By making use of the Canadian Constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to wreak petty vengeance on his old adversaries at Toronto City Hall, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has actually done Canadians a favour.
After 36 years of delusional complacency, we have now had confirmed what anyone who was really paying attention knew from the get-go in 1982.
To wit, the parts of the Canadian Charter of a Rights and Freedoms that really matter aren’t worth the yellow paper they are printed on.
Fundamental rights? Legal rights? Equality rights? All meaningless.
Turns out – as so many of us worried back in 1982 – that thanks to the Conservative premiers of the day our fundamental constitutional guarantees are merely aspirational, or not even that, just a way to keep the dummies quiet.
As Mr. Ford has proved, all that is necessary to eliminate our rights (other than the rights to vote in a gerrymandered provincial or federal election or leave the country) is an autocratic tyrant with a majority of cowed and unprincipled lickspittles making up his or her majority in a Legislature. In other words, exactly the situation that prevails at Queens Park, as Ontario’s legislature is quaintly known.
So thank you, Doug Ford, for clarifying that. You have done a service to the nation. Seriously.
In doing so, you have also illuminated the need to do something about it – and about you and your government.
As for the drafters of this so-called Charter of Rights, those of you who are still drawing breath, you will just have to forgive us if we Canadians conclude you actually don’t have that much to contribute at this point.
Three of the Charter’s surviving “political architects,” we have been informed, have condemned Mr. Ford’s authoritarianism in a letter.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, 84, former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, 79, and former Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry, 86 – a Liberal, a New Democrat, and a Conservative, no less – published a statement Friday explaining to Mr. Ford that, notwithstanding what they wrote and agreed upon in 1982, their efforts apparently weren’t meant to be taken seriously.
No, you see, the override clause they snuck into our national bill of rights – which was supposed to clarify and strengthen the traditional unwritten rights we inherited from the British constitution – was only to be used in “exceptional situations, and only as a last resort after careful consideration.”
What cheek! My question for Messrs. Chrétien , Romanow, and McMurtry: Why the hell didn’t you write it that way, then?
No, I don’t think we Canadians want to be going back to those gentlemen for their thoughts on how to fix this, and perhaps not to their political heirs either.
“We condemn his actions and call on those in his cabinet and caucus to stand up to him,” the Three Amigos said. “History will judge them by their silence.”
Well, they’re certainly right about that. History will judge Mr. Ford’s spineless MPPs to be either unprincipled cowards or supporters of their leader’s autocratic impulses. But so what? That’s pretty symptomatic of the state of conservative politicians worldwide at this point in history, just look at the crumbling Republican Party south of the 49th Parallel.
But Mr. Ford has considerably tarnished the architects’ political legacy too, just when they thought its lustre would never fade.
The letter of the law is all that matters in such affairs. Someone will always abuse the spirit of the law. The zeitgeist dictates that in the present era the abusers are most likely to be on the neoliberal right. It wasn’t always so and won’t always be so.
We need to take measures against tyrants of all stripes.
One way or another we Canadians are going to fix this. It may not be pretty, it may take a long time, but we will get it done.
It certainly won’t be done with the help of the architects of the Constitution Act, 1982, who it turns out ought to have taken out reputational errors and omissions insurance.