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The mercy of his minions

Harper gives cabinet positions to extremists

SAY MODERATE THINGS, APPOINT EXTREME PEOPLE. Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn't won many friends with his cabinet appointments. Credit: (Jake Wright)

Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper picked two of his most socially conservative colleagues to fill key positions.

Harper’s choice of Manitoba MP Vic Toews as justice minister set an ominous tone, echoed by the appointment of former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day as public safety minister.

Day — who believes that human beings walked with the dinosaurs 6,000 years ago — will be in charge of the RCMP, the armed forces and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS.)

Day will also be charged with dismantling the $1-billion federal gun registry, which still enjoys support from the country’s cops; they use it about 5,000 times a day.

Justice Minister Vic Toews has been using a more moderate tone lately, a marked difference from just last year when he filibustered a parliamentary committee in a failed bid to stop the passage of the same-sex marriage bill.

In 2003 Toews called for the use of the constitution’s notwithstanding clause to stop marriage equality, but in December 2005 he publicly endorsed his leader’s new position of not using the notwithstanding clause “on this issue.”

Last week Toews said the Conservative government has “no particular policy [on same-sex marriage] besides a commitment for a free vote.”

Most analysts suggest the Conservatives don’t have the numbers to reopen the issue, though the margin could be tight.

One of Toews’s top priorities is Canada’s age of consent for sexual activity. In one of his first statements as minister, he said he wants to raise the age of consent to 16 from 14, with a “close in age” exemption. Toews has yet to say if his proposals will legalize anal sex for minors. The Criminal Code prohibits anal sex for those under 18, though some court rulings say the prohibition is constitutionally invalid.

He’s also questioned the recent Supreme Court ruling which allowed swingers’ clubs, although he’s been unclear what he’d propose to thwart the court ruling.

In opposition, Toews was critical of what he termed, “radical liberal judges who have their own social agenda.” Toews has proposed that appointments to Canada’s Supreme Court go through new parliamentary screening processes similar to the ones used in the US. But this month said he expected the next Supreme Court justice — Jack Major retired in December — to be chosen using the existing appointment process.