Category Archives: American Politics

Born to (be able to) Run

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made news by pledging to outlaw travel to areas of the world that are “ground zero for terrorist activity.” These are places that are, according to the Prime Minister, “the most dangerous on earth, where governance is non-existent and violence is widespread and brutal.”

The CBC reports that parts of Syria and Iraq would likely be among the first areas to be subject to this travel ban. Under the proposed legislation, aid workers, diplomats and journalists would be able to qualify for an exception. For the rest, the Prime Minister stated that traveling to these places are “not a human right.”

The PM doesn’t want you to see evil (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Depending on your definition of human right, the Prime Minister might be, Constitutionally speaking, dead wrong. Section 6(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows every citizen of Canada to enter, remain in and leave Canada. But what does the freedom to leave Canada really mean?

Courts have interpreted section 6(1) before, but typically in the context of the right to stay in Canada or to return to Canada. For example, in United States of America v. Cotroni, the context was an extradition of a Canadian citizen to the United States to face criminal charges. The Supreme Court of Canada stated “the right to remain in one’s country is of such a character that if it is to be interfered with, such interference must be justified as being required to meet a reasonable state purpose.” Likewise in Abdelrazik v. Canada, the Federal Court was dealing with the denial of re-entry to a Canadian citizen accused by the United Nations of engagement in terrorist activities. The court stated that section the right to enter Canada “is not to be lightly interfered with.”

This case, however, concerns someone’s freedom from a government restriction on areas outside of its control, as opposed to a right to avoid government force inside of that country. We aren’t talking about a government actively kicking you out of a country or barring you from entering. We are talking about a government prohibiting you from visiting another sovereign land.

I believe travel bans like the one proposed by the Prime Minister impair one’s ability to exercise their freedom to leave the country. Canadians should be skeptical and resistant to any attempt to curb their freedoms, especially since Canadian courts clearly recognize its importance. It is wrong for the government to take any freedom away unless and until it can be proven to be necessary.

Therein lies the discussion. No Charter right is absolute. Section 1 of the Charter states that every right and freedom is “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Determining whether something has been demonstrably justified is a two-part test:

  • Law has a goal that is both “pressing and substantial.”
  • The law’s limiting of a Charter right is rationally connected to its purpose, it impairs the Charter right as little as possible and it is proportionate to the right being violated

Certainly the Charter does not explicitly say one must be free to travel to wherever one desires; however, the freedom to leave Canada cannot simply extend to some arbitrary location. Canadians must be able to select their destination freely without government interference (again, unless that interference is justified).

Consider the alternative. If the freedom to leave Canada did not extend in some way to our destinations, then the government would face no Constitutional restrictions by prohibiting travel to every country except one, say New Zealand. Of course no government would do this, but the point is that s.6(1) would certainly prohibit such a terrible scenario (although not quite so terrible for the Kiwi tourism industry). If the foregoing is true, then s.6(1) must have some regard to the destinations we select.

Once the Canadian Government bars you from choosing your destination, I believe such a law necessarily violates our freedom to leave Canada. The consequence of that denial is not necessarily that you cannot choose to leave Canada through some means or another. The consequence is that your Charter-guaranteed freedom to leave Canada has necessarily been impaired.

We will need to see the details and reasons of the proposed law before concluding whether the law is justified. In the meantime, Canadians should be apprehensive at the possibility of losing our very important freedoms, particularly our ability to leave the country to wherever we choose to go. We need to say that we will only surrender our right to travel to any given area if there is a really good reason to do it, even if those places are “ground zero for terrorist activity.”


Endorsement for Joyce Murray

Murray Can Lead Canada Forward | Chris Wattie, Reuters (via National Post)

For almost seven years, Stephen Harper has been the Prime Minister. Canadian progressives unite in their call that “we can do better” and yet, little is done to meet actions with words. In the New Democratic leadership race, I backed Nathan Cullen for his progressive partnership proposal. It was bold, it was controversial, but it represented real leadership. Mr. Cullen challenged New Democratic progressives, presenting them with an opportunity for real, meaningful change. Mr. Cullen inspired many people with his surprising success, but New Democrats decided to meet Einstein’s theory of insanity: doing the same thing expecting different results.

The Liberal party is now in the process of selecting a leader, and I only hope that we can learn from our history. I have spent my adult life listening to empty words, I want to fight for real initiatives. I want to be a part of a Liberal Party committed to real change. There is one candidate with such a commitment to moving the country forward: Joyce Murray.

Murray is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra. She was the top MBA graduate in her year from Simon Frasier University. She has proven success in the economic realm. Her business, Brinkman & Associates Reforestation has over 500 employees. Murray has been in politics since 2001, representing constituents for 12 years. She drafted Bill C-437 to formalize a ban on supertanker traffic in British Columbia’s north pacific coast. She has a track record of leadership, and that is what a Murray Leadership would be expected to do: lead Canada forward.

Most importantly, she has taken up the call for cooperation across progressive parties. A local Liberal riding official would need to advocate for cooperation in their constituency in order for it to happen. She has also proposed four other policy initiatives:

  1. Gender Equity: All Government appointments retain at least 40% male and 40% female representation
  2. Carbon Pricing: A cost applied to pollution created by carbon emissions (not necessarily a tax, she is open to cap-and-trade)
  3. Democratic Reform: A royal commission on electoral reform to move away from first-past-the-post, and replace it with a more democratically accountable electoral system
  4. Cannabis Legalization: Legalize, regulate, control and tax cannabis

Progressives argue that “we can do better”, now is the time to stop our petty partisan concerns and turn to the health of our country. Meaningful change requires hard work, and a motivated base, but it is aided by inspiring leaders. Joyce Murray has the ideas and the experience. If we can do better, I believe it will be done through the Prime Minister Canada deserves. I am pleased to endorse Joyce Murray for Liberal Leadership.

Post Scriptum: One of my good friends, Joseph Uranowski has written a wonderful article on Joyce Murray I would encourage you to read.