Danger­ous prece­dent

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

Imag­ine you were ac­cused of break­ing the law, but your fa­ther, the fed­eral cabi­net min­is­ter, said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll just slip a lit­tle retroac­tive change into a piece of leg­is­la­tion, and make what you did legal.”

As much as you wanted to es­cape from the charge, you’d have to won­der if some­thing that bla­tant, that ridicu­lous, would even work.

Well, in the self-serv­ing world of Canadian fed­eral pol­i­tics, that’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing.

The fed­eral ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sioner, Suzanne Le­gault, had rec­om­mended that charges be brought against the RCMP, af­ter the force de­stroyed gun reg­istry in­for­ma­tion.

In­stead, the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives in­serted a sec­tion into the fed­eral om­nibus bud­get that would ex­empt the RCMP from pro­vid­ing the in­for­ma­tion, and back­date the change to be­fore the gun reg­istry was legally re­moved.

Le­gault makes a good point: if that can be done to ab­solve the RCMP from one type of charge, it can be done to ab­solve oth­ers from other of­fences.

“We could do the same thing af­ter in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­ten­tial elec­toral fraud. We could erase th­ese things retroac­tively,” she said in an in­ter­view with the Canadian Press. “This is the kind of prece­dent that we are propos­ing to set with th­ese pro­posed amend­ments. Now that is why this mat­ter is very se­ri­ous.” Le­gault started court ac­tion this week. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is down­play­ing the change, es­sen­tially say­ing that it was just re­mov­ing anom­alies be­tween two pieces of leg­is­la­tion. That sug­ges­tion, how­ever, mis­states what is ac­tu­ally be­ing done: the RCMP acted to re­move in­for­ma­tion from ac­cess at a time when it ap­pears they were not legally al­lowed to with­hold it. And the fed­eral Tories are try­ing to clean up the mess by leg­isla­tive sleight of hand, with their cute lit­tle magic trick hid­den in a block of bud­get leg­is­la­tion.

“The gov­ern­ment, the Par­lia­ment of Canada, has al­ready de­cided to abol­ish the long-gun reg­istry,” Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper said at an event in Wind­sor, Ont. “The RCMP have acted fully within Par­lia­ment’s in­ten­tion in destroying the data in the long gun reg­istry.”

Think care­fully here: when the prime min­is­ter is say­ing is that the ma­jor po­lice force in this coun­try an­swers not to the ex­ist­ing laws of the land, but in­stead to the force’s per­cep­tion of the in­ten­tions of gov­ern­ment - even when those in­ten­tions have not been passed into law - we have a se­ri­ous prob­lem.

What else might be retroac­tively deemed to be legal? Mis­lead­ing vot­ers about the lo­ca­tion of their polling sta­tions through robo­calls? Over­shoot­ing your elec­tion cam­paign lim­its (but only if you are in the right party)?

The in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sioner had rec­om­mended charges; the po­lit­i­cal arm of gov­ern­ment is halt­ing those charges by chang­ing the rules.

Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans should stop and very care­fully con­sider pass­ing this por­tion of the fed­eral bud­get. The prece­dent it sets is that the fed­eral cabi­net can de­cide to place peo­ple who do its bid­ding above the law.

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