The Prince Arthur Herald

An interview with Justice Minister Peter MacKay

In light of the House of Commons reconvening on January 27, The Prince Arthur Herald columnist Samuel Mosonyi spoke with Justice Minister Peter MacKay to gauge the government’s position and rationale on a number of initiatives currently being pursued in the Justice portfolio. These include the Supreme Court’s Bedford decision on prostitution, a cyberbullying awareness initiative, mandatory victim surcharges, the proposed Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, and more. Here is the full interview.

 

PROSTITUTION AND THE BEDFORD DECISION

You tweeted recently that you “disagree with Justin Trudeau’s focus on legalizing prostitution, which will harm and put vulnerable Canadians at risk.” Has Justin Trudeau come out in support of legalization?

Of marijuana, yes. Of prostitution, not yet, although his party, and particularly the youth wing, appears to be very publicly musing, if not advocating, that position. So while we’ve been focused on making our justice system more accountable, Mr. Trudeau and certainly his party seem to be focusing on legalizing marijuana and prostitution. And frankly I tweeted that because I fundamentally disagree, and I think in both instances it would be detrimental to our country’s best interest. It would certainly further endanger vulnerable segments of our population. And I don’t believe that any government of any political stripe should be facilitating the increase of access to drugs or to the sex trade. I don’t think it’s a good thing for our country, certainly not in the best interests of young people, or our citizens. I’m kind of taken aback, frankly, when I heard that yesterday.

After the Bedford decision you released a statement stating that the government is exploring all options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms to communities, prostitutes, and vulnerable persons. Would it be an option to allow communities themselves to regulate prostitution through zoning and licensing bylaws, instead of treating it as a criminal law matter?

I don’t believe so. I say that because it really is in the federal area of criminal legislation in my view to address this broadly across the country. We’re going to be receiving a lot of input and there will be extensive consultation on this issue. But it’s going to take a much more concerted effort than what any local government or jurisdiction could do. So for that reason I think you will find that there is a necessity within that twelve month period that the Supreme Court has granted that we will bring forward legislation, and amendments that will address what we think are significant harms that flow from prostitution.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

The Supreme Court was right on HIV and consent

The Supreme Court of Canada recently issued a ruling in R. v. Mabior clarifying the requirement for people with HIV to disclose their status to sexual partners. If the accused has: (1) a low viral load, and (2) uses a condom, there is no realistic possibility of transmission. As a result, the Court ruled, there is no requirement to disclose HIV status to a partner if these two conditions are met. The ruling builds upon a previous judgment in R. v. Cuerrier, where the majority held that failure to disclose that one has HIV may “vitiate” (negate) consent to sex and can make one liable to be charged with aggravated sexual assault.

The Cuerrier test was based on the following two elements: that (1) a “dishonest act” must occur, which includes lying or failing to disclose HIV status; and (2) the complainant must be deprived of knowledge which would have caused him or her to refuse sexual relations that resulted in exposure to a significant risk of bodily harm. Opponents of Cuerrier argue that the test is both uncertain and it overextends the criminal law. The Court in Mabior recognized that Cuerrier gives rise to uncertainty over what constitutes “significant risk” and what constitutes “bodily harm.”

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The Prince Arthur Herald

Has Harper lost control of his backbench?

Last week, the National Post’s John Ivison wrote an interesting column arguing that the Conservative backbench has lost its fear of Stephen Harper. He argues that “the trained seals on the backbench are biting back and we are likely to see more unsanctioned behaviour in future, as MPs relish their new-found freedom.”

Is the Prime Minister, who for years has kept an extremely tight leash on his caucus, losing control? The answer may be more subtle than Ivison suggests. The Conservative Party of Canada is a broad coalition of interests: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, economic libertarians, red Tories, and the like. Due to its very nature, this coalition will occasionally pit interests against interests. A successful leader will be able to reconcile differences and hold the alliance together.

The Prime Minister can enforce discipline in a variety of ways. He can promote or demote MPs based on their performance. Harper can kick an MP out of the Conservative caucus at any time. Postmedia’s Stephen Maher argues that it was easier to impose discipline prior to the 2011 election. Some MPs want to get their name in the headlines, while others will speak out when the government does something they dislike.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

Public screening of hate film poses danger to Canada

A small group of individuals in the United States filmed a primitive and hateful video depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This was posted to YouTube and translated into Arabic. No one paid much attention to it until an angry mob of protesters stormed the US embassy in Libya, killing the ambassador and three other staff.

Anti-American and anti-Western sentiments are strong in the Middle East, and will continue to be so. It is important to note that the US government did not condone, let alone even know about the video until the riot. Obama condemned the murders, but also the video for insulting holy Islamic values. This is certainly not the only such inflammatory item on the internet. Any attempt to police the internet will prove futile; a site, once up, will remain up forever. It can be archived and re-posted within a matter of seconds once taken down by the authorities.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

RCMP plane grounding infringes free speech

The RCMP last week forced a plane flying over Ottawa to land, as the plane was apparently flying in restricted airspace near Parliament Hill. The plane flew a banner promoting a website, “Stephen Harper nous déteste.ca” (Stephen Harper hates us). The plane was hired by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) to carry the message. Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece arguing that it was inappropriate for civil servants to wear buttons carrying this message in their workplace; political servants must remain politically neutral in the course of their work. Likewise, I was critical of Brigette DePape when she openly protested Harper’s policies during the Throne Speech.

