Opinion mixed on power of judges
Regional differences reflect recent controversial rulings, analyst saysKIRK MAKIN
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, November 23, 1999
Residents in Alberta and the Atlantic region are more critical of the increased power of judges than are the rest of Canadians, a poll says.
The survey found that while 57 per cent of Albertans and 56 per cent of Atlantic Canadians are unhappy with the power of the judiciary, just 39 per cent of Ontarians and 41 per cent of those in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have similar objections.
Over all, 50 per cent felt judges do not have too much power, while 45 per cent said they did, in The Globe and Mail/CTV poll conducted by the Angus Reid Group.
"Disagreement is fairly temperate, as 33 per cent say they 'somewhat disagree,' compared to 18 per cent who 'strongly disagree,' " said an analysis prepared by Angus Reid Group.
The poll found that older Canadians, those with household incomes of more than $60,000 and those with university educations are more likely to be concerned about the power of judges than are others. Men and women were almost evenly split on the issue.
John Wright, senior vice-president of Angus Reid Group, said the regional differences detected in the poll may reflect particularly contentious Supreme Court of Canada rulings that have been made over the past couple of years.
A major conflict between aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishermen in the Atlantic region broke out in mid-September after a ruling in favour of a Mi'kmaq native charged with illegally fishing eels out of season.
In Alberta, a decision last year prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It came in for particularly ferocious criticism and added fuel to calls for the election of judges and for more limits on the issues they can decide.
"The judges have been forced to deal with issues that politicians didn't want to deal with," Mr. Wright said in an interview. "This is not necessarily a backlash against the judiciary as much as it is a sign of their conundrum. We have to look at the failure of politicians to deal with these difficult decisions."
The power of the judiciary escalated in 1982, with the passage of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter permits citizens to challenge any law or statute, using such guarantees as freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
Once a piece of legislation is found to be in violation of the Charter, government lawyers can defend it on the grounds that it was a justifiable measure to take in a free and democratic society.
This formula of weighing legislative objectives against the rights of the individual put judges overnight in the position of acting as referee over the work of politicians.
The Angus Reid survey involved telephone interviews with 1,500 adults between Nov. 4 and Nov. 14. It is considered to have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
JUDGES IN CANADA
QUESTION: Please tell me if you agree or disagree. Judges in Canada have too much power?
REGIONSask./ B.C Alta Man Ont Que Atlantic Strongly agree 23% 25% 19% 19% 21% 31% Somewhat agree 24 32 22 20 27 26 Somewhat disagree 32 28 42 35 30 29 Strongly disagree 15 13 10 21 19 15 Don't know 6 2 7 5 4 1
AGE18 to 34 35 to 54 55+ Strongly agree 15% 20% 30% Somewhat agree 23 25 23 Somewhat disagree 40 33 23 Strongly disagree 16 19 18 Don't know 5 3 5
INCOME$30,000 $30-$59,000 $60,000+ Strongly agree 24% 20% 20% Somewhat agree 25 27 20 Somewhat disagree 30 33 36 Strongly disagree 19 15 20 Don't know 4 5 4
GENDERMale Female Strongly agree 26% 17% Somewhat agree 20 27 Somewhat disagree 31 34 Strongly disagree 20 16 Don't know 3 5
Source: Angus Reid Group Inc. (November, 1999)
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