Thursday, July 12, 2012

A question of sovereignty indeed

Yesterday morning, CBC broke featured this story on their news website.

It's written in a classic new-style journalism way (which I'm not really complaining about, by the way) that tends to err towards overstating the case to grab readers before actually fleshing out the story.

Essentially, there's been a new law passed that provides legal coverage for teams of multinational police officers (RCMP and U.S. Coast Guard, to be precise) to operate on either side of the U.S./Canada border on the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River. On our side, the teams will be four RCMP officers and one guy/gal from the Coast Guard, and they'll be on a Canadian boat. On the other side of the water, the numbers are switched. The idea is that if someone's just jumped across the border after committing a crime in one country, they should still be able to be arrested by officers of that country.

This makes a certain level of sense. The extradition process is long and expensive (even if it's comparatively short and cheap when between countries with such close ties as ours) - much more so that simply allowing a U.S. officer to make an arrest on the Canadian side of the river and then hauling the baddie back across.

There are grey areas, of course - according to the article, "common sense" will determine exactly how far inland counts as a "border area" for the purposes of these teams, or whether or not arrests can still be made by the U.S. officers if they're separated from their Canadian counterparts, or how much time can pass between the offense and the arrest (IE if someone is wanted in the U.S. and has been living in downtown Niagara Falls for 10 years?). Relying on "common sense" for the boundaries of a law is... worrying... to say the least.

The article raises the question of sovereignty with this bill - armed agents of another country making arrests in ours? I'll be the first to locate that at the top of a very slippery slope (how about other crimes? What about provisions under new anti-terror laws that include simply protesting against U.S. policies? Can Canadians be arrested for junk like that in Canada? Could we ever? Don't just say "no, obviously not" - what counts as common sense to you may not to anyone else, or anyone else in power, for that matter).

However, here's what really, really gets me about this bill: it proves, once and for all, without a shadow of a doubt, that Stephen Harper and his Conservative government do not care even a little what you think of what they're doing for/to this country. For all their garbage-spewing, "party of the people" nonsense, they just don't care about Canadians enough to even inform them of new laws that they're passing.

When he was in the Reform Party, Steve Harper railed against omnibus bills every chance he got.

Case in point (from 1994, quoted at

Second, in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.

He also quotes from 1971 Speaker of the House Lucien Lamoureux on the matter, who hits the nail precisely on the head:

However, where do we stop? Where is the point of no return? The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, and I believe the hon. member for Edmonton West, said that we might reach a point where we would have only one bill, a bill at the start of the session for the improvement of the quality of the life in Canada which would include every single proposed piece of legislation for the session. That would be an omnibus bill with a capital O and a capital B . But would it be acceptable legislation? There must be a point where we can go beyond what is acceptable from a strictly parliamentary standpoint.

Where do we stop, indeed? What, exactly, do cross-border policing provisions have to do with budgetary matters? Nothing. That's the answer. This bill has NOTHING to do with the budget.

So why include it with the budget as part of an omnibus package?

So it'll be passed? Nope. With their house majority, the Tories can pass any bill they like for the next few years, without worry. If they want a bill passed, it will be passed. There's absolutely no question about it, so the success/failure of a separate border-crime bill is not the reason, or even a reason that this bill was incorporated into the budget omnibus.

So that's two potential reasons down (to recap: 1) that it has something pertinent to do with the budget, and 2) so that it'll have a better chance of actually becoming law).

The only remaining one (and I'd love to be shown a different possibility here) is so that the government doesn't have to actually talk about it.

Not, as I've mentioned before, that talking about it would mean that it wouldn't be passed. With three years left in their majority, it's not even as though talking about it would necessarily have any impact on their election chances next time around (what with people having such woefully short memories about these things). It's just a straight-up case of them not thinking that it's worth telling Canadians what new laws they're putting in place.

This goes beyond the (already infuriating) railroading of bills through the Commons, the blatant snubbing of any sort of proper debate procedure, the various scandals, the over-spending on stupid jets, the (very) historic instance where they were found to be in contempt of Parliament. It goes beyond all of that, because what this says is that this government thinks of itself as supreme.

Since he took power, even at the helm of a minority, the image of "King Harper" has been a popular one with pundits and political cartoonists, to the point where it's come dangerously close to cliche to actually point something like this out. And that's a shame, because it turns out, they were all right.

When a government specifically chooses not to even perform cursory communication to the people that it governs about new laws it's passing, it has completely lost touch with who exactly it is meant to work for.