Harper’s attack on the Canadian Charter: Ex-Justice Lawyer Edgar Schmidt Explains

The latest in the Voices-Voix series of videos on silencing dissent in Canada features Edgar Schmidt, a former senior human rights lawyer at the federal Department of Justice and a defender of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Schmidt is demanding that the Minister of Justice and the Deputy Minister of Justice comply with their duty to examine proposed laws for conformity with the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  If proposed legislation could potentially violate the Charter, the Justice Minister is legally obligated to notify Parliament. However, what the Justice Department was doing, according to Schmidt, was asking only whether proposed laws had a mere “faint hope” of being consistent with the Charter.

“Such a low standard of review, I think, deprives Parliament of having the information it needs to make law in an informed way.”

After several unsuccessful attempts to deal with his concerns internally, Schmidt launched a legal case against the Attorney General of Canada in December 2012. He asked the Court to declare the duties of the Minister of Justice given his allegation that Justice lawyers were told not to fulfill these responsibilities unless the draft law was “manifestly” or “certainly” inconsistent with human rights law. Schmidt alleged that lawyers are told that any chance of successfully defending draft legislation against a human rights challenge that is 5% or higher is deemed sufficient to justify a decision not to advise the Deputy Minister of Justice of problems with human rights compliance.

Schmidt asserts that Canadians should care about his case for two reasons: no government should be proposing laws that are almost certainly inconsistent with the Charter.  As well, he claims that his experience shows that protection for whistle blowers in Canada is “completely ineffective” at the federal level.


The video can be viewed here. 


Voices-Voix is a Canadian coalition of 219 organizations, and has been systematically documenting the silencing  by government of dissenting voices: tactics include attacks on public servants who speak out, surveillance of human rights defenders, undermining independent watchdog agencies, defunding environmental science and of progressive civil society organizations, and selective CRA audits of the charitable status of international development organizations and environmental defence groups.

Categories: Democracy & Dissent

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