Federal Court Case Challenges Government’s Respect for Charter of…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CCLA CALLS ON FEDERAL ELECTION CANDIDATES TO RECOGNIZE THEIR DUTY TO UPHOLD THE CHARTER AND PROMISE TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY IN LAW-MAKING

 

Ottawa, ON – Last week, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) intervened in the Federal Court case of Schmidt v. Attorney General of Canada, arguing that (1) the government has a responsibility to ensure that its proposed laws comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and (2) the Minister of Justice has an obligation to report serious concerns about compliance to Parliament — and, in turn, Canadians. In light of this case, and Canada being a country committed to constitutional supremacy, CCLA is calling on federal election candidates to recognize their duty to uphold the Charter and promise to ensure accountability in law-making.

The case was brought forward by Edgar Schmidt, a former Justice Department lawyer who claims that serious concerns surrounding Charter compliance had been consistently ignored by his former superiors, including the Minister, and were withheld from Parliament and the public.

In response, the government argued that reports are only necessary when there is no credible argument that can be made to support a proposed law. This loose interpretation has meant that not a single report relaying concerns about Charter non-compliance has ever been made to Parliament despite the passing of suspect laws, including many in recent years, that almost immediately were challenged in court, notably: the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 (Bill C-51); the Fair Elections Act; the Safe Streets and Communities Act; and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.

Sukanya Pillay, Executive Director and General Counsel of CCLA, said: “While courts may assess whether laws are constitutional, governments also have an obligation to uphold the Charter, and to be transparent with Parliament — and Canadians — throughout the law-making process. If parliamentarians are not given key information to properly assess bills, unconstitutional laws may be passed. Further, if the government fails in its duty to uphold the Charter, the rights of Canadians will be put at risk and their tax dollars wasted on lengthy court battles with predictable outcomes.”

This is why CCLA, as part of its Vote Rights 2015 campaign, is calling on federal party leaders to:

  1. Recognize that the Government of Canada and parliamentarians are obliged to ensure that laws or amendments tabled in Parliament are consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
  2. Commit to transparency and accountability throughout the law-making process such that Parliament is given key information on matters related to Charter compliance;
  3. Pledge to introduce new legislation that codifies these points into law.

During the final three weeks of the election campaign, CCLA will continue to raise awareness of these issues with the Canadian public.

>> Read CCLA’s factum on the Schmidt case