Like all Canadians who respect the rule of law and the importance of firm law enforcement against reprobates, I was disgusted by yet another case of activist judges and left-wing prosecutors putting criminals’ rights ahead of the rights and needs of the general public. It is a travesty of justice when prosecutors claim they have evidence to convict someone on a serious charge but they let them plead guilty to a lesser one just so as not to waste the court’s time.
Now that that’s out of my system, I want to address the wave of commentary which swept the Internet yesterday. First of all, the Conservatives have now admitted they are guilty of doctoring their books and breaking our election laws. They have confessed to submitting misinformation to Elections Canada and in doing so attempting to defraud the public purse by seeking government compensation for expenses which were not legally incurred. This is now on the record, in court, and needs to be mentioned on every possible occasion.
Second, those who are irate that they were allowed to cop to a lesser charge are right to be upset, but should also be realistic. In the majority of countries in the world, a charge of fraud against the ruling party would never have progressed as far as it was allowed to here. It’s true that the government would have insisted on full prosecution of an opposition party in the same circumstances. It’s true that we deserve a public inquiry to find out what happened. It’s true that we won’t get it. But we also don’t live in a genuine democracy.
All that said, I want to get a couple of reflective thoughts out of the way. First, the Conservative spin on this should be seen as what it is: the final nail in the coffin of democratic responsibility. This government has repeatedly argued that senior politicians are not responsible for actions of their subordinates. This compromise, and the Conservative claim that they have been exonerated, takes that claim to its full extreme. The party pleads guilty; in exchange, it is stated, no individual did anything wrong and therefore no individuals need face any consequences. It is, in legal guise, the same argument offered for why half of Harper’s Cabinet still have their jobs despite a litany of misdeeds ranging from embarrassing gaffes to outright crimes committed by their staffers.
Secondly, we should recognize this moment as the last time the rule of law matters in Canadian politics. If you take a political science course in university, you will still be told that our democracy is rooted on the rule of law: the principle that everyone, even the government, must submit equally to the law. When a supposed law-and-order government cops to a lesser plea and admits to election fraud, obviously that principle is in jeopardy.
But what I’m taking about here is a much broader trend than just this one particular fraud scheme. In previous court battles, like its appalling mistreatment of Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik in the Sudan, the government quite literally argued that although it had to obey the Constitution in a general sense, it did not have to do so when a Cabinet minister’s decision-making powers were invoked.
The court rejected the argument that time, but this year agreed with the government that the magical powers exuded by ministers make all papers in their offices immune to the Access to Information Act, a restriction not found in the Act and which allows the government to cover up any crime it wishes by having the minister’s secretary sit on the papers — either figuratively, or if necessary literally. And now, the government has gained the court’s agreement that deliberately and illegally laundering money through riding bank accounts can be registered with the court as an accidental and minor offence, deserving a fine which amounts to a less than 10% commission on the hundreds of thousands of dollars involved in the scheme. They claim this is not a problem because, in the end, they were at least using donations from ordinary Canadians.
The result isn’t anti-democratic per se, but it isn’t Canadian or British democracy. It’s a muscular, top-heavy democracy, of the sort practiced by the former Bush administration in the United States or by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Under the new rules of democracy, once you’re elected into government, you are above the law. And you will remain above the law until you hold another election. The only limit on the power of government, then, is its desire to get re-elected. Minorities who aren’t wanted, like Quebecois, have already felt this chill. But even the privileged minorities, like Albertans, should be very concerned by the precedent being set here. “Their guys” won’t be in power for ever. With the rule of law out of the way, the actions you take today will be used to legitimize those taken against you tomorrow.
Finally, it will be very interesting going forward to trace the career paths of the individuals involved. Those individuals include Director of Public Prosecutions Brian Saunders, Crown Prosecutor Richard Roy, and Judge Celynne Dorval.Tweet