For a politician so fond of surfing the law-and-order wave that currently appears to be cresting on one its periodic high tides, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper sure doesn’t show much respect for the law himself, even those enacted by the government he leads.
Don’t forget that his is a government that ignored its own fixed election law when it sensed momentary political advantage in the fall of 2008. That’s when Harper triggered an unnecessary election that nobody wanted, only to end up with the same minority-government result.
Despite the rhetoric, actions speak far louder than words. A flotilla of crime legislation was sunk just before the New Year when the Harper government prorogued Parliament for the second time in less than a year.
Take a deep breath to consider the following.
Among the laws that were unceremoniously dumped for Harper’s momentary political convenience: Bill C-15, to provide for longer sentences on drug traffickers; Bill C-19, to add new terrorism measures to Criminal Code; Bill C-26, to deal with vehicle theft; Bill C-34, to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank; Bill C-35, to allow victims of terrorism to sue; Bill C-36, to eliminate the faint-hope clause that allows those with life sentences to apply for parole after 15 years; Bill C-42, to end conditional sentences for serious crimes; Bill C-43, to increase the role of crime victims in the parole process; Bill C-45, to protect foreign nationals from exploitation through human trafficking; Bill C-46, to give police power to look for online predators; Bill C-47, to regulate digital wiretapping in law enforcement; Bill C-52, to provide restitution for victims of white-collar crime; Bill C-53, to eliminate accelerated parole review; Bill C-54, to end sentence discounts for multiple acts of murders; Bill C-55, to allow courts to ask for blood and urine samples; Bill C-58, to require Internet service providers to report tips about child pornography; Bill C-59, to provide additional factors in deciding if an offender can be transferred back to Canada; and Bill C-60, to permit Canadian and American law enforcement to work jointly in boundary waters.
You might argue that much of that legislation deserved to die, but this package represented the core of the Conservatives’ anti-crime agenda. The sheer volume of this legislation, which doesn’t include all the bills that were also tossed, is breathtaking when one considers the crass and self-serving reasons that Harper chose to postpone our democracy.
Remember that ironclad Reform-Conservative promise not to stack the Senate with unelected hacks? This was one of the bedrock principles of the right-wing movement that gave birth to the modern Conservative party. Well, so what. The timing was right for Harper to give five more Conservative puppets lifetime sinecures, as he did last week. If it furthers their lust for power, party MPs and members won’t whisper even a hint of dissent.
It’s beyond weak, but one of the justifications provided for this hypocrisy is that Harper didn’t want the Senate to hold up his crime bills, only a couple of which were anywhere near being sent to the Upper Chamber.
Just as convenient, but even more disturbing is the fact that by shuttering Parliament the prime minister was able to avoid questions on how he can simply ignore last week’s order by the Supreme Court to stop breaching the rights of child soldier and Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.
And, as has already been denounced many times, the “pro-rogue” manoeuvre also allowed the government to avoid a Parliamentary order to turn over documents related to the transfer of detainees from Canadian troops to Afghan authorities accused of subsequently torturing the prisoners. A Contempt of Parliament vote will likely follow when the House eventually resumes business, a vote that the Harper government will be equally as likely to ignore.
It’s very troubling that this can happen in a constitutional democracy. It may speak to the weakness of the opposition parties and their lack of ability to actually oppose. But, finally, it appears that the Canadian public is starting to say enough is enough.
Harper looks like he has overplayed his hand this time by proroguing Parliament. By doing so, he has cemented his negative political image as a leader who will do anything – absolutely anything – to consolidate his own power.
Canadians will tolerate many foibles in their leader if they have the sense that his (or her) general respect for the people who elected them remains intact. Given the elements listed above, however, which is just a short sample of the overwhelming anti-democratic bent of his leadership, it looks like we are finally losing patience with Stephen Harper.
Harper may think he can surf his way through of any of these political cross currents, but he should look out for the rogue wave that will not only knock him off his board, but drown his political career.