Pierre Poilievre comes for his charter rights

Most politicians would consider a 20-point lead in the polls as an opportunity to step back and let their opponent continue digging their own grave. But Pierre Poilievre is not just any politician, as we have seen on many fronts. That’s why, rather than slowly moving toward next year’s election, he has already promised to make dramatic changes to the administration of justice in Canada, changes that he will defend from judicial scrutiny by preemptively invoking the notwithstanding clause.

During a speech to the Canadian Police Association last week, Poilievre promised to toughen bail requirements and make it harder to transfer convicted murderers like Paul Bernardo out of maximum-security prisons. “All my proposals are constitutional,” he said, clearly anticipating the questions this proposal could raise. “We will make them constitutional, using whatever tool the Constitution allows me to use to make them constitutional. I think you know exactly what I mean.”

It refers, of course, to article 33 of the Charter. This is a deep irony coming from someone who claims to care about freedom and has made a lot of noise about the Trudeau government’s apparent indifference to constitutional rights during the 2022 occupation of Ottawa. But neither irony nor hypocrisy is enough to dissuade him from promising to treat the Charter as an obstacle rather than a guide.

Neither, apparently, are shame or basic decency. Poilievre has I already used the tragic death of an Ontario family in a head-on collision to advance this narrative. Never mind that the suspect would have been released on bail regardless of changes made since 2015 or that the potentially lethal decision to chase him down a major highway was made in defiance of a superior officer’s orders. For Poilievre, it’s about promoting his pre-existing narrative and the notion that, as former US President Donald Trump said, “only I can fix it.”

Poilievre suggests he would only preemptively suspend constitutional rights in criminal justice matters, but that is cold comfort. After all, as the Umar Zameer case shows, the criminal justice system does not always get things right. Zameer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Detective Const. Jeffrey Northrup, who died on July 2, 2021, after being struck by a vehicle driven by Zameer in an underground parking lot at Toronto City Hall. Under Poilievre’s vision of justice, Zameer, a 34-year-old accountant and father of three, would have been deprived of bail and locked up for more than three years until his case was heard.

But that the case was incredibly flimsy and was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers last month. Before concluding the case, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy offered Zameer “my sincerest apologies for what has happened.” Imagine how much worse that would be under a Poilievre government if Zameer’s constitutional rights had been pre-emptively suspended, and how many other innocent Canadians could be forced to rot in prison before receiving a watered-down version of justice.

However, the biggest victim of all here might be the Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself. While the provincial governments of Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan have invoked Section 33 in the past, a federal government has never done so before. As Errol Mendes, law professor at the University of Ottawa, says said CBC News, a preemptive use of it by Ottawa would open the floodgates to even greater abuses by the provinces. “Essentially, it would be the last straw that would eventually lead to the denigration of the Charter as a whole,” he said. “This really shows that there has been no thought given to the long-term impact on Canada if we allow this to be used.”

With all due respect to Prof. Mendes, I think this is a bit naive. Has been There has been a lot of thought in conservative circles. a la carte and how its influence could be contained or counteracted. This is especially true of the Reform Conservatives, who now control their national party and have always hated the way the Charter has reshaped Canada’s legal landscape.

Removing or replacing it would be a very difficult task, even with a clear majority of provinces governed by Conservatives at the moment. But undermine his authority by preemptively invoking the notwithstanding clause? That is much more feasible. Once a federal government has broken the taboo with the preventive use clause, what is to stop it from breaking it a second, third or fourth time?

Pierre Poilievre has spent the last few years explaining how much he cares about protecting the freedom of Canadians. So why is he now promising to preemptively suspend her constitutional rights and what would that mean for her future?

The stakes, then, are much higher than they might seem at first glance. It is not the rights of criminals that are at stake, as Poilievre and his representatives would like to pretend. It is the integrity of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document that all Canadians (including a growing number of conservatives – have come to see it as a central part of their identity. If we are going to allow someone to undermine our foundation, we should have a conversation about that first.

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