A cornerstone of any democratic society is the principle of the rule of law, which holds that everyone, including those in positions of power, is subject to the same legal standards. However, lingering questions remain about the true extent to which politicians and influential figures are held accountable to the same legal and constitutional frameworks that govern ordinary citizens. It’s not merely a matter of these individuals acting as if they are ‘above the law’; there are instances where they issue emergency orders that contravene constitutional protections and civil liberties. Even more concerning is the fact that law enforcement agencies frequently enforce these directives, disregarding their potential conflicts with citizens’ constitutional rights, and courts often uphold these actions irrespective of their constitutionality. At this point, one has to question whether the society is imploding when the rule of law no longer matters and is selectively enforced.
Rule of Law vs. Reality
The Constitution, along with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, serves as the supreme law of the land, dictating the structure of the government and outlining the rights and freedoms of its citizens. In theory, politicians and individuals in positions of power are expected to uphold these laws. However, recent instances where politicians seem to operate outside these legal boundaries raise important questions.
Notably, the pandemic has seen unprecedented measures like the closure of provincial borders, directly impacting the freedom of movement for citizens. According to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there is no justification strong enough to impose such a restriction. Yet, over the last three years, especially, we’ve witnessed fear and public opinion overpowering the rule of law. We no longer live in a country governed by established legal frameworks; instead, anyone in power can issue an edict that becomes the law of the land overnight, setting a concerning precedent for the future.
Loopholes and Legal Gray Areas
The Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms serve as the backbone of democratic governance, acting as the highest law of the land. They outline the government’s structure and provide a framework for the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Ideally, politicians and other individuals in power should not only be subject to these laws but also be the leading proponents in upholding them. However, the system isn’t always as clear-cut as it sounds.
Legal loopholes and gray areas provide politicians with latitude that is often not available to the general populace. One such loophole is the concept of “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that protects government officials from being held personally liable for actions taken within the scope of their official duties. While this was initially intended to allow officials to make decisions without the fear of legal reprisal, it raises serious concerns about accountability. When officials know they’re shielded from the consequences of their actions, what’s to prevent overreach or even abuse of power?
Moreover, this lack of personal liability can perpetuate a culture of impunity, where politicians feel they are ‘above the law’ and can act without consideration for constitutional boundaries. This has been glaringly evident in some instances during the pandemic, where the closure of provincial borders curtailed citizens’ freedom of movement, a direct contradiction to what is permitted under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It becomes increasingly alarming when these actions are not outliers but seem to be forming a pattern. Over the last few years, the role of fear and public opinion has been magnified in shaping policy decisions, often at the expense of the rule of law. This is not how democratic governance is meant to function. Rather than a nation governed by laws and regulations, it seems we are inching closer to a state where anyone in power can issue an edict that becomes the de facto law of the land.
In a society where the rule of law is disregarded or applied selectively, the very fabric of that society starts to unravel. It’s essential for the public to remain vigilant and hold officials accountable to ensure the integrity of our democratic institutions and maintain trust in the rule of law.
Some examples of ethical violations among politicians in the last decade exist; these are just the ones that have been made public and of which we are aware.
- SNC-Lavalin Scandal (2019): Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was found to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence his then-Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to intervene in a corruption case against SNC-Lavalin.
- Trudeau’s Aga Khan Vacation (2017): Trudeau was found guilty of violating ethics rules when he vacationed on the private island of Aga Khan, a family friend and the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan Foundation was registered to lobby Trudeau’s office.
- Finance Minister Bill Morneau (2017): Bill Morneau, who was the Finance Minister at the time, was scrutinized for not placing his assets in a blind trust after taking office.
- Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy Scandal (2013): Nigel Wright, then the Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, provided Senator Mike Duffy with $90,000 to repay questioned housing expenses, raising ethical concerns about the separation of legislative and executive powers.
- Helena Guergis (2010): A former Conservative Minister, Helena Guergis was forced to resign over allegations of misconduct and was eventually expelled from the Conservative caucus.
- Bev Oda (2012): A Conservative Minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, Bev Oda came under fire for altering a document and for her expensive tastes during an official trip, which included a $16 glass of orange juice.
- Julian Fantino (2014): A former Veterans Affairs Minister, Julian Fantino faced a slew of criticism over his handling of veterans’ issues, including the closure of Veterans Affairs offices.
- Dean Del Mastro (2014): Former MP and parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Dean Del Mastro was found guilty of election spending violations.
- Peter Penashue (2013): Resigned his post as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs over illegal campaign contributions in the 2011 federal election.
- Kent Hehr (2018): Resigned from the cabinet following allegations of sexual misconduct.
While the Constitution unambiguously dictates that no one is above the law—including politicians and those in positions of power—the actual enforcement of this principle has become increasingly selective. This divergence is not limited to governmental bodies; even corporations and academic institutions are now taking it upon themselves to issue directives that have the force of law within their spheres of influence. Moving forward, the pressing challenge is to ensure equal accountability across the board. Yet, we find ourselves in a troubling scenario where expecting such accountability is becoming as unrealistic as entrusting the fox to guard the henhouse.