Time in Canada to debate whether notwithstanding clause should exist, says Liberal MP
A Liberal MP from Montreal says it is for the country to debate whether the notwithstanding clause should be on the books.
Sameer Zuberi’s comments come after a week where the Bloc Québécois forced parties in the House of Commons to vote on whether they felt provinces had the legitimate right to use the constitutional power however they wanted, including pre-emptively.
Both the Liberals and federal New Democrats voted down the motion to defeat it, while the Conservatives supported the Bloc’s call.
The notwithstanding clause is a provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows provincial and federal governments to pass laws that circumvent parts of the Charter for a period of up to five years.
While it’s not new, debate around its use has heated up in recent years as provinces such as Ontario and Quebec have invoked it pre-emptively, effectively preventing anyone from launching a legal challenge in court.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s government used it pre-emptively to usher in his government’s secularism law, known as Bill 21, which prohibits public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job.
“When you have the usage of the notwithstanding clause being enacted in such a way that it eliminates rights from people, then it calls into question the very clause itself,” Zuberi said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized the pre-emptive use of the provision and during a 2021 interview told The Canadian Press he shares the disdain his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, had for its place in the charter. It was a demand from provinces the elder Trudeau acquiesced to during the 1982 constitutional negotiations.
But that is as far as the current prime minister has gone in his criticisms. Zuberi stopped short of directly calling for the Liberal government to reopen the Charter, saying only “there should be a debate within society, and also within governments on this issue.”
Asked about the possible implications of revisiting contentious constitutional negotiations, particularly when Canada is facing issues such as high inflation, Zuberi said “just because this subject is complicated, doesn’t mean that we should shy away from approaching it.”
Zuberi currently sits as a backbench member of the government, first elected in 2019 in the reliably Liberal riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard in Montreal.
As the only Muslim MP in Quebec, Zuberi said he knows his comments around Bill 21, which he opposes, are perceived differently.
And although he believes Quebecers’ view of the law is changing, he believes it is important to tell those affected that they could be in for a long battle.
Earlier in the week, he told a Senate committee studying the issue of Islamophobia that he sees the five-year sunset rule on the clause’s application as a chance for the law to be revisited, expressing hope it could fall in the next 10 to 15 years.
“We need to be realistic and not pretend things aren’t as they are,” he said, saying if the law does not fall through the courts, the only other recourse is at the ballot box.
The Quebec Court of Appeal is expected to release a ruling on the constitutionality of Legault’s use of the notwithstanding clause to enact the law, challenged by several civil liberties groups and the National Council of Canadian Muslims. A 2021 ruling by Superior Court Justice Marc-André Blanchard said while the law had “cruel” and “dehumanizing” consequences, it was mostly legal.
Trudeau has committed to intervene in the case if it arrives at the Supreme Court of Canada.
National Council of Canadian Muslims CEO Stephen Brown said Friday he believes the court challenge will be successful, but said it is “absolutely necessary” to convene lawmakers, activists and other members of civil society to examine the clause itself.
Zuberi said his message when he speaks to those affected by the legislation is to stay engaged.
“We obviously hope that legislation will fall through the courts in the short term, but it’s possible that this might not happen” he said.
“People have to understand that and be prepared for that midterm struggle. And I think it’s a disservice for those who are directly impacted to not understand that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2023.
Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole not seeking re-election, leaving this spring
Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says he will not seek re-election and plans to resign his seat this spring.
The Ontario MP led the Conservatives and served as official Opposition leader from August 2020 until February 2022, when a majority of his caucus voted to remove him from the post.
“I am a proud Conservative and had the unique privilege to lead our party amid a challenging time for our country,” he said in a statement shared on social media Friday morning.
“The Conservative party is the party of Confederation and I know it will return to government offering the hope and ideas our country so desperately needs.”
His ousting followed months of tensions over O’Toole’s management of caucus and attempts to moderate the party’s image. Those efforts led to concerns that he flip-flopped on key policy positions, including on carbon pricing and gun control.
O’Toole has kept a low profile on Parliament Hill since his time as leader and he said Friday he plans to keep his seat until the end of the spring session.
The military veteran was first elected in a 2012 byelection and served as parliamentary secretary to the minister for international trade and then Veterans’ Affairs minister in final year of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before it lost power in 2015.
O’Toole took a first crack at running for the party leadership in the crowded 2017 race to replace Harper. He finished third.
He ran for a second time in 2020 and was successful against former cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who was his chief opponent.
“I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to advance issues that I believe are critically important — from veterans’ mental health, to military preparedness, nuclear energy, Arctic sovereignty and a range of other important issues,” O’Toole said in Friday’s statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023.
Donald Trump indictment sends American politics into uncharted waters
American presidents have traduced civil liberties, committed perjury, obstructed justice, and fostered corruption. They have acted in contempt of Congress, condoned arms smuggling and violated campaign-spending laws. They have committed and covered up crimes. But never before has anyone who occupied the country’s highest office – one who has sworn in public to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” – been criminally indicted.
