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Dinosaurs in charge of justice, security

Harper cabinet choices alarms Egale

The new guy in charge of justice in Canada was one of his party’s strongest opponents of gay equality when the Conservatives were in opposition. And the guy now in charge of prevention domestic terrorism — and supervising laws that can secretly put Canadians in jail without access to lawyers — believes dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together when God created the world 6,000 years ago and openly admires the US Christian Right.

Welcome to the new cabinet of Stephen Harper, featuring such intellectual giants as Vic Toews as Justice Minister and, yes, Stockwell Day as Minister Of Security.

Queers who hoped that Harper would move to the centre on our issues to prove himself less threatening to Quebeckers and moderate Liberal voters may be disappointed with the new Prime Minister’s picks. Harper has instead tacked heavy to the right on justice and law-and-order issues.

In his new position, Toews is officially responsible for ensuring that the Charter rights of Canadians are fully protected. That should be an interesting task for the man who was so set against marriage equality rights that he filibustered in Parliament last summer in an effort to stop Bill C-38. Toews is also opposed to abortion.

“We’re deeply concerned,” says Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale Canada, the country’s national gay-rights lobby group. “Harper has asked the hungry fox to guard the henhouse.”

Toews is also one of the country’s most outspoken critics of “activist judges” who have interpreted the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms as applying to minorities including lesbians and gays. In 2003 Toews said he would use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to overturn a court decision in favour of same-sex marriage; in the recent federal election he backed Harper’s pledge not to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the event of such a decision.

Toews is also dead-set against liberalizing Canada’s laws against personal use of small quantities of marijuana, and told Vancouver media in January 2005 that pot growers and traffickers should get a two-year minimum sentence.

Even CTV.ca suggested appointing Toews to the justice portfolio would be unlikely, given his strong opinions that run contrary to the Charter. A Feb 4, web report noted Toews was “viewed as a risk” for the top justice job.

Marchildon says the choice of Toews and Day in such sensitive portfolios says that “Harper is sufficiently indebted to the Christian rightwing in caucus that he has to give positions of power to their spokespeople.

“Harper must confirm that the Conservative cabinet will uphold the Charter,” says Marchildon, noting that Egale, will push for that commitment.

In a 2003 interview on a US Christian Right show, Toews said, “We simply have seen these radical liberal judges, who have their own social agenda, coming to the bench and forgetting that their responsibility is to interpret the law, not to make law.” In the same interview, he said, “We still need to recognize that the best place for a child to be raised is in a heterosexual family. That is the best place in order for that child to receive the appropriate strength and direction. And now by changing this [marriage laws] I think we are undermining that security that children have in that context.”

A former Crown prosecutor, Toews was provincial attorney general and justice minister of Manitoba from 1997 to 1999.

Stockwell Day replaces Anne McLellan as the new Public Safety minister. McLellan attracted strong criticism from civil libertarians and trial lawyers for her handling of efforts to prevent terrorism on Canadian soil. The Anti-Terrorism Act, passed in the panic that followed Sep 11, 2001, gives police the power to make arrests and hold suspects without warrants, allows the government to compel testimony in secret hearings and gives government sweeping powers to forbid disclosure of information even in court. McLellan fought off efforts by more liberal cabinet ministers to revise the excesses of the Act in 2005.

Former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day now takes over responsibility for that law and the accompanying close cooperation with US border and internal security organizations. The deeply conservative Christian earned ridicule in the federal election campaign of November 2000 for his belief in Creationism. His antigay rights stand, combined with his support for allowing national referendums to decide social issues, also made him the butt of a write-in campaign to have his name changed to Doris Day.

The federal cabinet also includes a retread of some of the most socially conservative ministers from former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ “common sense revolution:” Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty. The Harper cabinet has six women, down from nine in Martin’s cabinet.

Ottawa gays may be interested to learn that John Baird, a former minister in the Harris government, was given responsibility for the Treasury Board.