Huffington Post Canada

Mulcair was the one out of line at Question Period

A sad spectacle occurred in Question Period this Tuesday, with an exchange between Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair and Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary. Mulcair asked the government whether the Canadian military mission in Iraq would extend beyond thirty days. Calandra responded by questioning the NDP’s commitment to Israel by discussing inflammatory statements made by one of its fundraisers.

Mulcair, with a witty retort on Paul Calandra confusing Iraq and Israel, asked the question again, to which Calandra gave the same reply. After Mulcair tried for a third time, he used his subsequent question to challenge the Speaker’s neutrality.

According to the House of Commons Compendium of Procedure, Government Ministers (or Parliamentary Secretaries acting on their behalf), when responding to a question, may:

  1. Answer the question
  2. Defer their answers
  3. Make short explanations as to why they cannot furnish an answer at that time; or
  4. Say nothing

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Huffington Post Canada

U of C abortion display verdict not a victory for free speech

The University of Calgary recently reversed the guilty verdict of seven pro-life students who were found guilty of non-academic misconduct for setting up a display with graphic photos comparing abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. The University of Calgary initially demanded that the students set up their display facing inwards so passersby would not see the images. After the students refused, the University charged and found the students guilty of misconduct for failing to follow the demands issued by Campus Security. The students appealed to the University’s Board of Governors, which found their appeal groundless and dismissed the case. The students appealed to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, which ordered the University to rehear the appeal, after which the students were found not guilty.

The court decision has been heralded by some as being a victory for free speech on campus. The court ruling focused on the procedural aspect of the law rather than the substantive claim that the students’ right to free expression had been violated. The Court shied away from making any finding on the students’ right to erect the display: it directly stated that “it would be premature at this juncture” to rule on the right of students to erect the display on University property, or to force a change in University policy. Rather, the decision focused solely on the decision of the Board of Governors’ Committee denying the students their appeal hearing on the basis that it was groundless.

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Huffington Post Canada

Broadcasters should not censor political ads

Political speech is seemingly under attack from the last place we might expect: Canadian media broadcasters. CBC, Radio Canada, CTV, Rogers, and Shaw (which owns Global TV) announced last month that they would no longer air political advertisements that include material taken from their airwaves without express authorization.

“As news organizations, the use of our content in political advertisements without our express consent may compromise our journalistic independence and call into question our journalistic ethics, standards and objectivity,” they wrote.

According to the CRTC, “during an election campaign, broadcasters play an important role in informing Canadians about the issues, political parties and candidates involved.” Under section 335(1) of the Canada Elections Act, every broadcaster is required to provide prime-time advertising to all registered political parties. The Act also appoints a Broadcasting Arbitrator, who issues specific guidelines on the content of messages, as well as to deal with disputes between political parties and broadcasters.

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Huffington Post Canada

The Senate Reference and taking steps forward

The Supreme Court just released its long-awaited Senate Reference decision. And the response was spectacularly rebuking.

Harper posed the following questions to the Court and the following responses were provided. I have significantly condensed the decision for easy access.

Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally impose term limits on Senators?

Supreme Court: No, they may not.

Imposing term limits is a change that engages the interest of provinces. It requires the general amending formula to be used (seven provinces with at least 50 per cent of the population), also known as the 7/50 procedure. Imposing fixed terms is not specifically written in the Constitution, imposing term limits would alter the fundamental nature and role of the Senate.

Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally develop legislation that allows citizens to be consulted for potential Senate nominees? Can the federal government establish a framework for provinces and territories to enact legislation to consult their citizens for Senate nominees?

Supreme Court: No, they may not.

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Huffington Post Canada

The Conservatives’ clever ploy with the Truth in Sentencing Act

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the application of the Truth in Sentencing Actwas depicted in various media outlets as being part of a trend of recent decisions rebuffing the Conservative government’s justice agenda. While this could describe a number of recent decisions, the current ruling is more nuanced.

According to the Canadian Press:

They also represent the latest in a series of court rebukes of the Conservative government’s law-and-order agenda.

Sean Fine in the Globe and Mail likewise stated:

The Conservative government’s attempt to detain thousands of prisoners for longer periods has been blocked, in the newest in a series of crushing defeats at the Supreme Court of Canada.

As the Supreme Court decision notes, enhanced credit is often provided for accused who have been remanded in jail, and historically, there were no restrictions on the reasons for giving credit or the rate at which it was granted. A practice developed over time to grant credit at a 2:1 rate. The new Truth in Sentencing Act caps pre-sentence credit at 1.5:1, but does not discuss which circumstances justify enhanced credit.

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Huffington Post Canada

Does the Canadian Federation of Students care about students?

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national organization composed of campus student unions, purports to organize students on a “democratic, co-operative basis.” When Guelph students wanted to hold a referendum to exit the CFS, they served the CFS with a petition asking for a referendum to be held to decertify. However, the CFS refused to schedule a referendum. Guelph’s Central Student Association (CSA) took the CFS to court, and an Ontario lower court trial judgegranted the referendum. Then 73.5 per cent of Guelph students voted to exit the CFS.The CFS alleges the results were not reliable.

Even after Guelph students overwhelmingly expressed a desire to leave, the CFS continued to challenge the democratic vote in court. They argued that signatures were not verified for the initial referendum request. The Ontario Court of Appeal judge granted the request, and remitted the matter to another trial court judge on a technicality. The appeal was granted because the original judge did not provide written reasoning for his decision.

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Huffington Post Canada

The ongoing trend of corruption in student unions

Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) are withholding student funds from the Student Association after it failed to provide audited financial statements for the 2012-2013 school year.

Universities have, on occasion, intervened and exercised their power to withhold money from student unions acting against the wishes of their membership. Student union executives typically respond with a sad attempt to take the moral high ground, repeating variations of the following: “student unions should have autonomy over their own affairs.”

The Durham and UOIT Student Association President, Peter Chinweuba, for instance, stated:

The decision is unfair as it infringes upon the autonomy of the Student Association.

The University of Guelph in 2012 stopped collecting fees for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) after students overwhelmingly rejected the organization in a referendum. Guelph’s Central Student Association (CSA) originally stood up for the result of the referendum in court, but recently decided to settle with the CFS and pay the fees. However, students were not consulted on the matter at any point, deliberations were made in secret, and a deliberate decision was taken to ignore the democratic voice of students. A few months ago, the University, concerned with the lack of consultation, conducted another survey on whether students wanted to continue paying CFS fees (again, it was overwhelmingly rejected). The CSA responded with a press release that noted the University’s position:

[…] Means that the CSA is not empowered to make a decision in our own affairs without the approval of the University administration.

This is the same flawed argument: it is not student unions who should possess this power, but it is one that should ultimately lie with the students! What a radical concept. When a student union clearly acts against the wishes of its membership, the only recourse students have is their university administration. Individual students cannot really access the courts due to issues of cost and time.

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