Appeared in the North Shore News – April 22, 2016
Who governs Canada?
Why, the Queen, of course. Except she doesn’t. All those references to “the Crown” owning this or that, and prosecuting alleged lawbreakers (and, to her indignation about the impertinence, routinely taken to court herself) etc., which amuse visitors from the great republic abutting Canada, are quite, quite misleading.
Because Canada is a democracy, and a damned fine one, watch your tongue. We, the sovereign people, elect local councils, our legislatures, and the jewel in the crown, so to speak, Parliament. And it is led by a prime minister who enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons. (Enjoyable work, as you can see when any PM leaves office grey and spent from the laughter, the sheer knee-slapping daily fun, of governing this happy land.)
All textbook, all grand, all humbug. Canada is governed by exactly nine robed lawyers — unelected, unejectable, unrecognizable. If you can name two of them you are exceptional.
This is the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supremes hold the trump card that wins all games.
The theory is magnificent. The enshrining principle is that we are governed by the Rule of Law (capitals), not the rule of men (lower case, women implicitly included). In practice it’s the rule of lawyers.
They put the mere elected leaders in their place. They tell them not only if they’re wrong, but — and here is the real test of their overweening power, a totally arrogant and even frightening one in my belief — set a deadline for them to put things right.
That’s not political? Jump this high. That’s not arbitrary? Government can spend countless civil servant hours, drone through parliamentary committee meetings, seek (or pretend to seek) public opinion, and produce a law or a policy and — “You got it wrong, people. Try again and we’ll mark your papers the next time.”
The public animus between Stephen Harper, former prime minister, and Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice, of course was resolved by the zeitgeist savvy McLachlin. Her court recently quashed (“in no uncertain terms … good riddance,” crowed the B.C. Civil Liberties Association) legislation by the absurdly vilified Harper, mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offences and credit for time served before sentencing (context, “cruel and unusual punishment”). The profound moral issue of right-to-die legislation is scurrying like a rat to meet the Supremes’ deadline, opening up further lawyer-enriching, academics-employing questions, like whether it should extend to the “mature minor” — whatever that is, and the courts, right up to the top, will let us know.
Yes, anger and praise for court decisions depend on where you sit, and I unhesitatingly proclaim that I’m as biased in certain directions as … well, the keepers of the Rule of Law flame. They can no more divorce their beliefs, interests and alertness to current fashion from their decisions than a fish can ride a bicycle, as Gloria Steinem declared, or quoted.
And the hell of it is that nobody has figured out a better way to arbitrate between the democratically elected and the small unelected elite charged with keeping it in check.
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Jim Bailey, West Vancouver’s newish planning director, has a smooth way of dropping the controversial-cum-unpopular — definable as issues that are unpopular among those who find it unpopular — in parentheses, or buried as clauses between commas. He’s charmed some critics with his unflappable, up-front salesmanship of town hall’s waterfront “vision.”
No matter how thin you slice it, the sure thing is that mayor and council have decided to demolish the John Lawson, Music Box and Silk Purse buildings because of very high so-called king tides. At the recent packed public meeting at the Silk Purse, an affectionate part of our thin heritage, Elaine Fonseca, long involved in West Van matters, declared that only two king tides have occurred in her time in West Van.
Scenery Slater and the Ambleside & Dundarave Ratepayers’ Association have valiantly led the fight with detailed objections. In vain.
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Speaking of which: Agent f8sK5, who knows something about real estate and mortgages, declares that Mayor Michael Smith made a shrewd move selling the West Van police station waterfront site to Grosvenor (its huge project well behind schedule) for $60 million-plus. Interpret that remark as you will.
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West Van’s Blue Bus drivers were recently sternly warned by Michael A. Kenny, superintendent of operations, that police reported these “frequent” violations which “can greatly tarnish the reputation of Blue Bus”:
Speeding through Ambleside. Running red lights. Excessive horn-honking, “especially near Park Royal and the HOV lane.” Speeding on the north approach to the Lions Gate Bridge.
Not on my buses they don’t. Wonder who the complainants are. Thoughts, readers?
© Trevor Lautens, 2016