With this presidential precedent shattered by the indictment of Donald Trump, American politics is entering uncharted waters, without buoys, day beacons, safe-water marks or fog signals.
Mariners and swimmers know that the Potomac River, which runs through Washington and defines the capital’s boundary on the left descending bank, is regarded as perhaps the most dangerous of navigable waters. Until now, presidents – who from Abraham Lincoln (who suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War) and Grover Cleveland (accused of rape) to John F. Kennedy (implicated in the assassination of a president of Vietnam) and Richard Nixon (who presided over the Watergate cover-up if not the crime itself) – have negotiated the strong underwater currents of one of the nation’s most fabled rivers. All of Mr. Trump’s 43 predecessors have avoided criminal indictment, none has been arrested, and most have even evaded serious threats to their reputations in the court of public opinion.
Mr. Trump, who signalled that he expected the dramatic development, has called on his supporters to undertake protests to “take our nation back,” a potentially incendiary prompt that was as an echo of his remarks minutes before the 2021 siege at the Capitol and that could lead to fresh dangerous street confrontations
He faces new, extraordinary and unparalleled legal threats even as he embarks on his third White House campaign, leads the race to win the Republican presidential nomination, and is a strong contender to become the first chief executive since Cleveland himself to win nonconsecutive presidential terms in next year’s general election.
The legal action against Mr. Trump comes in the face of long-standing custom that presidents are not charged with crimes; for generations, Americans have resisted criminalizing political behaviour, and in 1973, as the Watergate scandal was unfolding, an internal memo prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council argued that sitting presidents could not be indicted. A quarter century later, the independent counsel in the Bill Clinton imbroglio growing out of his affair with a White House intern decided to pass on the option of indicting the president.
Neither the Justice Department nor the Supreme Court has ruled on whether former presidents can legally face indictment. There are, moreover, no bars to an indicted or convicted individual becoming president or continuing to serve as president. The Constitution provides such a barrier only through impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction in the Senate. Mr. Trump was impeached twice but was not convicted in either occasion.
Now Mr. Trump – and the country he led for four stormy years – must navigate waters that the former president already has roiled with his incendiary style, his devoutly loyal political base, and his quiet signals of approbation to his sliver of violence-prone vigilantes.
All this in a New York case that even Mr. Trump’s most ardent critics might concede is a peripheral crime, far less publicly consequential than encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on Capitol Hill, seeking to overturn the 2020 election, or squirrelling away secret government documents at his Mar-a-Lago home.
Mr. Trump will be charged with involvement in a $130,000 hush-money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom he is alleged to have conducted a sexual affair – a relative misdemeanour, in the view of his opponents, after a presidency of felonies, the political equivalent of indicting the gangster Al Capone, implicated in bootlegging and mass gang murders, for tax evasion in 1931. The indictment comes as separate criminal charges are being weighed in investigations in Georgia and by the U.S. Justice Department.
In the first breath of the First World War, the German battleship Goeben escaped British Royal Navy pursuit across the eastern Mediterranean and found safe refuge in Constantinople, prompting Winston Churchill to reflect in his war memoir that “The terrible ‘Ifs’ accumulate.” Now, “The terrible ‘Ifs’ accumulate” in peacetime American politics – and many of the heretofore forbidden, and incontrovertibly forbidding, questions are accumulating in the choppy waters of United States civic life.
Could Mr. Trump face imprisonment? Will the Trump indictment on a peripheral charge seem gratuitous and vengeful? Will it hurt the former president’s political prospects?
Or will it, in a bizarre twist, enhance his appeal among members of his base the way the twin indictments – for bribery and mail fraud – of Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, whose political style shared elements of Mr. Trump’s, only boosted his supporters’ devotion after his imprisonment in 1947. (The Republican governor of Massachusetts and the state’s Republican legislature feared that declaring the mayoralty vacant would create a populist backlash that would only increase Mr. Curley’s popularity. The mayor eventually was pardoned by President Harry Truman, a course that president Gerald Ford followed after Mr. Nixon resigned in 1974 and that President Joe Biden might find himself considering in this case.)
Mr. Trump’s opponents, his closest aides, the Manhattan district attorney’s office, New York State court officers and the Secret Service all have anticipated this moment, with the various parties, suddenly transformed into contending interests, conducting the civilian equivalent of military war games on how to handle this development and its fallout. There are few if any precedents to confront the political dimensions of this development – and no buoys to guide Americans’ passage.
Senegal opposition leader trial kickstarts rocky election season
Dakar, Senegal – Prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is scheduled to face charges of libel in a Dakar court on Thursday. If found guilty, the political leader could be barred from running in the 2024 presidential elections.
Originally set for March 16, the hearing was postponed to March 30 after state security services forcibly removed Sonko from his vehicle and escorted him to court on the day of the hearing. Shortly after, clashes erupted between police forces and Sonko’s supporters.
