The Globe’s 12 part series on being Canadian, which was published around Canada Day, included an article titled "A generation redefines civic society" about activism amongst Canadian youth. According to the Globe, many Canadian youth are completely disenchanted with the political system, and see lobby groups as a more effective way to influence the future than Parliament. Adrienne Moohk, quoted in the article, does not vote, and "rejects governments as oppressive undemocratic instruments of the rich and powerful and the capitalist patriarchy." The opposition parties, says Sascha McCleod, "are just there to banter". Much of Canadian politics is "petty and irrelevant."
The Globe and Mail concludes later that young Canadians place more value on the courts than on Parliament, believing that it is the Supreme Court that takes its job seriously. Parliament has abdicated its responsibility to the Court on medical marijuana, gay marriage, physician assisted suicide, and a variety of other serious issues.
At the other end of the spectrum, David Warren writes in "The Light That Failed", his polemic against gay marriage, that "our courts have been allowed to seize the legislative prerogative of Parliament. They no longer apply law, but write it themselves, to suit the convenience and ideology of a narrow elite from Canada’s law schools. Parliament is being reduced to the function of rubber-stamping the courts’ decisions — and the principle of responsible government in this country has been overthrown."
We’re at a point in time where the true impact of the Charter of Rights is only beginning to be felt. With the Charter, Trudeau imposed a new set of rules for how to interpret the law onto nearly a thousand years of common law. As the courts apply the test of Charter validation to Common Law, some, perhaps many, of these traditional laws and legal definitions, will fail.
And so, we have gay marriage legal in Ontario, because a court said that the legal definition of marriage failed the charter test. No big deal, in my opinion. A few extra dollars in revenues for city halls across the province, and some happy gay couples.
Parliament should have acted on this. But they didn’t. The courts made law, to the extent that they are permitted, because Parliament abdicated its role.
A bigger problem — much bigger — is the state of the marijuana laws. In June 2003, for those who’ve been living on a desert island, Ontario’s courts threw out all existing laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana for personal use. Jake Rupert’s piece in the Ottawa Citizen, titled "Messy marijuana law tries courts, police" is a must read. Rupert chronicles the disasterous results of Allan Rock’s experiments with medical marijuana, the subsequent court challenges, and the bind that the police find themselves in at the moment. Ontario is undergoing a social experiment on a massive scale this summer, with no legislation in place to prohibit the possession and consumption of marijuana. Whatever your opinion on marijuana use, the current state of affairs is clearly untenable.
Parliament was served notice by the courts, in July 2000, that the June 2003 event was on the horizon. In July of 2000, Ontario courts struck down the existing laws, but then set aside their judgements for a period of two years in order to give Parliament time to draft replacement legislation. In this case, the courts haven’t made new laws, because this is clearly beyond their scope. Neither did Parliament. Now there is anarchy.
Gay marriage, and marijuana use, are the two memes defining Canada in the eyes of the world at the moment. In the U.S.A., Canada is suddenly "cool" amongst the socially conscious, because we’re so liberal.
Canadians are generally more liberal than some cultures, but in this instance we’re not liberal at all. Laissez-faire, perhaps. Laurel and Hardy have taken over the Prime Ministers Office, and invited the Keystone Kops to be the Cabinet. We can all agree that the lack of leadership in Parliament today is truly appalling, whether you’re one of the disenfranchised young people that the Globe wrote about, or whether you’re a right wing, Christian conservative as David Warren is.
The challenge of the Charter of Rights is just beginning to be felt. As a country, we’re faced with a pretty fundamental decision at the moment. We can abdicate the Charter’s impact to the courts, as the current government is doing. Or we can elect an activist government, with a vision for Canada, strong leadership, and the will to shape the Charter through legislation, and governmental intervention.
Friday’s papers reported that Paul Martin would favour a spring election if he became Liberal leader. What kind of leaders do you want? What kind of a country do you want to live in? We don’t have much time.