National Post

Friday, November 15, 2002

Keep the Supremes out of our newsrooms

Claire Hoy
National Post

It is apparently not enough for Supreme Court Justice Charles Gonthier that he and his fellow Supremes continue to use their unelected and unaccountable status to reshape society to fit their own particular ideological biases.

Now, it seems, he wants to edit the country's newspapers as well.

To be sure, that's not the spin he would put on his recent speech in Gatineau, Que., to a conference of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice.

But what else, exactly, could he mean by saying that while he respects the principle of journalistic independence "so necessary to the freedom of the press," why do the media "exclude judicial supervision" when it comes to policing themselves?

At the time, he was complaining about what judges and their apologists dismiss as "judge bashing" -- which tends to mean any criticism of the awesome power given our unelected judges to interpret the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ignore the wishes of our elected representatives.

His speech, keep in mind, was delivered just a few days before the Supremes voted 5-4 to decree that murderers such as Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson actually are "morally fit or morally worthy" to cast their votes in the next election.

Gonthier complained that the media do not have the same kind of regulatory regime that governs lawyers, doctors, engineers and other professionals. Everybody knows those professions are all paragons of ethical virtue, eh?

He acknowledges the existence of provincial press councils, but because their decisions are not binding or subject to judicial review, this absence of "supervision mechanisms with the power to punish" unethical journalists and owners still "poses certain problems."

Not as problematic, I believe, as giving judges the power to punish journalists and/or newspaper owners with whom they happen to disagree.

Think that's overstating it? Well, Gonthier says that media concentration is to be feared because "points of view available on the news could become less diversified" and this fear "is particularly pertinent when imperatives of a commercial, sectorial or ideological nature are put before the will to supply accurate and socially useful information."

He goes on to say that "journalists must use their power wisely," a seemingly innocent enough statement until you consider that an example he offered of the unwise and unjustified use of media power was the harsh criticism heaped upon B.C. Supreme Court Justice Duncan Shaw over his decision in the controversial case of convicted child pornographer Robin Sharpe.

He did praise the media for highlighting what he claimed is government inaction on "controversial social questions" such as the use of "soft drugs" and the issue of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages," adding that more debate should "reduce the necessity for the courts to turns their attention to these questions."

This is what the courts always say to justify their own ideological meddling. Take his example of same-sex marriage, for instance. It's simply not true to say that politicians have ducked the issue. Nearly every legislature in the country has voted against recognizing same-sex marriages, and the federal government itself recently went out of its way to include the notion in law that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. It's just that the high and mighty Supremes do not like what our elected representatives have decided, so they continue to overrule them.

The whole issue of homosexual rights, whatever your particular view may be, was flatly rejected on several occasions by the politicians who framed the Charter back in the early 1980s, but various courts have used (abused?) their power over the years to "read in" rights which our elected representatives specifically opposed.

Indeed, while judicial sycophants blame politicians for avoiding the tough social issues, more often than not it has been judicial activists rather than cowardly politicians who have imposed their own views on society.

Gonthier argues that a healthy democracy needs its key actors -- which includes, courts, legislators and the media -- to work for a more open and just society.

Well, the Supreme Court already has control of its own agenda, and continues to run roughshod over elected legislators as well. The only thing missing is the power of "judicial supervision" over our free press.

That's a far more frightening prospect, and a greater risk to a free society, than anything a media organization or unethical journalist can do to undermine our democratic freedoms.

Courts already have too much power. The last thing they need is even more.

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