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Chief justice warns against political attacks on judicial independence – CBC News

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Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner had a ringside seat when the U.S. Supreme Court descended into crisis last month.

Wagner was on an official visit to Washington, D.C., when a draft majority decision that could overturn American abortion laws was leaked to the media, setting off a political storm that still rages south of the border.

“It was catastrophic,” he said in French during an interview with Radio-Canada.

“It makes you think that there is nothing sacred in some countries and that an institution can be weakened very quickly.”

Wagner said that, given the less polarized nature of the Canadian bench, he doesn’t think a similar leak would occur within his court — but he argued this event demonstrates the fragility of judicial independence.

“Just like trust. It takes years and years to get people to trust institutions, and it takes a single event to destroy that trust,” he said from his office in Ottawa.

The need to maintain and build that trust is one reason why the Supreme Court is ramping up a campaign to explain its role in Canada’s democracy to Canadians.

Wagner, who has been on the Supreme Court since 2012 and has served as chief justice since 2017, said recent global political events — like the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection attempt in Washington, D.C. — should serve as a warning to Canadians. 

“We can never say to ourselves, ‘We have judicial independence, we are in Canada, everything is fine, we have respect for the institutions.’ No, we have to be on the lookout,” he said.

“And as soon as an incident occurs that can attack judicial independence, we must react, we must denounce.”

Supporters of then-U.S. president Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner said recent global political events — like the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt — should serve as a warning to Canadians to watch out for political attacks on judicial independence and the nation’s institutions. (Julio Cortez/The Associated Press)

As part of its outreach campaign, the court now publishes plain-language versions of its decisions and recently started an Instagram account.

The court also has started holding hearings outside of Ottawa. Supreme Court justices heard a case in Winnipeg back in 2019. They’ll hear two cases in Quebec City in September. While in Quebec, the nine judges are expected to host a free public event to answer questions about the role of the court.

Wagner said misinformation about Canada’s legal system was on display this past winter when protesters gathered in Ottawa for nearly a month to fight COVID-19 restrictions.

Police enforce an injunction against protesters near Parliament Hill on Feb. 19, 2022. Some participants in the protest against pandemic measures invoked their ‘First Amendment’ rights — which belong to U.S. law. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Some protesters cited the “First Amendment” — which protects freedom of expression in the United States — to claim rights in Canada, he said.

“I have always said that the reason for prejudice is a lack of knowledge. So the more information we give people, the better they will be able to form an idea,” Wagner said.

“It’s not for judges, judicial independence. It’s for citizens. This is to ensure that citizens understand that when they come before the courts, they will have access to an impartial and independent judge whose decision will not depend on an occult influence.”

Courts under attack around the globe

Vanessa MacDonnell, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said legal systems are under attack around the world.

She said Conservatives in the United Kingdom have criticized judges’ power to interpret the Human Rights Act, adding it’s part of a pattern of “political attacks” against the courts in that country.

In 2020, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law a widely-criticized piece of legislation that gives politicians the power to fine and fire judges whose actions and decisions they consider harmful. Human rights advocates also have expressed concern in recent years about moves by the Hungarian government to limit judicial independence.

Vanessa MacDonnell, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Canadian institutions aren’t immune to attack. (Submitted by Vanessa MacDonnell )

Canadian institutions aren’t immune from attack either, MacDonnell said.

The controversy over Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre’s vow to fire the Bank of Canada governor has dominated that leadership race.

“It only makes sense that the chief justice of a Supreme Court, seeing what is happening elsewhere in the world and how quickly the situation can deteriorate, decides that this is an issue to be confronted sooner [rather] than later, proactively rather than reactively,” MacDonnell said.

Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, a lawyer who follows legal issues closely, said political events in the United States often have repercussions in Canada. He said he sometimes hears people confusing the role of the Canadian Senate with that of its American counterpart.

“We are invaded by the discourse of what is happening in the United States in our various media,” he said.

“I think the Supreme Court [of Canada] is right to want to establish, through a certain communication plan, that there are differences with the Supreme Court of the United States and that when one sits on the Supreme Court of Canada, we are not there to represent a movement of right or left, or of red or blue, but we are there to judge the merits of the judgment according to current laws.”

Openness comes with risks, expert warns

Guillaume Rousseau, a professor of law at the University of Sherbrooke, said he applauds the effort in recent years to make the Supreme Court more accessible. He also warned that this approach comes with risks.

Rousseau, who advised the government of Quebec on its controversial secularism law, said the justices’ visit to Quebec City will coincide with the provincial election.

