On January 17, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear an application by the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board and others to reconsider a Federal Court of Appeal Ruling allowing the Minister of Agriculture to ignore a Canadian law giving farmers the right to vote on changes to their Wheat Board.  This is a law the Minister of Agriculture had assured farmers before the last general election he would respect, and then ignored once he was in power again.

In going to court, farmers took the position that Parliament could make a law, amend a law, or repeal a law, but until then Ministers of the Crown were bound to obey the law allowing farmers to vote.  Farmers asked the Federal Court to protect them against the bullying of the Harper government.  Federal Justice Campbell supported the farmers.  In doing so Justice Campbell’s December 2011ruling made the distinction between the rule OF law, which applies to everyone including the Crown, and the rule BY law where the law does not apply to the Crown.  Many will know this question harkens back to 1215 and the signing of the Magna Carta which established the King must follow the rules of Parliament – in other words government was not above the law.

For almost 800 years our legal system has recognized that the Crown or government and its Ministers could not pick and choose which laws they followed.  Like all citizens, politicians have to obey the law.  Justice Campbell quite rightly pointed out “the tumult of history” shows the negative effects of overturning the rule of law.  However, it would appear from this ruling the Supreme Court of Canada supports throwing Canadians back to a time when people were essentially helpless before an authoritarian and arbitrary government.

The Court gave no reasons beyond noting one of the issues was “The Minister did not consider that he was legally bound to hold such a vote and proceeded with the introduction into Parliament of Bill C‑18.”

In spite of the fine words reported from one of the more recently appointed Judges to the Supreme Court about the importance of the rule of law, apparently all a Minister of the Crown needs to do is “consider” that they are not legally bound by the law, and then they are not.  Or at least that appears to be the situation after this Supreme Court decision.

We will never know how many of the Harper appointed judges stood on which side of the ancient principle that the rule of law applies to everyone, even Kings and Ministers of the Crown.

But we do know that Canada has taken a further step towards an arbitrary and authoritarian government.  What the Courts give, they often take away later, but today Canadians should be more concerned now than they were yesterday about what direction Harper and his Cabinet are successfully taking this country.  Conservatives also need to be reminded of another ancient insight:  “those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad with hubris and this government has already displayed a good deal of both hubris and hypocrisy in destroying a hundred years of farmers’ work to establish stability, orderly marketing, and justice in the grain market.

Comments are closed.