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News Release


Monday, April 16, 2007

OTTAWA - Today, as the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms passes, Democracy Watch expressed its pride in having had the honour and privilege to have played a small party in the history of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms through its successful intervention in the case Harper v. Canada which addressed the federal Elections Act limits on spending on advertising by so-called “third parties” (non-political parties) during elections. (To see all the details about the case, click here

The case was one of the first, and most important, cases heard by the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of equality of political participation rights, and in its 2004 ruling the Supreme Court used Democracy Watch’s approach and reasoning several times in upholding the limits on the basis that the limits are needed "(1) to promote equality in the political discourse; (2) to protect the integrity of the financing regime applicable to candidates and parties; and (3) to ensure that voters have confidence in the electoral process."

Democracy Watch partnered with the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO) in intervening in the case, with former Democracy Watch board member Aaron Freeman overseeing the process, and Democracy Watch Advisory Committee member and Toronto lawyer David Baker, and his associate Faisal Bhabha at www.bakerlaw.ca, providing legal counsel and subsidizing the costs of the case intervention.  Both prepared the submissions to both the Alberta Court of Appeal when it heard the case, and to the Supreme Court of Canada, and Mr. Baker presented the submission to the Supreme Court.

“It is an honour and a privilege for Democracy Watch to have played a small part in the history of the development of the right to equality of opportunity in political participation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

Part of the costs of the intevention in the case by NAPO with Democracy Watch’s legal counsel assistance were funded by grants from the Court Challenges Program (CCP), a federal program established in the 1980s to provide grants to disadvantaged individuals or groups to undertake cases to defend their equality rights under the Charter.

Former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney cut the CCP, but it was restored in 1994 by the Liberals under Prime Minister Jean Chretien.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper again cut the CCP last October, and the program just shut down at the March 31st federal government fiscal year end.

“It is simply ridiculous that any Prime Minister or Premier would believe that no government assistance should be offered to people who are disadvantaged because of systemic discrimination when they are trying to ensure that governments uphold and protect their fundamental human rights and freedoms,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch also called on all the federal, provincial and territorial political parties to work together to pass a “Charter of Government and Corporate Accountability and Democracy” to close the 85-100 key, significant undemocratic and accountability loopholes that exist in governments across the country, and to close the 30 key, significant undemocratic and accountability loopholes in the laws and regulations that apply to most corporate sectors, especially banks and other financial institutions, through ensuring the passage of strong honesty, ethics, openness, representativeness and waste-prevention measures that are strongly enforced with high penalties for violators of the measures.

“While Canadians have a clear legal avenue through the Charter to ensure governments uphold and protect their fundamental rights and freedoms, loopholes in laws continue to let governments and corporations off the hook when they act dishonestly, unethically, secretively, wastefully and non-representatively,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “Canada needs a comprehensive Charter of Government and Corporate Accountability and Democracy to close these loopholes.”

For example, the recently passed, so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA) only included 30 of the 52 measures the Stephen Harper and the Conservatives promised to include in the Act and also cut key Cabinet ethics rules (including the rule that requires them to be honest with the public)  -- To see the details about the ethics complaint Democracy Watch has filed about the Conservatives' breaking their election promises concerning Bill C-2, click here.  When Harper made the FAA promise in November 2005, he claimed that all 52 measures were needed to clean up the federal government and make it accountable.  Even though Parliament passed the FAA on December 12th, 15 of the 30 measures in the FAA will only come into force when the federal Cabinet approves them, and the Cabinet has still not and is not ever required to approve the 15 measures. (To see a summary of the key measures in Bill C-2, the so-called Federal Accountability Act, click here)

As a result of the 85-100 loopholes in government accountability systems (To see a summary of the 85 undemocratic and accountability loopholes in the federal government and key information links, click here):

