Last Friday Ms Soapbox attended the 2017 Milvain Lecture at the U of C Law School.
It was given by Marie Henein who recently made headlines by successfully defending CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi on sexual assault charges.
While Ms Soapbox and Ms Henein do not see eye to eye on the Ghomeshi case, they do share the belief that Canadians must push back against populist politicians who want to undermine our democratic institutions.
The politics of fear are alive and well
Ms Henein, like many Canadians, is concerned that election of Donald Trump has implications for those of us who live north of the 49th parallel.
Ms Henein warns that we should not slip into complacency.
Sure, Canada has enacted good laws like the ones protecting same-sex marriage, a woman’s right to choose, and the right to assisted dying, but the battle is far from over.
We must not forget that less than a year ago Stephen Harper was pushing laws like the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and the Truth in Sentencing Act. Did I miss the memo? Were we 100% tolerant of barbaric cultural practices and supportive of lies in sentencing before that?
Such laws create fear among the majority and marginalize religious and ethnic minorities. They sacrifice the democratic principle that extends the same rights to everyone in favour of partisan politics.
We thought we were done with all that when Mr Harper’s Conservatives were defeated. We were wrong. Mr Harper simply passed the torch to Kellie Leitch.
The Anti-Canadian Values test
Kellie Leitch is the front runner in the federal Conservative leadership race.
A key plank in her platform is the proposal that visitors and immigrants should be screened for anti-Canadian values. Ms Leitch says this will protect our “unified Canadian identity” from…well, god knows what.
Not only has Ms Leitch been unable (or unwilling) to articulate what she’s protecting our “unified Canadian identity” from, she’s ducked questions asking how her anti-Canadian values test would deal with people, some Roman Catholics perhaps, who oppose same-sex marriage, LBGTQ rights and a woman’s right to abortion.
In the absence of greater clarity, we’re left with the uncomfortable suspicion that Ms Leitch’s anti-Canadian values test would reject Muslims who, surprise, were the intended targets of Mr Harper’s barbaric cultural practices tip line and anti-niqab legislation.
Are Ms Henein and Ms Soapbox overreacting: Could the election of a buffoon in the US trigger the rise of populist politicians in Canada?
Sadly, the answer is yes.
Robert Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk conducted research into the health of western democracies and found that the public’s trust in political institutions like parliaments and the courts “has precipitously declined.” Voters are increasingly endorsing single-issue movements (anti-immigration ranks right up there), voting for populist candidates or supporting parties that exist simply as the opposite of the status quo, rather like the Bizarro subplot in the Superman comics series.
Foa and Mounk conclude that citizens who once considered democracy to be the only legitimate form of government are more open to authoritarian rule.
They warn against politicians like Donald Trump who are prepared to tear down the existing political system and promote policies that violate the rights of ethnic and religious minorities (“stop and frisk” and racial profiling come to mind) for their own partisan advantage.
Saving liberal democracy
A liberal democracy is founded on free and open elections and a respect for human rights and the rule of law. The laws protecting rights and civil liberties must be protected. Ms Henein says that’s why criminal defense lawyers are so important. This is their bailiwick. She’s right.
Populist politicians like Kellie Leitch who justify anti-Canadian values screening because her survey says 70% of Canadians are in favour of it are laying the foundation for an illiberal democracy, one that erodes the checks and balances on power and violates human rights.
Ms Henein’s message to the law students was: use your voice, be an advocate for democracy.
Her message to Canadians after the defeat of Hillary Clinton was: “suffering fools quietly means they can become president…or prime minister.”
Ms Henein mentioned Kellie Leitch at least four times in her speech, sometimes with an eye roll and sometimes by noting that her own grandmother would have failed the anti-Canadian values test because she didn’t speak English and wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what Ms Leitch was talking about.
Ms Henein didn’t say this in so many words but I will: Kellie Leitch is running for the leadership of the federal Conservative party. If she wins and the Conservatives come back into power, which they will, Kellie Leitch will be our next prime minister.
It’s time for Canadians to stop suffering fools like Ms Leitch quietly.