Law & Politics: Queen’s Law Faculty members weigh in on the upcoming Federal Election
Assistant Professor, Queen’s Faculty of Law
Specialities: Criminal Law; Sentencing and Imprisonment
What matters most about criminal justice in this federal election is not necessarily what the NDP or Liberals would do – on most issues their positions are not entirely clear – but about what the Conservatives have already done.
In the past decade, the Conservatives have politicized the field of criminal justice in a way that marks a sharp break from Canada’s longstanding tradition of deferring to experts like prosecutors, judges, prison officials and civil servants. Harper’s Conservatives have appealed to a populist ‘tough on crime’ sentiment and have overseen decisions to close prison farms, fire prison chaplains, and strip judges of sentencing discretion.
While the NDP and the Liberals propose steps to legalize marijuana, the Conservatives have passed laws to ensure mandatory jail time for individuals who grow just six marijuana plants.
The Conservatives have also been willing to push against constitutional limits in order to pursue their agenda. They recently lost a Charter-based challenge to a retroactive law narrowing parole and another to a mandatory gun sentence. More litigation is imminent on their new prostitution bill and ‘truth in sentencing’ reforms that strip judges of the ability to even out the unfairness that arises when an individual is denied bail.
Many have remarked on the peculiar desire to reform the criminal justice system at a time when crime rates have been declining since the 1990s. If the Conservatives maintain power, criminal justice will likely continue to grab headlines and be used as a means to mobilize popular support. The NDP or the Liberals are more likely to return to a habit of deference to criminal justice professionals, and to quietly unwind what they can.
Sessional Instructor, Queen’s Faculty of Law
Specialities: Criminal Law; Immigration
The 2015 federal election appears, at this point, to be a healthy three-way race.
The debate is on the topic of public interest versus individual rights. The incumbent political party promises to continue to enact laws that appear to strengthen security and safety of the Canadian citizenry. The two opposition parties promise to repeal existing laws that they argue clearly violate the rights of Canadian citizens.
In the alternative, they will discontinue legislation that appears to unfairly target a particular group. This debate is healthy and provides great fodder for young legal minds.
At the end of the day the question to be asked is: “Should individual rights trump what appears to be in the collective interest?“ Vote! Yes, you must vote.
Professor, Queen’s Faculty of Law
Specialities: Contracts; Family Law; Conflict of Laws; Comparative Law
In 2014, the Conservative party initiated an effort to demarcate civilized marriage from barbaric forms of marriage with its Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. The Act was widely pilloried by opposition party members and the media for its foolish name and politically motivated appeal to xenophobia.
Current marriage laws already address the issues of forced marriage and polygamy so the Act’s only change is setting the minimum age of marriage at 16. This violates the standard set by UNICEF, which takes the position that marriage under the age of 18 is ‘a fundamental violation of human rights’.
The Act’s amendment to the Criminal Code provision on provocation is unnecessary in regard to ‘honour killings’ and may remove the possibility of successfully claiming provocation in appropriate cases. The Act does not give sufficient attention to prevention and its reliance on new criminal offences to address problems of underage or forced marriage is misplaced.
The Act may create the illusion that our civilized country is being protected from barbaric outsiders but as far as effectively addressing the problems of underage and forced marriage, the Act falls short.
For a full analysis see ‘Setting Boundaries’ by Martha Bailey.