Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/5/2015 (1128 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s unconstitutional in Canada to charge someone with a crime if the offence was not illegal at the time it was committed, technically called an ex post facto law. Unfortunately, the framers of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms never anticipated the Harper government, which has found a loophole on that principle.
Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, actions that were illegal can now be made legal when the law is politically inconvenient.
That’s precisely what Mr. Harper has done in a form of amnesty legislation that will exonerate the RCMP for knowingly breaking Canada’s access-to-information law, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
But RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson won’t need a lawyer, because the government intends to pass legislation exonerating the force of wrongdoing, ex post facto.
Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says the police force broke the law when it destroyed all records associated with the federal long-gun registry after a request had been made for the data under federal access legislation.
The law eliminating the registry had received royal assent in April 2012, when Ms. Legault wrote to the government reminding it records cannot be destroyed if they were subject to an access-to-information request before the law was changed.
Vic Toews, public safety minister at the time, assured Ms. Legault the RCMP "will abide" by the access-to-information legislation.
The RCMP subsequently destroyed the records, although it later provided partial information to the applicant.
Ms. Legault then informed the government the RCMP should be charged under the legislation.
The Harper government has instead written legislation that will exempt the RCMP from charges or "other proceedings" under the Access to Information Act. The legislation was also buried in an omnibus bill that includes the recent federal budget.
As Ms. Legault has warned, the Harper government has set a dangerous precedent that could lead to other cases of laws being bypassed whenever they are inconvenient.
Laws change all the time, but the government’s behaviour in this case was self-serving and had nothing to do with improving the administration of justice.
It also seems doubtful the RCMP acted on its own authority, since it had been a defender of the long-gun registry in the past and had nothing to lose or gain by releasing the information.
The Harper government, however, has been obsessed with obliterating the registry and ensuring no part of it was preserved for the history books. The Conservatives seemed to be worried some provinces might use the information to build their own databases, but Mr. Harper was not even prepared to co-operate in that endeavour.
With its majority in Parliament, there’s nothing stopping the Conservatives from passing the legislation, but the opposition parties should use whatever tactics they can to draw attention to the abuse of power.
As usual, the Tories will be counting on their belief Canadians are more interested in pocket-book issues than matters of democracy and due process.
The government has run up a long record of anti-democratic behaviour over the last nine years, muzzling scientists and the bureaucracy in general, bypassing Parliament and the media, dismissing unpopular watchdogs, withholding documents from Parliament and the general public, subverting election legislation and on and on.
As someone said, there ought to be a law against this stuff. Of course, it could always be changed, ex post facto.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.