Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Mighty Judgement

I am reading Philip Slayton's "Mighty Judgement, How the Supreme Court of Canada Runs Your Life."  I'm only a third or less into it and enjoying every 'revelation.'  I was immediately taken by the first chapter beginning with a discussion of Dugald Christie.  He's a BC Lawyer. He burnt his robes on the stairs of the Supreme Court in protest that the poor of Canada were no longer able to access the law.  He was killed in a hit and run on his way to protest again, having said that only the rich in Canada have access to the law.
Philip Slayton's book explains how Canada changed from a democracy to what I've called a "Legal Theocracy".  He uses terms like "Lawyer Aristocrats".
I wouldn't have taken any interest in the subject because my own experience with Canadian judges had been positive. I've met many.  Indeed having shaken hands with three Prime Ministers and spent an afternoon with one I've been more than blessed in my access to powers that be. In the US I enjoyed lunching with judges and have been thoroughly impressed with how bright and knowledgeable judges in general were.
In contrast to most physicians I've actually learned to admired lawyers because too often I've seen or been involved in horrendous abuses of power. Indeed the only judge I'd not appreciated was the fellow whose court room, lawyer Jack Cram called "Nazi".  I had met one poor fellow who was still working with early dementia and then I met a truly pompous fellow whose arrogance and self importance seemed the stuff of Dickens novels and not what we'd expect in a Post Modern scientific world.
I respect authority. As a Christian I worship a servant king.  Dugald Christie and I attended church together. He convinced me to do pro bono work having established pro bono services in the BC jails.  I'd ride with him to jail and go in to see prisoners who from all I  gathered had been poorly served by a justice system I had come to believe in.
I recently saw a Corruption Index from the late 90's showing Canada as number 6th in the least corrupt of nations.  A transparency index showed it as one of the most open of societies.
Yet Philip Slayton says that judges are not this way inclined.  They tend to be private and resist media scrutiny. Yet they are very much public political figures and we know a great deal more about the obviously less elite members of Cabinet.  There is an exception.  The present Chief Justice of Canada,  Beverly McLaughlan has made "transparency" of the courts one of her constant public themes. This is pertinent as BC courts are challenged to televise the procedings for the recent hockey riots and all manner of arguments were raised for 'closed doors".  I'm not sure about the Supreme Court, only a third of the way into Slayton's book, but Beverly McLaughlan already had my vote and might certainly as well be elected were she not appointed.
A decade or more ago a lawyer told me she'd left 'corporate law' because she said "I couldn't be a woman and a lawyer'.  Today the BC Law Society has revealed that 2/3's of women graduating as lawyers leave law. One might naturally think that these little women go off to have babies with big powerful rich male lawyers except that female doctors who have far more onerous training and experience seem to stay in medicine.  Gender counted in the Supreme Court as Slayton explains in Mighty Judgement.  These ultra powerful political figures are 'appointed', 'powerful', 'middle class', 'lawyers', and have  predominantly a white male bias.
An older male friend said "I left corporate law because I couldn't be a Christian and a lawyer.....I still can be a Christian and a lawyer but I'm not sure if I'll be able to say that for much longer."
Isn't that frightening?  These are not nobodys but indeed the cream of society.
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I was thoroughly terrified by the judge I encountered.  He acted as one truly above the law or at least as a law unto himself.
Retired law professor, Robert Martin wrote an 'incendiary book called "The Most Dangerous Branch; How the Supreme Court of Canada Has Undermined Our Law and our Democracy."  I never heard of the book.  So I'm thankful that a PHD Political Science student gave me Phillip Slayton's "The Mighty Judgement" after I told her I'd heard an excellent CBC review of this book. Phillip Slayton's book is superbly referenced and far easier to read than anything legally written in the last decade, despite the call for 'transparency'.
Phillp Slayton says it's time for reform.  It's certainly time that Canadians wake up.  Given what a great place Canada is and how I personally believe most of our judges, the Supreme Court included are a godsend, having seen the one or two bad apples in the barrell, I must admit it's time for review.  Dugald Christie was one of the brightest and finest men I've ever known.  He wasn't the sort to burn his robes on the Supreme Court stairs.  People might expect me to douse myself with gasoline and set myself on fire for some such cause, saying oh, that's just Bill being a drama queen. No one would have said that of Dugald.  He was a very serious Christian and very deep thinker.  I was touched to know him.
I would recommend this book to all Canadians if only for this paragraph: "Post 1982 constitutional law has had a vast effect on our country. In 1988 the Morgetanler decision invalidated Canada's abortion laws. Delagamunkus in 1997, determined the extent of Aboriginal Title. The 2004 Amselem case decided that the state cannot in any way regulate personal religious belief, however eccentric.  The Same-Sex Marriage Reference, also 2004 determined that the federal government can change the definition of marriage and give gays and lesbians the legal right to marry. Chaoulli, in 2005 struck down a Quebec law banning private medical insurance and changed the shape of Canada's health care system. In 2005, Labay decided that group sex at a commercial club was not indecent.' p13 Mighty Judgement.
Those who know me well would know I'm in favour of some of these decisions but what I ask is whether having things the way I want them is worth jeopardizing democracy. The sad part of that 'ends justifies the means' argument is that it can easily swing the other way.  There's immense power in these few individuals. These examples reflect it. What if the next batch of Supreme Court judges include a couple of bad apples?
I turn 60 this year and realized as I talked to a judge my age, with less education than I and much less broad based experience that he considered himself vastly superior to me and was extremely superior in a way I'd not encountered since grade school.  What if such a man got on the Supreme Court?  Would he care for the experience of majority of Canadians who Dugald Christie said were no longer of importance to the courts of Canada?
Should we not ensure that Canada remains least corrupt and most transparent of countrie?. I'm reading Phillip Slayton's book because I want the good guy judges to prevail.  I think we have to pay close attention to Chief Justice Beverly Mclachlan.  She wants transparency in the courts. She must have a very good reason.  Phillip Slayton's book is a good start because like me Phillip Slayton respect the law , the lawyers and the judges collectively we have today.

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