Sunday, October 2, 2011

Quick weekend thoughts (2010-10-02)

Quick whip of two items so let's go:

Good on the Supreme Court of Canada for ruling the Insite clinic in Vancouver does not run afoul of drug control policies; more technically that it does but to deny it a "constitutional exemption" would be a far worse outcome than what the needle exchange clinic provides, safe and sterile injection supplies.   Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, supported by her eight Associates (including PMS appointees Marshall Rothstein and Thomas Cromwell), wrote the unanimous opinion in favour of Insite.    Well acquainted with the terrible existence of the Downtown East Side (having spent a great deal of her law practice there as well as handling drug cases as a bencher during her time in the lower courts), one would think that as a matter of course she would recuse herself from the matter at hand but instead she came out swinging.   The chief magistrate did not focus so much on Charter issues (although there is a bit of discussion there) as she did on the division of powers, something you'd think "Steve" Harper would consider sacrosanct.

Oddly, when the centre opened it was an incredible feat of cooperation between all three levels of government as well as Aboriginals who comprise nearly 20% of the neighbourhood.   It was only a change of government in Ottawa that brought about the impasse.   Nevertheless, wrote McLachlin, the issue is not one of crime.    Many if not most addicts aren't criminals, they are addicts period.   They need treatment to be cured or have their addictions go into remission but until that point comes they need access to a facility like Insite because it is properly regulated, professionally run and the staff there help their patients get referred to facilities that work on the disease.

As it is, health care is a provincial responsibility, and while what goes on  in shooting up drugs is technically illegal (a federal responsibility, criminal law) and that federal law does take precedence, the federal law in question also interferes with the staff's ability to do their job and it is that that is unconstitutional, as is the federal government's decision not to extend Insite's license being based on political and not logical grounds.   Accordingly, McLachlin and Co. granted Insite's request for an injunction and ordered the federal Minister of Health to grant the clinic its license.

While technically the decision only applies to Insite, it's also a big victory for other needle exchange programs, such as "The Van" here in Hamilton.    Surely we need to fight the real criminal elements in the drug trade (the kingpins and their immediate minions) but many addicts, and I have come across quite a few, do not deserve to be branded as criminals.   They need help.   It's time they got that help without fear.


The other quick note is the pending CETA -- the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.    We have gone through eight rounds of talks and it looks more like there will be a treaty ready for a final vote, maybe in a matter of weeks.   Unlike many of my progressive colleagues I actually support free trade with Europe, especially if it includes a labour mobility agreement.    This would go far beyond anything in NAFTA which only guarantees a quota of worker visas but not much else.    If there can be harmonization in product safety and environment standards so much the better.   I am troubled however by the almost complete lack of silence on the issue.

The Canada-US agreements, which was later extended to Mexico with NAFTA, by contrast had a very vigorous public debate in all three countries.    It was that debate that led to the Protocols on the environment and labour rights, as well as the ongoing call in all three countries among civil society groups for a reopening of Chapter XI (the "investor state dispute settlement" provision).

But nothing about this.   No debate.  Why is this?    Increasing our economic ties to Europe can primarily be a good thing because it will mean we will not be so much bound to the States as we are.   We can't keep our eggs in one basket and over the long run the European frame of mind has proved quite stable compared to the American brand.   Surely however, if we're going to get into something this big, there should be a full debate -- at the grassroots, in the media and certainly in the federal legislature.    Even "take note" debates in the provincial and territorial legislative assemblies would be more gratifying than the black hole of silence -- but there too there seems to be silence as the subnational governments are actually included in the talks, unprecedented with the other agreements the EU have negotiated which have been with national governments only.

Some civil society groups have raised a stink (including the usual "suspects" the Council of Canadians which I do not really respect and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which I do), but there is more debate about the Tar Sands and the proposed XL extension to the Keystone pipeline system, than this.    Doesn't make sense.

The only fair way to settle this is to put forward the draft document, whatever it is right now, in the public domain.    And to allow MPs and Senators to vote on the final treaty in free votes and not party line ones.   If we're going to become de facto if not de jure a part of the EU, then we need to discuss openly and honestly the impact of being part of or a partner with a supranational institution -- one that has promoted peace and democracy for over a half century to be sure but has created an endless trail of irritants even amongst its most ardent supporters.


Annie said...

I think the two that Harper appointed, were actually picked out by Martin, before he lost to Harper , and Harper was not quite so vindictive.

BlastFurnace said...

Hi Annie, thanks for your comment. Sorry it has taken so long to respond.

I'd just say that I'll concede the point ... and add that unlike the States where SCOTUS nominations are among the most politicized, our Prime Ministers both pre- and post-Charter have tended to see the big picture and chosen justices that are indeed the "cream of the crop" and look at the implications of a law rather than box themselves inside the four corners of the "letter of the law." Harper probably sees the numbers too, that a Charter challenge is successful only about 7 to 10% of the time, which is why he has also been scrupulous in his selections. I hope he continues to be so -- we still need an independent judiciary as opposed to a responsive one.

I think that's the case in some other countries in Commonwealth as well, including the UK which hived off justice from the House of Lords several years back to create a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

It's also worth pointing out that McLachlin was a Mulroney appointee and she is still very much a law and order justice as much as she is a libertarian -- I think she sides with the Crown about 90% of the time so she could hardly be accused of being "activist" any more than her colleagues.