HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Harper's No Sage
Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2006
Source: NOW Magazine (CN ON)
Copyright: 2006 NOW Communications Inc.
Author: Alan Young


Tory Cuts To Court Challenges Show PM Has No Insight Into Art Of 
Stabilizing Democracy

If Socrates were alive and living in Canada, the Harper government 
would move to put his name on the subversive blacklist.

Socrates believed that the unexamined life is not worth living, and 
last week's budget cuts by the Harper government to the Law 
Commission of Canada, the Court Challenges Program and the medical 
marijuana research fund show that this administration is committed to 
unexamined ignorance in governance. I may not be interested in having 
philosopher kings run this country, but it would be nice if those in 
power at least had the desire to develop public policy based on 
information, debate and analysis.

The academic community and the legal profession have roundly 
condemned these cuts. One could dismiss this criticism as 
self-serving, as it comes from a constituency that stands to gain 
from research grants under the fallen programs. Indeed, for some 
academics the Law Commission has been a gravy train allowing 
professors to ruminate for cash.

But more to the point, these cuts have taken a giant dump on 
potentially meaningful legal work, my own included. For me, the Court 
Challenges Program was the only source of funding for legal actions 
to challenge unconstitutional government programs and legislation 
related to marijuana. There are no wealthy benefactors in Canada who 
routinely fund the pursuit of civil liberties.

I was fortunate to receive some modest funding in the past to help 
establish the constitutional right to choose marijuana as medicine, 
but now that the right is entrenched the government has chosen to 
pull funding for research designed to uncover the scientific basis 
for marijuana's therapeutic effects.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the criticism of these budget cuts 
as belly-aching. I have always thought it's a waste of taxpayers' 
money to fund research exploring esoteric academic projects like the 
hegemonic and political implications of the mating rituals of the 
Canadian beaver, but in this case the government has cut programs 
that could contribute in a meaningful way to the development of public policy.

The Law Commission of Canada had been working on a long-term project 
examining the limits of criminalization. The project was designed to 
determine which social problems should be addressed by criminal 
prohibitions and which are best dealt with by other mechanisms of 
social control.

Obviously, the Harper government is not interested in definable 
limits or principled development of criminal law. This government 
wants the power to criminalize anything it believes will lead to 
voter support in the next election. Harper knows it's easier to pass 
"get tough" legislation in the absence of an independent government 
agency with a mandate to objectively study and explore criminal justice issues.

There's an old maxim that "it's impossible to defeat an ignorant man 
in argument." Harper understands that by remaining ignorant he can 
successfully champion his reactionary and unwise policy decisions.

To ensure that ignorance reigns supreme, it's important for the state 
to also minimize the occasions for challenging government policy, and 
to that end it was a brilliant move to scrap the Court Challenges Program.

Although funding opportunities were limited, it was an effective 
medium for giving a voice to political dissent. As much as it may 
seem anomalous, and perhaps masochistic, for a government to fund 
cases that challenge its authority, this anomaly actually serves to 
stabilize democratic institutions. Without the option of voicing 
dissent through a funded legal process, people and groups who believe 
their rights are being violated may eventually choose civil 
disobedience or riotous demonstrations as the medium of dissent. As 
much as I like the occasional street demo run amok, it makes more 
sense to give people a voice in a court of law so they don't need to 
throw rocks on the street.

The breathtaking myopia of these budget cuts is best demonstrated by 
the elimination of a fund for medical marijuana research. Other 
sources of government funding still exist for conducting this 
research, but in making this rather insignificant cut this government 
wanted to send the clear message that it has little interest in 
anything to do with marijuana.

If Harper would take his head out of the sand, he might notice that 
current research in Israel and Spain has shown that synthetic 
cannabinoids have tumour-reducing properties. In light of the 
promising international research being conducted into marijuana's 
diverse applications, I'd have thought we would be expanding the 
research program to finally resolve the question of whether marijuana 
as medicine is a pipe dream or the next panacea.

This government is constitutionally compelled by court order to run 
and manage a medical marijuana program, and over 2,000 people have 
been authorized to use pot for various ailments; however, the 
government clearly does not want to continue spending its money to 
act as gatekeeper for people's therapeutic choices.

Apparently, Harper doesn't realize that the only way this government 
can get out of the business of supervising the medical choices of 
seriously ill Canadians is either to decriminalize marijuana entirely 
or foster and support clinical research designed to develop 
cannabinoid medicines. Much-neglected medical research on the 
cannabis plant and its various cannabinoids will eventually lead to 
diverse product development, and when this happens there will no 
longer be a constitutional need for the government to grow pot and 
sign permission slips for patients to use this medicine.

Last week's cuts reminded me of Brian Mulroney's decision to axe the 
Canadian Sentencing Commission in the late 1980s. After extensive 
research and consultation, this commission recommended establishing a 
permanent independent agency to monitor sentencing decisions, with a 
view to prescribing clear and consistent guidelines to judges on the 
critical issues of when to send someone to jail and what should be 
the appropriate range of prison sentences.

This never happened, and 20 years later we are still moaning and 
groaning about the inconsistencies and perceived leniency of our 
sentencing practices.

To solve the problem, this current government is proposing minimum 
sentences and cutting back on non-custodial options. Of course, in 
1987 the commission presented clear and persuasive evidence 
demonstrating the futility of this approach.

Harper should be thankful that Mulroney axed the commission, as there 
is no one around today to tell Harper, and the Canadian people, that 
the criminal justice policies of this current government are textbook 
examples of the dangers of ill-informed and closed-minded policy development.

Fools are always doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Elaine