The Speaker is ruling soon on whether if the Government of Canada has the right to withhold documents from Parliament. The Conservatives argue that there are limits to Parliamentary privilege and supremacy. The opposition and oddly enough history agrees Parliament is Supreme and the executive must be held to account by it. The Speaker’s decision doesn’t just have consequences for Canada but for Westminster Parliaments worldwide. Allowing the myth: ‘National Security trumps Parliament’ returns us to the Divine Right of Kings. For everything the Federal Government does in future will suddenly have National Security implications and Parliament will have to accept that.
We already know Stephen Harper believes Parliament is there only to reaffirm the last election results. He says as much in a 1997 speech where he sees Parliament as little more than a rubber stamp for those in power. He spent the Liberal years whining about our system not letting him in and now is using the same system, the same way to achieve absolutism.
The problem for Harper and his minions is the Constitution Act 1867 has Section 91:
Powers of Parliament
91. It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces; and for greater Certainty, but not so as to restrict the Generality of the foregoing Terms of this Section, it is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say, –
7. Militia, Military and Naval Service, and Defence.
29. Such Classes of Subjects as are expressly excepted in the Enumeration of the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces.
Notice how the Constitution gives power over these matters to Parliament and there is no mention of the Prime Minister, Cabinet or National Security trumping Parliament. In fact Defence is Parliament’s domain. If information is being withheld from Parliament and Parliament has to oversee National Defence then what Stephen Harper and his party are doing is a threat to national security. The Speaker has no choice to rule the Government in contempt, to do otherwise is to put our Nation in jeopardy.
The Constitution Act 1982 has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is meant to hold the Government to a high standard of action. The part on individual rights and freedoms is extended to all individuals the Government of Canada deals with, yes even the horrible Taliban. Holding back information from Parliament in this case is to avoid being called on a rights and freedoms violation. If we are to be true to our selves as Canadians we cannot allow even the most horrid of people to be violated. It is the lack of these Rights and Freedoms we are told the war in Afghanistan is all about. Are those being captured by our troops being provided the right of Habeous Corpus? Are they truly being treated like Prisoners of War with all the rights and protections found in International Law? Do we follow the Golden Rule?
The argument that they are the enemy and would do it to us is a fallacy. We are there to gain the rule of law for a lawless people and some would have us do it by sacrificing our own rule of law. The atrocities committed by our side will legitimize the atrocities committed against our side. We must set an example and use that higher standard as a weapon against those who make laws up on the fly and punish without remorse or mercy. Of course brutality and savagery is okay when dealing with an enemy, the logic being to become them or to become worse than them is victory in itself. Those who believe the previous statement are those who use the law as a shield when they are on the receiving end.
The thought of Stephen Harper campaigning on Executive Privilege, National Security trumping Democracy, Parliaments irrelevance and an unpopular war is comforting for this Liberal. I’m sure many hard core Reform minded Conservatives will forget to circle voting day on their calendars. Alas, Harper is already trying to change the channel to his Law and Order agenda. Funny how a man in contempt of one law can be so gung-ho about the ones he wants enforced. He cares not for laws governing Canadian Democracy, regulation of businesses, or a gun registry the police use thousands of times a day.