Category: Constitution

COVID-19 and the Cabinet’s Emergency Powers.

March 21, 2020.  Briefing by Prime Minister Trudeau, responding to a question:

PM: “We have not removed from the table any options. We are looking at a broad array of measures that we can move forward with. At this time we do not see the federal Emergencies Act as an essential tool today, but we are continuing to look at the situation and will make decisions based on the best recommendations of science.”

Question: “What do you need to see before declaring a federal emergency?”

PM: “I think the key issue is are there things that we need to be able to do as a government that we cannot do with the very strong existing regulations that are in place and that our government has as tools.”

 

Background

 

You would have to be a hermit living in a cave not to have heard of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Governments all over the world have introduced special laws to deal with the emergency.  As the rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths have increased, so has the severity of government responses.

But the existing legal powers of government may soon become insufficient.  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has recalled Parliament to enact legislation permitting special financial measures to support Canadians impacted by the closing of schools, workplaces, restaurants and bars.  That is his first Parliamentary step, but probably not his last.

There are two Canadian laws that have never been used before, but may have to be if conditions worsen.  These are the Emergencies Act and the Quarantine Act.  I had not been familiar with either of these laws until this pandemic arose, but now have read them both.  Fortunately, because these laws have not been used before there is no large body of case law to wade through to understand how they have been interpreted.  Because they have never been interpreted, my interpretation is as good as, or as bad as, anyone else’s.

As between the two laws, I would expect the federal government to use the Emergencies Act first, and if it later becomes necessary, to use the Quarantine Act.  Both of these laws give the government extraordinary powers of a somewhat dictatorial nature.  Because giving a government dictatorial powers is always dangerous, these laws provide some soft safeguards which, one can only hope, will prove to be adequate.

Continue reading “COVID-19 and the Cabinet’s Emergency Powers.”

Vavilov (Part 2 of 2): Did the Court Fix Canadian Judicial Review?

If you have not read Part 1 of this post I suggest that you read it first, here. This Part is for those interested in law and how it develops but is not a technical law journal article. For anyone wanting a detailed legal analysis I suggest reading Paul Daly’s 5 blog posts starting here.

A Bit of History

Changing Courts, Changing Attitudes

Until about the early 1980’s most Canadian judges were men, usually appointed from law firms representing businesses and governments.  Judges appeared generally sympathetic to litigants like their former clients and less sympathetic to unions, women and the less fortunate in society. As a broad generalization, judges were to the political right of the average Canadian.

Gradually, judicial appointments became more diverse and judicial attitudes evolved. The attitude change was substantially influenced by administrative law professors like Bora Laskin (who eventually became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada). Some law professors (then and now) serve as labour arbitrators or members of administrative tribunals like Labour Relations Boards or Human Rights Commissions. Unions will reject the appointment of arbitrators unless they believe them to be at least somewhat sympathetic to unions. Hence these arbitrators and labour board members led the way, both in law journal articles and as judges, to offset the perceived judicial bias against unions and labour relations adjudicators.  The attitude moved leftwards and has remained there, but whether you see this as having moved to the political centre or to the left of centre depends upon your political views.

Judges protected labour adjudicators by declaring that labour boards had labour relations expertise equal to or greater than generalist judges. In practice this was usually true.  “Expertise” became shorthand for “stop picking on them” and show some deference. Considerable respect for such decision-makers has been the judicial policy for decades.

Continue reading “Vavilov (Part 2 of 2): Did the Court Fix Canadian Judicial Review?”

It’s Your Decision…

The Prime Minister‘s real message was: “You can either do what I want or you can do what you want. The decision is yours.”

 

The Prime Minister, while addressing the resignations of former Ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) and Jane Philpott on television on March 7, said that different interpretations of the same events, and miscommunication had led to an erosion of trust. But that’s not what caused the resignations. Different interpretations of the same events are ethically neutral. The resignation letters showed a disagreement about ethics.

The Resignations Were About Ethics

The resignations were spurred by ethical disagreement with what the Prime Minister and his staff were attempting to achieve in their conversations with the former Attorney General about SNC-Lavalin’s criminal prosecution.

If what the PM was attempting to do was unethical, his motivation for doing so, and any ambiguities in the language used in the attempt, do not matter.

Continue reading “It’s Your Decision…”

The Prime Minister and the Attorney General.

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble…”  Groucho Marx

Introduction

On February 7, the Globe and Mail reported:

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office attempted to press Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was justice minister to intervene in the corruption and fraud prosecution of Montreal engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., sources say, but she refused to ask federal prosecutors to make a deal with the company that could prevent a costly trial. ….

Sources say Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was justice minister and attorney-general until she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs early this year, came under heavy pressure to persuade the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to change its mind.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould was unwilling to instruct the director of the public prosecution service, Kathleen Roussel, to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, according to sources who were granted anonymity to speak directly about what went on behind-the-scenes in the matter.”  [emphasis added]

On Tuesday, February 12, 2019, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet. And on February 13, the Globe and Mail reported:

“Mr. Trudeau repeated his assertion from Tuesday on Ms. Wilson-Raybould, saying that if she had a problem with how the government handled the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, she had a duty to speak up about it earlier.” [emphasis added]

 

The conversations mentioned in these news stories have become a serious problem for everyone: Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin. What may happen next?

Continue reading “The Prime Minister and the Attorney General.”