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August 14, 2004

Isn't our constitution just a scapegoat?
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

flag.jpg The recent federal election in Canada which happened two months ago was a great opportunity to familiarize myself with the inside politics of a country other than my home country, Iran. The campaign run by the different parties, various issues which were raised during the election and the way the whole Canadian government is running, were all different interesting topics for me to learn. Though the election was fair and free, I noticed several flaws in the system which I would like to mention in below.

1) The first surprise appeared to me when I was watching TV showing Paul Martin, the Canadian prime minister, calling for an early election. He told the reporters about the permission he has been given by the governor general after their meeting. Everything looked to be very well accepted by everyone: in order to call an election in Canada, the Queen of England should be first informed. Not to mention that in principle, every single law passed in Canada has to be approved by the Queen.

2) Despite a few hundred years of history of Canada as a nation, it is less than 25 years since this country has had an independent constitution. Knowing of many countries still without any constitution, I am not surprized that Canada did not have it for a long time. However, I was under the impression that now every law has to agree with the current constitution. So I was shocked to become aware of a law called notwithstanding clause which permits the federal or provincial government to approve or reject any law in the contrary to the constitution if they wish. For instance, assume that the supreme court of Canada says that restricting the definition of marriage to heterosexual relationships, is unconstitutional. The premier of the conservative dominated province of Alberta has already threatened to use the notwithstanding clause and reject the order of the supreme court of Canada.

3) Unlike the US, senators in Canada are not elected by people but are appointed by prime ministers. In principle, the senate has a crucial power that allows it to reject any law passed by the parliment. The way the senate is appointed is also interesting. Prime minister can only appoint a senator when there is one available seat meaning that one senator retires, quits, or passes away. Thus, one prime minister may be very lucky to appoint many senators in contrary to another, who may never get a chance. Now, think of a senate mostly appointed by a prime minister becoming a big source of trouble for the next government at the time power switches from one party to the other. Not only senetors, but the judges of the supreme court are also appointed in a similar way as the senators. A "lucky" prime minister can get a chance to appoint several judges who share similar views with him so that he would never have to confront them.

To be honest, what has made my mind busy is not these problems themselves. I could see any country to have similar problems. What is amazing is how everything goes very smoothly and democraticly in Canada. There is not any noticable abuse of power though the laws may permit such a thing. In my opinion, some of the Canadian laws are even worse than some Iranian laws in some regards. No one can say that Queen of England has less power than Velayat-Faghih [supreme leadership] in Iran. The unelected senate can be an obstacle to a democracy just as much as the Guardian Council is currently in Iran. The judges of the supereme court of Canada can abuse their power just as much as some judges in Iran do. However there is something that makes the Queen to never abuse her power and Iranian leader to do despite their similar power. It would also be interesting to study the number of times senate of Canada has rejected a law passed by the parliment in comparison with the Gaurdian Council. Though the two constitutions seems to have some similarities, they function very differently. Doesn't this tell us that the problems of our home country comes from somewhere other than our constitution?

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