A Lament for Canadian Democracy

by Eric Davenport


On July the 1st, 1867, the fathers of Confederation united four British colonies in hopes of establishing a democratic government. Six provinces, three territories, and a hundred and forty-eight years later, that democracy has sadly been overtaken by a more powerful institution. The Supreme Court of Canada – evidenced by their euthanasia ruling last Saturday – has overpowered the House of Commons and, by extension, the Canadian public’s right to democratic representation. Although the House of Commons is still fully operational, they now hold little power in comparison to the unelected Supreme Court. The House’s inability to veto Supreme Court rulings presents a problem not only in the creation of new laws, but also in the inability to renew the people’s democratic rights.

On Saturday, February 6th this year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the House of Commons must create a new law in 2016 which would legalize euthanasia in Canada. Physician-assisted suicide, which gives a person in unbearable mental or physical pain the right to be killed by a doctor, has sparked many debates in the Canadian Parliament as of late. Although the push for assisted suicide has amped up in recent years, the Members of Parliament in the House of Commons – our elected officials – have voted against the motion six times in the last decade. The evidence of corruption in places where euthanasia has been legalized and a fear of escalation in our laws and practices have led the Parliament to believe that the risks involved with assisted suicide far outweigh the benefits.

Some may ask why the opinions of Members of Parliament should be worth more than those of the Supreme Court. There is a simple answer: the three-hundred and eight Members of Parliament in the House of Commons represent the widespread view of the Canadian public, based on election results; whereas the nine judges who sit on the the Supreme Court of Canada were chosen by the Prime Minister alone, and need not be reelected nor reexamined by any major governmental body.

There is a clear hierarchy of power that should emerge with judicial and governmental practices in democratic countries: the elected officials who represent the people create new laws; the unelected judicial system judges the public under the new law; and the appointed police departments enforce said law. This is how our founding fathers first envisioned federal law, and how it was once enacted – until the creation and implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A very noble document in and of itself, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was originally criticized when it was implemented in 1982 on the grounds that it gave the Supreme Court too much power. It charges the Court with protecting and instilling the rights outlined in the Charter, to the point where they have the power to force the elected government to create new laws. The Court has utilized this power on multiple occasions, but none was more undeniably and inexcusably undemocratic than last week’s fateful ruling. Finally, the fears of Charter skeptics have taken full form. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become the reason for the failure of its fundamental purpose – to protect the rights of the Canadian people.

The power instilled in the unelected, exclusive Supreme Court challenges the relevance of Section Three of the Charter, which says that “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons…” Although that right still exists, if Parliament doesn’t truly control the country, then the public doesn’t truly control the country. If the public no longer controls the country, can we still call it a democracy? Indeed, how sad a day was it when we could truthfully say that nine people in a courtroom overpowered thirty-five million citizens, three hundred and eight elected officials, and the greatest democracy Western Civilization had ever seen.

At least, that’s our opinion – not that it matters anymore.