Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Duncan Brown discusses the connection between precarious work and low productivity. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh examines how Ontario's workers' compensation system is pushing injured individuals into grinding poverty by setting impossible requirements for claimants.

- Jim Balsillie worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will only increase the tendency of profits from Canadian ideas to flow elsewhere. And Cory Doctorow criticizes the Trudeau Libs for blindly following the Harper Cons when it comes to corporate control agreements.

- Stephanie Levitz reports on the Cons' cherry-picking of Christian refugees contrary to Canada's international obligations. And Fram Dinshaw exposes the Cons' willingness to keep pesticides in regular use long after they were known to be toxic.

- Nora Loreto discusses the state of Canada's media, including the need for both public and activist support for alternative news-gathering as corporate newspapers are slashed. And Thomas Frank points out the role of elite media in limiting political choices, particularly by presenting special treatment for the wealthy as an inevitability.

- Finally, Alison Crawford reports on CSIS' pattern of unauthorized intrusion into Canadians' tax information. Andrew Mitrovica situates that violation in the broader context of intelligence abuses, while Colin Freeze discusses how substantially more oversight could serve as at least a partial solution. And Cara Zwibel argues that it's time to put Charter rights at the forefront of how laws are made (which we can also extend to how government functions are carried out):
Clearly there are critical accountability and transparency gaps in our law-making process, which enable the advancement of arguably unconstitutional laws, such as Bill C-51. Indeed, at no point in the process are parliamentarians required to publicly defend the constitutionality of the laws they pass.

That job seems to have been left to our already overburdened courts, and to affected individuals and public interest organizations, such as CCLA, who, in recent years, have been compelled in some cases to launch Charter challenges as the only viable recourse. This is unfortunate given that these particular challenges — which come at a significant cost not only to the applicants, but also the public — could likely have been avoided had Parliament done its duty. And of even greater concern, as these lengthy court battles play out, the laws challenged remain on the books, restricting the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians, and risk becoming normalized.

Furthermore, the limited safeguards we do have are simply not working. Typically, the Department of Justice (DOJ) provides legal opinions to the justice minister regarding the constitutionality or legal vulnerabilities of government-proposed legislation. However, the government has refused to make these opinions public, stating that they are subject to solicitor-client privilege. The minister is also required to report Charter inconsistencies to Parliament, but the DOJ has suggested that the minister need only report when there is no credible argument in favour of a bill passing the Charter test. This standard is simply too low and, in practice, has meant that not a single report relaying concerns about Charter compliance has ever been made to Parliament.

Proactive accountability and transparency measures are sorely needed to help compel our government and parliamentarians — both present and future — to honour their fundamental duty to uphold the Charter throughout the law-making process. This is why CCLA has launched a new campaign called Charter First, which calls for the reform of our legislative process such that Charter rights are prioritized and Canadians are informed about the constitutionality of proposed bills.

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