2010 Karen Selick
An edited version of this article first appeared in the July 6, 2010 issue of the Vancouver Sun,
under the headline "Want to help protect constitutional freedoms? Roll up your sleeves".
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Year as a Lightning Rod
One year ago, I left my private law practice to become the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation. Apart from using the same initials—CCF—my employer bears no resemblance to the defunct western socialist political party of the 1930s. The mission of today’s CCF is to protect various constitutional freedoms of Canadians, as well as the freedoms to earn a living and to own property.
Part of my job is reviewing potential cases for CCF involvement. This makes me a lightning rod for complaints from disgruntled citizens. Here are some of the trends I’ve observed during this first year on the job.
· There are many Canadians living with chronic pain or disability who would be happy to spend their own money on medical treatment, but who are forbidden from doing so due to the government’s iron grip over healthcare. Multiple sclerosis patients have propelled this issue into the headlines in recent weeks, leaving in droves for Poland, India, Italy, Kuwait and other places where hospitals are—gasp!—permitted to exchange services for money, just like any other sector of the economy. But there remain long waiting lists for many other procedures in Canada that don’t make the headlines. Even routine diagnostic procedures such as MRI scans—something people can purchase on a day’s notice abroad—take months to get “for free” in Canada. The hidden costs of medicare—the income lost by people too ill to work, the pain suffered by those who wait unnecessarily—never figure into the calculations of those who pronounce Canada’s system superior and sacrosanct.
· Canada is riddled with vast armies of bureaucrats who rove through the country inspecting everyone and everything in a busybody, interventionist society reminiscent of Soviet Russia. Hairdressers, butchers, shopkeepers, farmers, manufacturers, bed and breakfast operators and many others bear the brunt of regulations that do little to enhance genuine health or safety but much to expand the empires of bureaucrats and unions. Small operators often can’t afford to comply with new regulations, and abandon the field to large corporations, while consumers mourn the loss of variety, artisanal quality and personalized service. In the past 15 years, for instance, Ontario has driven out of business some 85 percent of the 900 firms formerly processing meat and poultry.
· I’ve heard from several people whose homes have been invaded by police or other regulatory officers in a manner that seems wildly disproportionate to the nature of their alleged offence. It’s almost as though the authorities have spent a lot of time and resources preparing SWAT teams for action, and are now determined to get their money’s worth from them no matter how inappropriate their deployment might be. Once inside someone’s home, officers seem to simply make up their own rules as they go along, telling householders that (for instance) they are forbidden to videotape the proceedings as their homes are torn apart, or to take photographs or audio recordings. Is this actually the law, the victims wonder? Probably not, but when a uniformed, gun-toting officer tells you that you will be charged with obstructing police if you defy him, few people are willing to put it to the test.
· Despite the existing maze of laws and regulations, Parliament and the provincial legislatures pump out one new law after another, always eager to be seen doing “the nation’s business”. The sheer volume of new law makes it impossible for any individual legislator to have a thorough grasp of current bills or their long-term implications. Ontario has been so busy revamping laws that one recently got repealed by subsequent legislation before it had even been proclaimed in force. Watchdog groups like the CCF can’t keep up with this flood and can only target the worst as they go hurtling by.
· It’s tough for citizens to find a lawyer willing to take on the challenge of opposing the government on anything, especially in Ottawa or provincial capitals. Almost every large law firm already does business with the government in some capacity or other, and fears shutting off that reliable spigot of fees due to either real or perceived conflicts of interest.
One thing seems certain to me after this first year: the CCF has its work cut out for it for many years to come.
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This article also appeared in the
November 28, 2010