Damned Lies

One of the most pressing, if not the most pressing, problems in contemporary politics is the problem of lies. Perhaps it is not so much a contemporary as a permanent problem, though that does not make any less urgent. But perhaps it is even more pressing now, due to the intellectual trends permeating our society, a pervasive skepticism of the very idea of truth, which refashions facts, and especially inconvenient ones, into opinions, the better to dismiss them. Or so argues ― compelling in my view ― the German writer and journalist Boris Schumatsky.

He makes his case in the context of Russia, but I’m afraid that while that country, and its leaders, are the most extreme example of this trend, they are not the only one. I don’t mean to equate others with Vladimir Putin. I don’t mean to deny the role of democratic institutions and media in checking the politicians’ tendency to lie. I will return to these points in a separate post. Still, I think that Mr. Schumatsky’s argument should at least serve as a warning to all of us.

If you can read German, you should read the original version on his website. If not, please have a look at my translation, which I am publishing below, with Mr. Schumatsky’s kind permission.


Russia Is a Lie: Putin and Postmodernism

Boris Schumatsky

The biggest difficulty in dealing with Russia is this: Russia lies. This blanket statement sounds like a Cold War slogan, and yet it is the only way to do justice to reality. When I wrote my first newspaper articles after the fall of the Soviet Union, I always avoided journalistic jargon such as “Moscow wants,” or “the Kremlin claims…” When I read that “the Russians invade Chechnya,” I had to think of my friends in Moscow, and that seemed to make about as much sense as Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. Today, I do not only write that my native country is has become an Empire of Lies. Russia is itself a lie.

Lies begin with simple facts. First, there were no Russian soldiers in Crimea, and then there were. First there were none in eastern Ukraine, and then there were, but they had just run off there―no, they were on vacation there, and anyway they just want peace. It all sounds confusing, but it’s a strategy.

As a political instrument, a lie is especially effective when it doesn’t involve self-deception. A political lie is only a lie if the liar doesn’t himself believe in it. As for Putin’s lies, only his sympathizers and supporters, inside and outside Russia, believe them. If one tries to find even a kernel of truth in the Russian web of lies, one becomes a “useful idiot” of the Kremlin. A bit like a well-known Russia-connoisseur on German television. First she repeated Putin’s lie that he hadn’t sent any Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian Crimea. And then she still held on to this position, even after Putin admitted that there were his soldiers there after all. Moscow happily refutes its own lies, as soon as they are no longer useful. How its stooges deal with that, the Kremlin doesn’t care. It knows that they’ll make up some justification for themselves.

The regime mostly employs those lies which have long floated around in the darkest corners of the Russian society. Old lies work best, as for example the NATO-lie. It holds that the aggressive block is encircling the Motherland ever more narrowly. Other lies are newly-invented and told by Putin’s friends in the East and West: the Ukrainians are fascists, and Russians must, as in World War II, protect their homeland against the fascists.

The friends of the Russian autocracy misunderstand the politics of lying. The Kremlin doesn’t really aim at people believing its lies. Putin wins when other heads of government let the lies stand uncontradicted. Putin surely knows that at least some politicians see through him. But: they don’t call a con a con, nor an invasion an invasion, nor a hybrid war a war. Its opponents’ motives are secondary for the Kremlin, whether it’s their fear of Russian nuclear weapons, or the pacifism of their voters. When the truth is absent, the lie wins.

“Try to live in truth” was the appeal of the dissidents from Socialist realism, Aleksand Solzhenitsyn in 1974, and Václav Havel four years later. From their demand for truth there developed, after the breakup of the Soviet bloc, a claim to leadership, and that did not go down well with the then-young generation, which grew up bearing the marks of postmodernism, and which I belonged as well. What did Solzhenitsyn, with his folksy Russianness, or a Wałęsa with his Catholicism, have to tell us? This grandfatherly wisdom wasn’t even worth deconstructing. History was at an end, and we would ride the wave of postmodernism to eternal peace.

