest? Québec. What saved it? The CCP. Where do the Conservatives need to get votes in order to win the next election? Hello, it's Québec????

Does anyone remember Regulation 17? The attempt by an earlier Ontario government to commit cultural genocide against Franco-Ontarians? Sure, there was no Charter back then, but there are some pretty long memories; and this latest decision is rubbing salt in the wounds. If this is Harper's idea of national reconciliation, then Mikey Ignatieff's idea that Québec should be recognized as a nation as much as Scotland is a "nation" within the UK suddenly becomes a very palitable idea.

Some of my colleagues on the right, including Kathy Shaidle, are calling for people to write the PM and their MP to Deep Six the CCP for good.

We progressives can -- no, must -- make our voices heard as well. The three opposition parties together have a majority in Parliament. So use the same links.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

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