  • politicians, their staff, and government employees are allowed to lie to the public, including switching parties between elections only to advance their career;
  • secret lobbying is legal, especially by corporate lobbyists;
  • keeping information secret that the public has a clear right to know is legal;
  • governments are not required to consult with the public in a meaningful way even when making important, society-changing decisions;
  • there is no effective check on the power of Cabinet ministers to appoint party supporters to law enforcement positions such as judges and the heads of watchdog agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals;
  • there are no effective penalties for politicians, political staff and government employees who violate key ethics rules;
  • Cabinet ministers, their staff, and senior government employees are allowed to be involved in policy-making processes that affect their own personal financial interests;
  • many politicians, their staff, and senior government employees are allowed to become lobbyists too soon after they leave their government positions;
  • many people who blow-the-whistle on government wrongdoing are not effectively protected from retaliation;
  • secret donations are legal to candidates in nomination, election and party leadership races, and nomination and party leadership processes are controlled by the parties and, as a result, are often be undemocratic and unfair with no clear right to appeal abuses and violations of rules;
  • voters do not have a clear, well-promoted right to vote for "none of the above" if there is no candidate in their riding that they support;
  • loopholes in donation limits disclosure requirements allow large organizations to give employees paid leave to work for political parties;
  • secret donations to parties and politicians are effectively legal because watchdogs lack key powers and enforcement measures;
  • politicians and their staff are allowed to hide the details of their expense accounts, and to wine and dine party supporters and lobbyists with the public picking up the bill;
  • the pay and perks for politicians are too high above the salary of average Canadians, and;
  • the federal Senate is unaccountable in every way.
As a result of the 30 loopholes in Canada’s corporate responsibility systems (To see details about the loopholes and key information links, click here):
  • Corporate directors are not effectively required to consider stakeholder interests (represented by workers, customers, communities, social justice and environmental groups) in making decisions, and to account publicly for the extent to which they do;
  • Customers pay for the costs of corporate advertising, lobbying and political donations (all of which forward corporations’ agendas) but corporations are not required to support or facilitate citizen groups trying to ensure corporations act responsibly (for example, by requiring corporations to enclose a pamphlet in their billing envelopes and other mailings to individual customers and shareholders that invites them to join citizen-funded and citizen-directed corporate watchdog groups (NOTE: some U.S. states have required utilities to do this -- To see details, go to Democracy Watch's Citizen Association Campaign webpage);
  • Corporations are not required to disclose their records of compliance with environmental, criminal, competition, human rights, labour, health and safety laws through an on-line database so that the public has easy access to the information;
  • People who “blow the whistle” on corporate wrongdoings to the public or to the government are not effectively protected from retaliation;
  • Corporations that violate laws are still eligible to receive grants and contracts from governments;
  • The penalties for violating corporate laws are often too low to encourage compliance (for example, the maximum penalty for violating the Bank Act is only $100,000, a meaningless penalty for Canada's big banks which each make $15 billion in revenue each year);
  • Banks and other financial institutions are not required to provide detailed information on loans, investments and services to customers, as required in the U.S.;
  • Banks are allowed to charge whatever fees and interest rates they want, with no requirement to prove that their prices are fair;
  • Banks are allowed to close branches and withdraw full-service banking without having to disclose the profit/loss record to allow for a full review of the reasons for the closure.
Democracy Watch and its four nation-wide coalitions will continue pushing for these 85-100 key government accountability and democracy changes, and the 30 key corporate accountability and democracy changes, until Canadian governments close these key loopholes that undermine the public interest every day in many ways across the country.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

Democracy Watch's Clean Up the System webpage

To see a summary of the key measures in Bill C-2, the so-called Federal Accountability Act, click here

To see a summary of the 85 undemocratic loopholes in the federal government's accountability system that Bill C-2 does nothing to close, click here

To see the details about the ethics complaint Democracy Watch has filed about the Conservatives' breaking their election promises concerning Bill C-2, click here

To see an opinion piece about Bill C-2 by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in two Canadian newspapers, click here

To see Bill C-2, the so-called“Federal Accountability Act”and related federal government documents go to: http://www.accountability.gc.ca

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