It’s time for a confession. I like the Senate. Not just the general idea of bicameralism, and of an upper chamber. I actually kind of like our Senate, in all of its unelected glory. Now I will grant you that these have been hard times for Senate-lovers, or perhaps I should say Senate-likers, like myself, what with the Pamela Wallins, the Mike Duffys, and the Patrick Brazeaus. But we should not judge an entire institution by sole reference to a few bad apples. Very few of our institutions would survive that kind of scrutiny. And at the same time as we quite justifiably look for ways of ridding the Senate of the kind of corruption that has been brought to light in recent years, we also have to acknowledge the excellent work that it has been capable of. For example, anyone who wants to read a sane, well-documented, and well argued piece on drug policy could do a lot worse than picking up the report on cannabis that was published in 2001 by a Senate committee chaired by Pierre Claude Nolin.… Continue reading
The Supreme Court of Canada’s conclusion that the Truth in Sentencing Act is unconstitutional is challenging to explain. In part this is because of the rhetorical flourish of the legislation. Who can oppose Truth, especially with a capital T? But mainly it is because most of us know very little about our criminal justice system and about our prisons.
The Canadian Criminal Code is written, like much criminal law around the world, with a series of ‘theoretical maximum’ penalties. Parliament sets out what the maximum possible sentence can be. The courts then apply the law.
Applying the law can be complicated. Every crime is comprised of a particular kind of knowledge, specific actions, potential consequences. Evidence needs to be carefully weighed. Criminal conviction is the most serious penalty that our society condones. It can, and should, be complicated. It’s serious.
Sentencing is even more intricate. The judge considers the individual circumstances of the crime against the theoretical maximum of the Criminal Code.… Continue reading
Joe asked the other day whether it is true that Quebec is more left wing than the rest of Canada. He thinks it’s a myth. Although he helpfully debunks some false beliefs about the alleged ideological contrast between Quebec and some of the other Canadian provinces, I want to suggest that he skips over several facts that arguably entitle us to reach a different conclusion.
If you look at public opinion and voting behaviour, it is true that it is far from clear that Quebec is straightforwardly leaning to the left. In 2007, the Action démocratique du Québec and its strong libertarian wing came close to winning the election. The Conservatives made some inroads in Quebec in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections. The Coalition avenir Québec did better than expected on April 7th. The common sense/slash-the-bureaucracy discourse is popular in many suburban and rural ridings in the province. And I’m leaving aside the identity dimension of contemporary debates on social justice.… Continue reading
Par Jocelyn Maclure et Daniel Weinstock
Ainsi, Pierre-Karl Péladeau estime que le fleurdelisé devrait être mis en berne tous les 17 avril pour commémorer la date funeste à laquelle la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982 fut mise en vigueur. Selon celui qui vient d’être élu député de Saint-Jérôme et candidat potentiel à la chefferie du Parti Québécois, c’est ce jour que s’installa au Canada un « gouvernement des juges », qui fut particulièrement fatidique pour les deux grands acquis de la Révolution tranquille: l’affirmation du fait français et la laïcité.
La lettre de M. Péladeau touche à des questions qui sont sans aucun doute très importantes. Il y est question de l’équilibre entre les différents pouvoirs dans une démocratie libérale, et du partage des compétences entre partenaires dans une fédération. Malheureusement, le propos ne se hisse pas au-delà de la caricature.
Commençons par l’idée que la Constitution de 1982 a instauré un gouvernement des juges.… Continue reading
Aaron James, a philosopher at University of California Irvine, has a wonderful short book entitled Assholes: A Theory (Doubleday 2012). The title may suggest that it is a silly pop philosophy book aimed at titillation rather than illumination. But it’s actually a highly insightful and persuasive analysis of what it means to be an asshole as opposed to a schmuck, bitch, or psychopath. Crucially for James being an asshole involves a specific kind of moral failing and it is the character of this moral failing that makes assholes both infuriating and destructive to valuable forms of social cooperation. The theory in a nutshell has three components. The asshole: “(1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically; (2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and (3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other”. (James offers a brief summary of his theory here.… Continue reading
One thing the current national government does very well is to occupy rhetorical terrain. I am thinking in particular of how the government deploys short form titles for its legislation. This week we are hearing a lot about the Truth in Sentencing Act. Last week it was Victims Bill of Rights Act. And for months now, the Fair Elections Act. In my little corner of the world, the latest legislation is called the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, and before that, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.
