The Harper government is giving a miss to a major Ottawa conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights, with the prime minister and three cabinet ministers turning down invitations to speak.
In fact, the milestone anniversary will be a muted affair within the government ranks, unlike the hoopla surrounding the 20th anniversary when the Liberals were in power five years ago.
The charter anniversary on April 17 is viewed as a major event in legal academia and the opposition Liberals, sometimes referred to as the "charter party" because they were the architects of the document, are making hay of the celebrations.
Of course. Liberals never miss an opportunity to toot their on horn on the taxpayer dime.
Former prime minister Jean Chretien, who was justice minister in the Trudeau cabinet when the charter was adopted, is addressing audiences in Montreal and Ottawa.
The current Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, who initially turned down an invitation to speak at the University of Ottawa conference, has had a change of heart, said Jack Jedwab, one of the conference organizers.
No doubt the Liberals will spin this as some sort of great show of leadership on the part of Dion. I am expecting something to the effect of "A true PM would have given a speech lauding the Charter. Vote for Dion next time."
Bruce Ryder, a law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, said declining invitations to speak is a "symbolic" move from a government that he said has never championed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"It says something about the priorities of the government," he said. "Since the government has not shown a commitment to charter rights and making them accessible to Canadians, it’s disappointing to see their failure to use the anniversary as an opportunity to affirm the importance of charter rights."
See what I mean? I don't even have to get to the end of the article to find someone hinting that Harper is less than a good leader for not giving a banal speech about how wonderful the Charter is and how it changed Canadian society and so forth.
The 1982 Charter of Rights codified rights for Canadians, such as freedom of religion, expression, and association, the legal right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right against unreasonable search and seizure. Equality guarantees, including freedom from discrimination based on age, sex, race, or disability, came into effect in 1985.
Well, I would disagree that the Charter guarantees a right to life. It doesn't We abort over a hundred thousand babies every year. That's not what I would call a right to life. I would also disagree that it guarantees freedom of religion, since it has already been ruled by the courts that sexual orientation trumps religion.
On the same day, Chretien led a special tribute at the National Arts Centre in which he lauded the charter as the most profoundly democratic document in our history.
And that would be false. It's not a profoundly democratic document. The courts are free to interpret and reinterpret the Charter as they see fit, thereby making law. We the people do not elect our judges. How could this possibly be an example of democracy?
As far as the Charter goes, I do not see it as being a good thing for Canadian society. It doesn't do what it was supposed to do. It didn't give us more rights. If anything, it's affect has been to severely limit us. Courts and Human Rights Tribunals have too much unrestrained power.
So, at 25 years, what's there to celebrate about the Charter?