While in Quebec, the Supreme Court justices will be hearing a case involving a dispute between the federal government and Quebec over the legality of home cultivation of cannabis.

“It concerns the sharing of powers, therefore the autonomy of Quebec, so it could become very delicate,” Rousseau said, speaking to Radio-Canada in French.

Still, “in a democracy, when you have political power, it is obviously very healthy to do political communication, to explain yourself, to have a concern for transparency, accessibility for citizens,” he added.

‘It will be anarchy, eventually’

Wagner said he knows he’s taking a risk by communicating more openly and frequently with the public and by taking the court outside of Ottawa. He said he still believes doing nothing would be riskier.

“I think that the benefits are much greater than some criticisms that there could be,” he said.

“If they lose faith in the justice system, what will happen? People will solve their problems on the street and it will be anarchy, eventually, and we completely lose the calm, the serenity, the well-being of the citizens in these cases.”

Wagner spoke to Radio-Canada before the Supreme Court recently released a controversial ruling that said Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who killed six people in a Quebec City mosque, cannot wait more than 25 years before being eligible for parole.

Three leading candidates for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party — Patrick Brown, Poilievre and Jean Charest — have issued statements condemning the decision and pledging to use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to overturn the ruling should they become prime minister.

The Liberal government said that while it supports a longer period of parole ineligibility in cases like the mosque shooting, it will respect the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision.

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Opinion: The vacuum at the centre of Canadian politics: an incompetent, unethical government faces an intemperate, unhinged opposition – The Globe and Mail

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Over the last few weeks and months it has become impossible to escape the feeling that Canadian politics has come loose from its moorings. There is a manic edge to it, as if the inmates had suddenly and collectively declared themselves absolved of any remaining obligations to common sense, or the ordinary routines of democratic politics, or the rule of law.

On the one hand, you have a Liberal government that is now embroiled in half a dozen crises of its own making, the fruit of a peculiar mix of cynicism, moral vanity, incompetence, doctrinaire ideology and apparently habitual abuse of power – a culture that originates with the leader, to be sure, but which appears to have spread throughout the party.

Thus you have, simultaneously, the airport mess, the passport mess, and the Russian embassy party mess; the abject retreat on vaccine mandates, in the face of a panicky Liberal backbench; the revelations that its centrepiece climate plan is in disarray, its 2030 carbon emissions reductions targets acknowledged, within government, to be a distant fantasy; all while it is engaged in the utter madness of attempting to regulate the internet, through no fewer than three separate bills.

That’s four or five ministers in trouble, and we haven’t even got to the matter of the Public Safety Minister, Marco Mendicino – and, let us not forget, the Prime Minister – apparently lying to Parliament about why they invoked the Emergencies Act, and on whose advice.

Or, worst yet, the jaw-dropping allegation that the Prime Minister’s Office, and the then Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, prevailed upon the commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki, to interfere in the investigation of the murder of 22 people by a gunman in Nova Scotia two years ago, for the purpose of selling gun control legislation the government had planned.

The allegation, that Ms. Lucki demanded local RCMP officers reveal to the public, contrary to procedure and at the risk of compromising the investigation, the precise make and model of the guns the killer used, has been officially denied. Nevertheless it is hard to shake: the allegation is precise, detailed, and contained in a contemporaneous note by the officer involved.

More to the point, whether or not the allegation is true, it is easy to believe this government, and this Prime Minister, would be capable of it. Seize on a horrible crime to unveil showboating legislation, cooked up on the fly, to no apparent public benefit? Checks out. Lean on a law enforcement official to meddle in what is supposed to be an independent legal process, wholly off limits to politicians? What was SNC-Lavalin about?

So much for the government: tired, directionless, massively overcentralized, coasting on self-satisfaction and increasingly overwhelmed by the actual business of governing, including the tiresome necessity of respecting the rights of Parliament and the principle of the rule of law.

But what lurks across the aisle? What of the government-in-waiting, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the Conservative Party of Canada? How are they shaping up as an alternative?

Funny you should ask. The party is just now in the throes of a leadership race – the traditional opportunity for a party in opposition to define itself, and its core beliefs. What, by the lights of the current campaign, are the core beliefs of the Conservative Party? On matters of ordinary policy, things like deficits and taxes and foreign policy, we are not much further ahead than when we started.

But if it’s lunatic conspiracy theories you would like to know about, on these the Conservatives have plenty to say, ranging from unfounded fears about the health effects of vaccines, to paranoia about the baleful influence of the World Economic Forum, to the dystopian possibilities of central bank digital currencies, as a means of surveilling and controlling the population – or if you really want to know the “truth,” how all of these are bound up together.

