Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Dean Steacy was wrong: Freedom of Speech is a Fundamental Canadian Value

The right to freedom of expression in Canada was not created by the Charter. Canadians enjoyed a right to free speech and freedom of expression prior to 1982.

Before she became Chief Justice, Justice McLachlin said in Keegstra that “freedom of speech is a fundamental Canadian value”, and 
Freedom of speech and the press had acquired quasi-constitutional status well before the adoption of the Charter in 1982. 
She further said that, 
The enactment of s.2(b) of the Charter represented both a continuity of [this] tradition, and a new flourishing of the importance of freedom of expression in Canadian society. 
Quoting from A. W. MacKay, "Freedom of Expression: Is It All Just Talk?" (1989), 68 Can. Bar Rev. 713, Justice McLachlin went on to affirm that, 
Freedom of expression was not invented by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms..
Justice McIntyre shared Justice McLachlin’s view. In the Supreme Court of Canada Dolphin Delivery decision of 1986, Justice McIntyre indicated the fundamental importance of freedom of expression for our democratic institutions. 
Freedom of expression is not, however, a creature of the Charter. It is one of the fundamental concepts that has formed the basis for the historical development of the political, social and educational institutions of western society. Representative democracy, as we know it today, which is in great part the product of free expression and discussion of varying ideas, depends upon its maintenance and protection.
Now that you know all this, doesn't it make you wonder what Dean Steacy (the lead Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator in the Marc Lemire case) meant when he said,
Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value... It's not my job to give value to an American concept.
Actually, Mr. Steacy, freedom of speech is a fundamental Canadian value that the Supreme Court of the land has ruled responsible for the maintenance and protection of Canadian society.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

No Separation of Church and State in Canada

The National Post reported on December 19, 2012 that a disgruntled Saskatoon resident is about to launch a human rights complaint against the city of Saskatoon for placing the words “Merry Christmas” on its buses.

The media coverage surrounding this issue has made me realize that many Canadians are confused about whether the Charter guarantees the separation of church and state. It does not. Further, our constitution lacks a clear equivalent to the most famous of such constitutional protections—the American establishment clause.

The establishment clause is a phrase in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights that says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Canada has no equivalent constitutional protection.

Although the linked National Post article above focuses on the up-coming human rights complaint, on the Charles Adler show on the afternoon of December 18, 2012, Mr. Solo implied that Canada has constitutional protection regarding the separation of church and state.

If I had to guess, I would say that Mr. Solo, and other Canadians like him, are confused because they have watched US legal dramas on TV and assume that, like the U.S., Canada has a similar separation of church and state. We do not. Consider this plain and simple fact: the Queen remains the Head of State in Canada even though she is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

On the other hand, section 2 of the Charter does guarantee "freedom of religion", and the courts have interpreted this to include a right to be free from religion.

But this right to be free from religion is subtly, yet significantly, different from a separation of church and state. Freedom of religion under the Charter means that Canadians are free to practice their religions in a non-harmful fashion (e.g. the Multani case), while freedom from religion means that Canadians cannot be forced to adopt a religious practice (e.g. the Big M Drug Mart case).

Bylaws Made in Secret, Good Government, and Economic Freedom

Last July 16, Calgary city council voted to enact a bylaw to ban the distribution and sale of shark fins in Calgary.

Ald. Brian Pincott brought the bylaw to council supported by a petition containing thousands of signatures. Ald. John Mar admonished Calgary’s Chinese-Canadians saying they may need to give up some of their traditions, such as shark fin soup. Coverage by some media outlets juxtaposed images of Chinese restaurants and mutilated sharks. As a result, few people outside of Calgary’s Chinese community have questioned the good intentions behind council’s decision. But more of us should.

Council justifies the proposed bylaw on two grounds. First, sharks are “apex predators” that accumulate toxins such as mercury in their bodies. Shark fins therefore contain dangerous levels of mercury. Second, some 70 million sharks are allegedly caught each year, stripped of their fins, and thrown back helpless into the ocean to die a painful death. So shark fins are therefore cruel and unethical.

These two justifications may seem innocuous, initially. Although Alberta’s Municipal Government Act is silent regarding sharks, it does give municipalities the authority to pass laws for human safety, health, and welfare.

So is the proposed bylaw about protecting humans from toxins like mercury? If sharks are contaminated with mercury, why would council ban only the fins and not the entire shark? Why is the practice of finning sharks and not fishing sharks the focus of the bylaw? Also, what about tuna? Tuna is an ocean dwelling apex predator that accumulates mercury, and it’s more regularly consumed by Calgarians than shark fins. If human health is truly council’s concern, the bylaw would be about the regulation or banning of mercury in foods, not just shark fins.

The human health justification appears to be a contrivance designed to divert attention from the fact that council has no authority to enact legislation protecting sharks.

Toronto had a similar ban until November 2012 when a judge ruled the bylaw was outside of Toronto’s authority. Even though Calgary is a different city, in a different province, and functioning under different legislation, the legal principles relied upon by the Ontario judge would similarly strike down Calgary’s proposed bylaw. Like Toronto’s, Calgary’s ban is simply not about protecting human health — it’s about the preservation of a marine animal over which council has no jurisdiction.

Of course, Calgary’s city council could not have known in July about the legal status of municipal shark fin bans before the judge struck down Toronto’s bylaw in November — or could they?

On July 16, hidden behind closed doors, council was given legal advice regarding the proposed bylaw. That advice is currently unavailable because council directed that it remain confidential under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That seems odd.

Upon exiting their private meeting, council resolved to ask the provincial and federal governments to enact shark fin bans. Why? Perhaps the city’s legal department told council that the proposed ban is outside the city’s authority. If that’s the case, council knew their ban was potentially illegal prior to Toronto’s bylaw being stuck down.

What’s disturbing about this scenario is far more than shark finning. If city council was told that banning shark fins may be outside of their authority, and yet continued efforts to enact the ban while keeping that unfavourable legal advice hidden, what else are they capable of? And even if council was not initially aware that the ban may be outside their authority, they became aware after Toronto’s bylaw was struck down.

This should trouble every Calgarian, not just the Chinese community. Don’t be misled — this ban is about far more than shark fins. Calgarians should consider whether they can trust a council that keeps secrets while seeking to enact legislation it knows may exceed its authority.

The real issues are good government and the freedom to earn an honest living. A Calgary restaurant owner assured me that she purchases shark products not from China but only from Spain — a country that regulates its shark industry to prevent overfishing and cruelty. Throughout the EU, the whole shark is harvested. The media’s gory portrayal of floundering mutilated animals is simply inaccurate in her case. She is serving an ethical and sustainable food product to her customers. It would be unjust if council’s overly broad ban stripped this facet of her livelihood away.

This piece was originally published by the Calgary Herald on February 6, 2013 and Troy Media on February 7, 2013.