It was a brave new world of diversity and difference, freed from binding values in thought and politics, emancipated from the dictates of universal human rights. We paid no heed to Jürgen Habermas when he recognized, in the postmodern critique of reason, a new wave of the counter-enlightenment. Yet it did not take long before our liberating postmodernism found its distorted image in the media populism of a Berlusconi, as the philosopher Maurizio Ferraris writes in his Manifesto of New Realism, and then in Putin’s propaganda state. Vladimir Putin is an even better postmodernist than his Italian buddy. Putin’s Russia lies because it honestly and wholeheartedly believes that there is no truth anyway. In the late Soviet period, neither people like Putin nor people like I believed the communist slogans. As the Soviet ideology faded away, there began at the same time a search for a new “national idea” for the masses. The latest of these ideas is the Orthodox-religious Russian world. The chimera of Russia’s special way grew up on the dung heap of the blood-and-soil ideologies of the past century, and of course it is constructed through and through, as one would have said in the past. Today I will simply say “made up.” Putin’s Russia is a lie. His subjects actually believe neither in God nor in soil or blood, but only in the two letters PR, public relations [in English in the original]. This belief entails that anyone can be bought, from journalists to politicians, from Russians to Americans. Nobody tells the truth, and the only thing that counts is what in the contemporary Russian language is called “Pi-Ar.” That is Russia’s true truth, and this truth is a lie.

The Kremlin drags the world into its geopolitical game, and this game is ruled by political postmodernism. Each player has his own truth, or even truths, which he freely adjusts according to need. For only one thing matters: who is strong enough, to impose his truth on his opponent? Vladimir Putin and his faithful know the rules of this game not from philosophical texts; they have learned them in the street.

“A lie told by bullies,” that’s what Ernest Hemingway called fascism. The key difference between Putinism and Hitler’s fascism is that fascists and National-socialists largely believed their own lies. The Putinist, by contrast, believes in one thing only: lying as a life principle. If, like Vladimir Putin or I, one grew up in a Soviet city, one learned that in elementary school already. One is surrounded by a group of bullies: “you’ve ratted on me to the teacher,” says one of them, though that’s the first time one even sees him. If one says, “that’s not true,” one is beaten up right away. If one apologizes, is first mocked, and then pummelled.

A victim’s whine coupled with a clenched fist is not an unknown pose. Putin’s Russia jumps into the ring like a superpower, even as it complains about Western machinations. The Kremlin is fully aware of the weaknesses of the Russian state, economy, and military. But in a street fight, one hides one’s weaknesses. The enemy must think that you are strong. The enemy must wet his pants. He must believe that, if challenges your lie, he’ll get punched in the face double quick. He can de-escalate, which is what politicians everywhere in the world try to do with Putin. He can appeal for peace, but as a result, the bully also cries “Peace!” before throwing his punch.

If the person who is being attacked does not defend himself from the lie in the first place, he won’t defend himself against the violence either. He’ll be beaten up, and indeed the attacker has already won the moment his victim did not call him a liar.

Needless to say, Russia is not just a nation of violent brutes who unscrupulously shoot down passenger aircraft. Needless to say, there is also another Russia, and not just one either. Yet all the diversity of Russia has been sent off to internal or external exile. Until the mirage dissolves, the millions of potato farmers or math teachers, bank clerks or copy-editors have no more political impact than someone who, like me, has left Russia. There is only one voice to be heard now in Russia, the voice of the collective Putin, and it reduces everyone else to silence.

Today’s political language is no longer suitable to the collapse of the conventional order in Europe and the world. The old slogans about the aggressive American imperialism only obscure the circumstances of the war for the “Russian world.” Similarly, the analytical framework of post-colonialism is inadequate to the murders of the “Islamic State.” We have no concepts for that yet. But as a start, one could, all the postmodern doubts notwithstanding, again call a war a war, and lies, lies.

It’s the same with Russia’s lies as with the heating at my place in Berlin once upon a time. I used to live in a building with coal stoves, and the residents, one after the other, would install their own gas heating, at their own expense. One neighbour saw in that a “threat to his basic principles.” In an as-yet un-gentrified Kreuzberg, one spoke that way about rent increases. He kept on dragging two buckets of coal every day up to his tile stove. He stopped saying hello to us. The more neighbours joined the club of the modernizers, the fiercer he became. Just like Putin, who initially had himself wanted to join NATO. But our cold-resistant neighbour did not break the wall into my apartment; did not occupy my kitchen with the gas heater, and did not cry, like Putin about Ukraine, “You are endangering my existential interests!”