On the day after the allegation surfaced, earlier this week, that the government had interfered in a murder investigation for political ends – a day that ought to have been reserved for asking the most searching questions of those involved – several Conservative MPs were feting the organizers of a new anti-vaccine, anti-government, anti-everything rally planned for Ottawa this summer, some of whom were involved in the one that paralyzed the capital for three weeks earlier this year. Just in case anyone had forgotten the party’s disgraceful cheerleading for that particular outbreak of lawlessness.

It isn’t only at the federal level that Conservatives seem to have abandoned their traditional belief in law and order. The Alberta Conservative leadership race has barely begun, yet has already featured proposals either to ignore the Constitution altogether – that is, to refuse to enforce federal laws the provincial government dislikes – or to dictate constitutional changes to the rest of the country that have no actual hope of passing.

There is precedent for this, of course, notably in the revolutionary fantasies of certain Quebec separatist leaders. But given how signally these have failed, and how much worse it would have been for the province if they had succeeded, it’s hard to imagine anyone citing them as an example to follow, rather than avoid. Yet that is where we have arrived, in both Quebec and Alberta – with political leaders pretending they can rewrite the Constitution unilaterally.

At the federal level we would seem to be left with something of a vacuum, with neither main party displaying much interest in governing responsibly. This is sometimes described as “polarization,” as if the problem could be solved by everyone agreeing to meet in the centre. Not so: this country has big, challenging issues confronting it, some of which may require radical changes in policy. Radicalism is not the same as extremism.

What’s needed is not centrism, if that is interpreted to mean blindly hugging the middle on every issue. Neither is pragmatism the answer, if that means governing without an ideological compass, but merely blowing this way and that according to the latest poll or interest group lobby.

What’s needed – what is sorely lacking – is judgment: political, moral, intellectual. Judgment is the foundation of leadership, and leadership is the only way we’re going to get back to something resembling functional politics.

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Are Politics A Problem For The Markets? – Forbes

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As an economist and market analyst, I try to shy away from politics and focus on the facts. Nonetheless, I often receive politically charged questions that are usually some variation of the following: “With X party in office, the country is doomed. How can you say otherwise?” I have heard this in every presidential election from George W. Bush to Joe Biden. But the truth of the matter is this: both the economy and the markets grew during all of those administrations. Of course, each one had its own challenges and problems, but as a country we continued to move forward. Companies found ways to grow and make money. Given this, are politics really a problem for the markets?

A Limited Effect

No matter which side, the administration actually has a very limited effect on the national economy and on the financial markets. In fact, if you look at a chart of the economy or of the markets, and cover up the dates, you really can’t pick out when your party was in charge. Similarly, when you look at economic and market performance under various permutations of which party is in charge, there are differences, but they are not consistent over time. For all of the headlines and the fearmongering, politics and governance don’t make a significant difference.

Who’s In Control?

How can that be? Simple. Every president and Congress would like to have control—but they don’t. States push back. The Supreme Court pushes back. Municipalities push back. It is rare that something significant actually gets through. And even when it does? The genius of the American system is that companies then set their collective minds on how to avoid it, if they don’t like it, and/or how to make money off it. For example, look at literally any tax bill ever passed.

Fundamentally, that is the strength of the American system. When you say that Washington will derail the economy or the markets, you are saying that it really controls all of the shoppers and the companies, which simply isn’t true. It is certainly in the interest of politicians to exaggerate their power (to motivate their supporters) and to exaggerate their opponents’ powers (again, to motivate their supporters). But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. economy is driven by millions of profit-motivated companies that will find ways to work around or profit from pretty much anything the politicians can do. Thank goodness for that.

Which doesn’t answer those who maintain that this time is different. That somehow today’s problems are worse than they have ever been before. There is always a constituency for panic. But if you really believe that, if you really believe that Washington—of one party or the other—can derail the country, then what you are saying is that Washington already has full control. That is not what I see when I look around.

This Too Will Pass

What I see is the same vivid debate on policy we have always had and the same back-and-forth that ultimately results in a reasonable solution. Perhaps it is louder now, but it is still the same process.

One of my favorite quotes, from Winston Churchill, notes that you can always count on Americans to do the right thing once they have tried all the alternatives. I would argue that is what is happening now and that despite the short-term damage, which can be real, ultimately we will move ahead again.

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'We need a fresh approach': Harvey wants to do politics differently if she heads NDP – News Talk 980 CJME

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Sitting on the patio of a Regina coffee shop, Kaitlyn Harvey was animated and passionate, talking about what she feels are the problems in Saskatchewan politics and how they should be fixed.