It is not the content of these sorts of political messages that should be criticized, but rather the manner in which they are presented. PSAC had legitimate grounds to carry out the protest in this manner. They were flying a message which certainly conformed to the law and flew within legal boundaries. The message criticized the Prime Minister. At www.stephenharperhatesus.ca, PSAC argues that public service cuts will affect all Canadians.

The purpose of this column is not to argue which side is correct. Rather, we should all be worried at the RCMP’s curtailing of free speech. At the onset, the RCMP requested the pilot to land because they were flying in restricted air space. Yet the private company which provides air traffic services in Canada confirmed the plane never breached a restricted fly zone in Ottawa.

The pilot states that the RCMP told him that the message on the banner could be construed as hate speech. The RCMP denies that there was a political basis for grounding the plane, arguing only that it appeared to be flying at a low level and posed a security risk. If the pilot’s claim is true, and the RCMP did tell the pilot that his message could be interpreted as hate, it poses a great threat to public faith in in the RCMP. The police must have a high degree of independence from the government and should not intervene in political affairs. The Criminal Code section relating to hate dictates that public statements inciting hatred must be made against a group and that they be “likely to lead to a breach of the peace.” It is clear that PSAC’s banner does not fit this criterion.

Professor of law Kent Roach summarizes the concern nicely: “[…] the idea that the police are directed by the government of the day raises concerns about improper partisan concerns influencing or appearing to influence the machinery of justice.” It is crucial that decisions undertaken by the RCMP are not done to achieve a partisan advantage for the government.

This is not the first time the RCMP has been seemingly giving partisan advantages to political parties. In the 2006 election, the RCMP launched a probe of the Liberal announcement regarding income trusts. Slightly prior to the announcement, income trusts spiked, prompting an investigation into leaks. In response to a letter by an NDP critic, the RCMP released Ralph Goodale’s name to the public. The force later admitted that this was not keeping with past practices, which raised a question of bias. At the 1997 APEC summit, the RCMP were criticized for using pepper spray and strip searches against protesters. An inquiry found the government tried twice to interfere with police operations. At one point, the RCMP commissioned research which found numerous positive impacts for Insite, the safe-injection clinic in Vancouver. A media release was planned, but the RCMP backed out with only a few days’ notice. John Geddes argued in Maclean’s (2010)that coming forward with this information would have been politically awkward because of the Conservatives’ commitment to shut down Insite. At Stephen Harper’s campaign rallies during the 2011 federal election, the RCMP assisted the Conservatives in evicting people from campaign rallies based on partisan affiliation. The force agreed that it had overstepped its mandate in doing so; they did promise to restrict their involvement to matters involving security.

In instances of unfair police activity which gives a partisan advantage to a political actor, society must ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  Who will watch the watchmen?

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The Prince Arthur Herald

The role of student unions should be re-examined

Student unions are such a common part of our university careers that we tend to take them for granted. Student government often exists at all levels of the institution, ranging from the department, to the college or school, all the way to the collective student union. The student union levies fees on students and provides certain services in return. The representatives of the union are often directly elected by students (with usually abysmal voter turnout).

Unfortunately, student unions commonly engage in overtly political activity. Students should actively monitor their unions and speak out when they are engaging in questionable activity.  For example, Ontario’s radical student federation, the Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario) (CFS-O), was actively involved in planning the Quebec-Ontario Student Solidarity Tour. The phone number provided for the event linked directly to a CFS-O executive. The event was endorsed by a number of student unions, including those at Guelph, Queen’s, Windsor, and Ottawa. But it certainly was not by the people! At Guelph, students received no word of this decision until after the fact, and no attempt was made to consult the student body at large. The event involved student protest leaders with questionable politics. Guelph student union executives made a plea for students to join the strike movement, and even to donate money to student leaders fighting a legal challenge in Quebec.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

The perplexing Ontario by-election call

Dalton McGuinty recently announced that the by-elections for the ridings of Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo are to be held on September 6th.  The two retiring MPPs are both veteran politicians. Greg Sorbara, the former Liberal MPP for Vaughan, was first elected to the Legislature in 1985 and served in numerous cabinet portfolios, including minister of finance, and chair of the treasury and management boards of cabinet. He cites family and business interests as the reasons for his retirement.[i]

Elizabeth Witmer, former PC MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, is no less distinguished. Elected in 1990, she held ministerial portfolios in health, labour, environment, education, and served as Deputy Premier. She was nominated by Dalton McGuinty as the chair of the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), which will increase her annual paycheque from $119,487 to $188,000.[ii]

The seat count currently sits at 52 Liberal, 36 PC, 17 NDP, and 2 vacant. The Speaker, who is currently Liberal, is allowed to vote during a tie. The amount needed for a majority is thus 54 seats, so the Liberals will need to win both by-elections to gain a majority.

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