Sonko, 48, said he inhaled a harmful substance during the altercations which impaired his eyesight and breathing, claiming the altercation amounted to an assassination attempt.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Senegal’s Attorney General Ibrahima Bakhoum said a suspect had been arrested in relation to the case.
Yarga Sy, an airport security agent, allegedly gave Sonko a scarf soaked with a harmful substance. The substance was in fact vinegar, said Bakhoum.
The incident has escalated tensions in Senegal as the country braces for potential unrest ahead of Sanko’s court hearing on Thursday. Ousseynou Fall, one of Sonko’s lawyers was suspended by the Senegalese Bar Association on Wednesday after a complaint by a case judge and will be unable to appear in court.
“The ongoing tensions have led to a worsening of the situation, fueling political violence as the opposition rallies around the Sonko…case,” said Alioune Tine, Senegalese political analyst and founder of think tank AfrikaJom Centre.
The opposition leader faces libel charges brought against him by Senegal’s Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang after accusing him of stealing 29 billion CFA francs ($47 million) from a government agency. Sonko also faces separate charges of raping a beauty salon employee and making death threats to her in 2021.
He denies the accusations and claims incumbent President Macky Sall is using the judiciary to quash his presidential run. A presidential spokesperson denied commenting on Sonko’s court hearing.
A former tax inspector who transitioned to politics and became the leader of the Pastef opposition party, Sonko became even more popular after finishing third in the 2019 presidential election, becoming Sall’s foremost political opponent.
Stifling opposition with the judiciary
Previous opposition figures such as former Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, were both charged with corruption and barred from running against Sall in 2019.
The opposition coalition has argued that these disqualifications are part of a broader pattern in which the ruling coalition is leveraging the judiciary to sideline opposition candidates and clear the path for the incumbent president’s reelection.
Senegal has enjoyed relative political stability since it gained independence from France in 1960. Unlike many of its neighbours, it has avoided military coups, earning it a reputation as a beacon of democracy in the region. Despite these credentials, the country has experienced significant political turbulence ahead of the election.
In the past few months, there has been a wave of opposition arrests, including El Malick Ndiaye, spokesperson for Sonko’s Pastef party. He was accused of spreading fake news and spent five days in prison before being released with an electronic ankle bracelet.
Thus, there are concerns that a potential Sonko disqualification or another Sall presidential run could signal a descent into chaos.
“Our current political situation is the most dangerous since decolonisation,” Cheikh Fall, a Senegalese political activist, told Al Jazeera, “Macky Sall is the one and only person responsible for this situation.”
Amnesty International has warned about the increased violence with which security forces have cracked down on protesters ahead of the 2024 elections.
“An escalation of tensions, and further violent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces may damage Senegal’s democratic reputation,” said Renna Hawili, a Dakar-based analyst with geopolitical consultancy Control Risk.
A controversial third term
In 2016, the Senegalese constitution was amended, restricting the length of presidential terms to five years. An earlier amendment in 2001 had limited consecutive terms to two.
But now there is uncertainty about whether Sall will be running for a third mandate.
The president is yet to confirm or deny any such ambitions but he recently discussed the possibility in an interview with French magazine L’Express. He stated that should he choose to run, it would be constitutional as his first term extended beyond the scope of the reform, lasting for seven years rather than five.
“Legally speaking, the debate has been settled for a long time,” said Sall, who claims he consulted the Constitutional Council before the 2016 amendment. “Now, should I run for a third term or not? It’s a political debate, I admit.”
If he does run, it would be a “political bomb” that would further deteriorate the country’s already tense political situation, Tine said.
The issue of tenure elongation is an old one in Senegal – and indeed West Africa.
In 2012, Sall’s predecessor Wade also attempted to circumvent the 2001 amendment and run for a third term. Like Sall today, he claimed that because he had been elected before the amendment, it did not apply to his first tenure. That triggered violent protests.
Sall was an opposition leader then and, buoyed by his support of anti-Wade protests, gained the popularity that helped him eventually become president.
At the time, he said he would not allow presidents to run for more than two terms, which led to the law signed four years later.
Calls for protests
Sonko’s trial comes less than a year before the 2024 presidential elections. If found guilty on Thursday, he will be disqualified from running in the next election, which could tip the scales in favour of the incumbent.
But there is a growing sense that the trials have galvanised the opposition and led to a significant shift in the political landscape as more youth, frustrated by rising unemployment, flock to Sonko.
The Yewwi Askan Wi coalition, translating to “Liberate the People” in the local Wolof language, led protests in Dakar on March 29 and has planned nationwide demonstrations for Thursday – and April 3. These protests are scheduled to take place despite a lack of government authorisation.
Whether Sonko’s trial will mark the start of a new era of political unrest or whether it will strengthen the grip of the incumbent president will become apparent on Thursday, analysts say.
“It is the first time that our collective actions since independence have allowed us to build such a solid democratic system,” said Fall the activist, “but that is in danger of crumbling like a house of cards”.
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