Harvey answered questions in a wide-ranging way, cramming in a TedTalk’s worth of information in a way that only people excited by their topic do.

When asked what she was reading or watching these days, Harvey didn’t name a book but instead began talking about research and reports she has been going through both as part of her political aspirations and her day job as a lawyer.

“I’ve got a lot of research that I’m doing, so I don’t really read a whole lot of fiction. Lots of non-fiction, lots of news but then also looking at reports — that’s what I read for fun,” she said, then started laughing. “I’m a bit of a nerd.”

Getting down to the brass tacks of her run to lead the Saskatchewan NDP, Harvey got more serious.

“What I’m offering is a different approach than what the NDP has offered in the past,” she said. “It still recognizes those values of community, those values of taking care of our most vulnerable … and so that’s why I am running for the NDP because of those values. But the way that I am proposing to do politics is different.”

Harvey said the old approach of politics as performance, of talking but not getting anything done, isn’t working.

“When I say we need to do things different, I mean we need to do things differently,” said Harvey.

Right now, Harvey believes that when young people watch the proceedings in the legislature — if they do — all they’re seeing is people shouting.

“(It’s) a bunch of people just standing there, yelling back and forth at each other and spitting things and not actually addressing these very real issues. And then people wonder why our youth don’t go out and vote,” said Harvey.

Harvey believes people are sick of the status quo and that things will look a lot different in the legislature come the next election in 2024.

“I don’t know what it’ll look like but I’m pretty confident that if I’m successful in this NDP race, there’ll be a lot more NDP seats,” said Harvey.

Harvey doesn’t like the idea of left or right in politics. What she wants is for people to come together to seriously tackle the issues.

The biggest issue for Harvey is climate change; it’s what spurred her into politics in the first place.

The reality hit home for Harvey 10 years ago when she was in a co-op program at Environment Canada and was working on a mapping project with climate data.

“The numbers that I was seeing (and) that I was coming across … (it) was just terrifying to see what our future is going to look like, and the range of possibilities ranging from scary to catastrophic,” said Harvey.

Harvey went into law to study policy and is now making the push into politics because she doesn’t see the action needed to deal with climate change.

“We are two decades, easily, behind other countries (and) other places in the world in terms of our acceptance of the very real risks to our people (and) to our society from climate change. We aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities that we have to be leaders. We’re wasting opportunities and potential,” said Harvey.

Harvey said climate change is a fact and shouldn’t be politicized, but it is in Saskatchewan and it’s tearing apart the province.

“When they tell us that we have no choice, that we have to settle for this conflict, that we are divided, that we are an oil and gas-only type of place, like, are you kidding me?” said Harvey.

However, Harvey said she’s not anti-oil and she’s not looking to kill industry and put people out on the street.

“When people use the term ‘just transition,’ that actually means something. It means that the people who are going to be asked to transition to local renewable, sustainable, good-paying jobs are given the supports that they need to make that transition,” said Harvey.

“It’s not a negative attack on anybody’s personal identity or I’m trying to blame them for climate change or something like that. It’s nothing personal, it’s just a fact that we need to start doing things differently.”

Harvey said there are a lot of other ways Saskatchewan could bring in money and other industries to expand into that won’t contribute to climate change, and she knows that’s something youth of this province want.

“We need a fresh approach and I think that will resonate with people and get more people to come out and support the party when they see that we’ve actually got some really good ideas and they’re backed up by science. They’re backed up with the numbers,” said Harvey.

Unlike her competitor, Carla Beck, Harvey hasn’t held provincial office before — she ran as an NDP candidate in the 2020 election but lost. However, she doesn’t see that as a problem.

Harvey points to her work as a lawyer, putting herself through law school as a single mother and the volunteer and community work she’s done, saying she’s good at handling a lot of things and learns quickly.

“When I see what our politicians are doing I think, ‘Oh boy, I could do that.’ It’s not that hard, it’s not rocket science … it’ll be new but I’m a pretty quick study,” said Harvey.

Harvey said she does have respect for everyone in the NDP caucus and the work they’re doing.

A win for Harvey in the leadership race would be historic on two fronts: She would be the first woman elected to the NDP leadership in Saskatchewan and the first Metis leader of a major party in the province.

“It would be just the greatest opportunity of my life to be able to serve and provide my skills, my energy, my experience, to the people of Saskatchewan,” said Harvey.

If she doesn’t win, the province won’t have heard the last of Harvey. She has announced her intention to seek the NDP nomination to run in the Saskatoon Meewasin byelection which will be held at some point soon.

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