Thankfully, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be applied to protect democracy from the brutal use of a Parliamentary majority. More often called on to protect the rights of minority groups that make up our society, the Charter today upheld the importance of ensuring the democratic rights of all citizens.
Justice Edward Belobaba ruled this morning that the reduction of Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 wards in Bill 5 violated section 2(b) of the Charter by interfering with the municipal voter’s freedom of expression in terms of casting a vote that can result in effective representation. Such action “cannot be justified in a free and democratic society,” he said.
Social Planning Toronto joined with its many community allies opposed to Bill 5 in applauding this judgment.
By Monday afternoon, however, the Premier’s counterattack, was two-pronged — not only a legal appeal but, just to make sure, recalling the legislature to reinstate Bill 5 under the protection of section 33 in the Charter.
Section 33 allows the provincial legislature to pass legislation “notwithstanding” its judgment as a violation of Charter rights. Section 33 has been used only three times since 1982 (by Alberta, Quebec, and Yukon) and has never been used by an Ontario Government.
Our victory for local democracy may well be short-lived. It is deeply regrettable that the Province is clearly bent on further abusing its power and disregarding a clear judgment affirming the importance of adhering to democratic principles and fair practice in our electoral process.
Interim Executive Director
Social Planning Toronto
Photo by Marc Lostracci, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.