It would be pointless for me to weigh in on Quebec’s new language law (Bill 96), but it is an opportunity to talk about something much more foundational that should concern all Canadians.
Democracy is a tenuous balancing act of competing interests. Many people, including a lot of politicians who ought to know better, think it is simply a system of the majority rules.
But we all know that just because an idea, policy or law is popular doesn’t mean it is right.
That is why we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is intended to protect all persons equally. In short, it is meant to protect minority groups from mob rule.
Of course, we wouldn’t have our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms if it wasn’t for Section 33, which reads, in part: “Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.
It was the inclusion of that provision that finally got Quebec on board to patriate the Constitution.
More commonly known as the “notwithstanding clause” S.33 basically gives provincial governments carte blanche to trample on our rights and freedoms.
Section 2 guarantees our fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.
Sections 7-15 guarantee our legal rights including the right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
Section 33 overrides those guarantees.
Just think about that.
The same law, our most foundational law, that guarantees our fundamental rights and freedoms, also says lawmakers can simply disregard them if they see fit.
The contradiction is mind-boggling.
By invoking the notwithstanding clause for any law, politicians are admitting their legislation is unconstitutional, but intend to pass it anyway.
Section 33 has got to go.