There are days when I think what I most resent about this legislative agenda is that as a law teacher, I am required to stand up and say these things aloud.
What is more, even as Canadians engage in a public, private, Parliamentary, and scholarly debate about these laws, these short form titles get repeated over and over.… Continue reading
J’ai déjà tenté de décrire jusqu’à quel point le débat sur la Charte des valeurs a été éprouvant pour ceux qui s’y opposaient. On sait aussi que les intellectuels et organismes crédibles étaient majoritairement contre le projet de loi 60. La Fédération des femmes du Québec, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec, Québec Inclusif, la Ligue des droits et libertés et les universités se sont dressés contre la Charte. 60 chercheurs dont les recherches portent sur des sujets comme la laïcité, l’immigration et la démocratie ont rédigé un mémoire qui était une charge à fond de train contre l’interdiction générale des signes religieux et la façon dont le débat a été mené. Bref, les raisons de s’opposer au projet de Charte étaient nombreuses et bien connues.
Il était pratiquement certain que des ministres péquistes entretenaient des doutes sérieux quant au PL 60.… Continue reading
Pretty much everyone agrees that last Monday’s election was one of the most meaningful in Quebec’s recent history. But not everyone agrees on what that meaning was. Some observers rightly noted that the Parti Québécois’ campaign was shockingly, and surprisingly, incompetent. From the moment Pierre Karl Péladeau raised the issue of Québec’s independence, the PQ seemed to slip into improvisational mode. But unlike good improvisational practice, party officials and operatives were not playing with each other, but against each other. This was at no point more evident than when three péquistes dealt with the question of whether the PQ’s secularism charter might lead to state employees being dismissed in three radically different ways on the same day. A second-rank candidate stated that they very well might. Cabinet Minister Jean-François Lisée opined that they most certainly would not. And Premier Pauline Marois, in what must surely rank as one of the most fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along moments in recent campaign history, offered that the government might help find employment in the private sector for those public employees laid off because of their refusal to shed their religious apparel.… Continue reading
Il est pratiquement impossible de discuter sérieusement avec quelqu’un qui ne respecte pas des critères comme la véracité ou la correspondance avec les faits, la rigueur argumentative et la cohérence logique. Le respect de ces standards épistémiques est essentiel à toute discussion rationnelle ou à une véritable dialectique entre des positions opposées. Je ne refuse pas les débats publics avec des intellectuels qui plongent selon moi trop souvent la main dans le sac de la sophistique, de la démagogie et de la polémique car je doute beaucoup que la politique de la chaise vide soit efficace. Dans mes interventions écrites, toutefois, je préfère de loin critiquer la meilleure version de la position adverse. Comment la pensée pourrait-elle progresser autrement ? Quel intérêt y a-t-il à réfuter une position faible ou une caricature?
La faiblesse d’une telle posture, toutefois, est qu’il s’agit d’une autre façon de pratiquer une politique de la chaise vide.… Continue reading
I live in a Montreal riding that has been voting Liberal since time immemorial. Deciding who to vote for is therefore for me something of a theoretical exercise. Whatever happens in the province more broadly, you can be sure that Kathleen Weil, who served as Minister of Justice in the Charest government, will be returned to power with a hefty majority. Weil is a credible candidate, but I won’t be voting for her. Like many Quebeckers, I worry about the degree to which Philippe Couillard has managed to rid the party of the stench of corruption in the few months that he has been leader. Like many people on the Left, I don’t see him as having in any significant way arrested the rightward drift that Jean Charest imprinted upon the Liberals. And as a civil libertarian, I am not ready to forgive the Liberals (and Mme. Weil) for having enacted repressive legislation aimed at stemming the protests that gripped the province in the Spring and Summer of 2012.… Continue reading