Friday, April 11, 2014

Canada: Supreme Court restores custody time, former A.G. protests "fair" elections act, and Minister of Finance passes

Today Canada mourns the death of former Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, who died suddenly in his Ottawa condo yesterday of a massive heart attack. He had resigned from the Finance portfolio only three weeks ago, intending to retire from parliament and enter the private sector and spend more time with his wife and triplet sons. In a shockingly surprising abandonment of the vicious partisanship of this parliament, members of all parties expressed both shock and reverence and a large measure of respect and even admiration for Mr. Flaherty's dedication to public service, his pragmatism (in stark contrast to both political leaders for whom he worked, Mike Harris, then Premier of Ontario and Steven Harper, the current Prime Minister), and his considerable intellect and sense of Irish humour.
Even the meeting of the G-20 Finance Ministers in Washington today paused from its deliberations to pay respect to Mr. Flaherty, as a decent man who made a significant contribution to the lives of all Canadians through his policy initiatives in the Finance portfolio.
It was Kellie Leitch, the current Minister of Labour who spoke for the Conservatives in the House of Commons this morning, as a member who benefited from the mentorship of Mr. Flaherty, including in part his persistence in encouraging her to offer her name for the nomination for the Conservative Party for months prior to her finally agreeing. Speakers from all parties offered their condolences in the abbreviated House session this morning, without a hint of partisanship.
Earlier this week, Canadians heard from another respected public servant, the former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, when she appeared before a House of Commons committed looking into the fine print of the government's proposed legislation, dubbed the Fair Elections Act, that, Ms Fraser deems to be a threat to democracy, given its stripping of the power of the Chief Elections Officer, and the requirement  that all Canadians present some form of official identification to be permitted to vote. Having checked with her adult student daughter, Ms Fraser learned that even she did not have the required official identification documents that would be required under the new act.
So while the government is absorbing the loss of Mr. Flaherty, and the effective and publicly embarrassing punches of the highly respected Ms Fraser, today we also learned of another of the government's initiatives being rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a unanimous 7-0 ruling, the (Supreme Court of Canada) high court has affirmed the amount of pre-trial credit that offenders can receive for time spent in custody before they are sentenced.
The Conservatives have implemented tougher pre-trial custody and sentencing provisions for repeat and violent youth offenders by removing the long-held provision of giving an offender credit for double the time served in pre-trail custody. (From Canadian Press, In National Post, April 11, 2014)
No one inside or outside of the Canadian government can or will challenge the ruling of the Supreme Court, and all Canadians can be very grateful for its continued monitoring of the letter and the spirit of the laws this government has enacted in the "law-and-order" agenda proposals; we can also be extremely thankful for the courage of people like Ms Fraser for coming out of retirement to blast a piece of legislation that she considers less than acceptable.
Even more, Canadians can be very grateful for the significant contributions of people like Mr. Flaherty for his compassion and his insertion of measures to help Canadians with severe life difficulties (including one of his own sons) into his budget measures, without public fanfare, including his abandoning of a "no-deficit" policy in the face of facts that demanded a spending stimulus in 2008 and 2009, when the world economies were reeling from the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Individuals, especially individuals who are prepared to bring "truth to power" even and especially when that truth disagrees with the people who hold the top offices are the mainstay of the Canadian political system. Mr. Flaherty disagreed with Mr. Harper on income splitting, given the fact that it would benefit only the top 1-2% of the population, and even said so publicly, contrary to a government promise to implement the proposal, that was designed to win favour with the top donors to the Conservative Party. Ms Fraser is famous for having brought to public light the facts behind the Liberal sponsorship scandal that felled the Paul Martin Liberals.
And now we owe a debt of both gratitude and perspective to the Supreme Court of Canada for intervening in the sentencing rules imposed by the Harper government, that were nothing more than a harsh form of vengeance, more than most offenders merit, especially if the judicial system were to once again take rehabilitation as its primary purpose, and not merely punishment.
 

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