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” This saying of Nietzsche’s, so beloved by postmodernists, has now showed its true meaning, which Ferraris explains as follows: “The reason of the strongest is always the best.” This is, paradoxically, the exact opposite of what people like Michel Foucault actually wanted to achieve. For when power is always dictating terms, the power alone is real. The present conflict with post-modern thought about the idea of reality is no coincidence. Speculative realism wants to think reality as independent from our perception, while the nuovo realismo distances itself from the political implications of postmodernism: “That of which the postmodernists dreamt, the populists made real,” says Ferraris.

Of course it wasn’t philosophy that produced Berlusconis or Putins all over the world. But the rejection of their politics of lies also requires us to revise our postmodern habits. Postmodernism’s plural concept of truth has been shot down in Ukraine. Putin forces us to turn back to reality. Realpolitik is being displaced by the real, by the old-fashioned adventure of naming things. We no longer have the luxury of relative truths and devalued values. In Russia the lie has won yet again, and yet again only a simple, black-and-white language can do justice to this tragedy. Here is how Solzhenitsyn put it: “Violence can only be concealed by lies, and lies can only be upheld through violence.”

Tell Them Carefully

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Wakeling v. United States of America, 2014 SCC 72, upholding the release by Canadian authorities to the United States of recordings of Mr. Wakelings communications, which had been wiretapped by the RCMP acting pursuant to a warrant, and which the Americans used as a basis for requesting his extradition on drug charges. Three judges (Justices Moldaver, LeBel and Rothstein) found that the release of wiretaps to foreign states does not infringe the right, protected by section 8 of the Charter, “to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure”; one (the Chief Justice) found that section 8 was not engaged at all; and three (Justices Karakatsanis, Abella, and Cromwell) found that it was indeed infringed.

Section 193 of the Criminal Code prohibits the release of “intercepted” “private communication[s],” subject to a number of exceptions. One of these, par. 193(2)(e), applies

where disclosure is made to a peace officer or prosecutor in Canada or to a person or authority with responsibility in a foreign state for the investigation or prosecution of offences and is intended to be in the interests of the administration of justice in Canada or elsewhere.

Mr. Wakeling argued that this exception suffered from a number of constitutional defects: it was, he said, overbroad and vague, and lacked any accountability mechanisms. (He raised some other arguments as well, which all the judges rejected, and which I will not address here.)


Before getting there, however, he had to establish that the Charter was engaged at all. The Chief Justice thought that it was not, because “sharing information obtained under warrant for law enforcement purposes with foreign law officers does not violate s. 8,” [96] except in cases where the disclosure will used abusively (for example “for rendition to a foreign country … or public titillation” [95] or to enable torture or mistreatment).

Justice Moldaver, however, accepted that s. 8 of the Charter was engaged, despite the fact that the disclosure of an already-intercepted communication is not a “search” (as Mr. Wakeling claimed). In his view,

[t]he highly intrusive nature of electronic surveillance and the statutory limits on the disclosure of its fruits suggest a heightened reasonable expectation of privacy in the wiretap context. Once a lawful interception has taken place and the intercepted communications are in the possession of law enforcement, that expectation is diminished but not extinguished. [39]

The test for deciding whether the disclosure infringes s. 8, similar to the one applicable to a search, is

(1) whether the Impugned Disclosure was authorized by law; (2) whether the law authorizing the Impugned Disclosure is reasonable; and (3) whether the Impugned Disclosure was carried out in a reasonable manner. [42]

In this case, the first prong of the test was obviously satisfied, and the focus was almost entirely on the second.

Mr. Wakeling’s first arguement against the reasonableness of par. 193(2)(e) of the Criminal Code was that it was overbroad in authorizing “near-limitless” disclosures. Justice Moldaver rejected this claim because the Code “limits the type of information that may be disclosed, the purpose for which it may be disclosed, and the persons to whom it may be disclosed” [55]. He also rejected additional arguments concerning the scope of par. 193(2)(e) made by the BC Civil Liberties Association. To the latter’s claim that it was not reasonable to authorize disclosure in the interest of the administration of justice in a foreign state rather than of Canada, Justice Moldaver answered that Canada also benefits from international co-operation, which has to be reciprocal. To the assertion that authorizing disclosure for improper purposes, or with knowledge that it would be used to torture or otherwise abuse people, he replied that “the disclosing party must subjectively believe that disclosure will further the interests of justice in Canada and/or the foreign state. The belief must be an honest one, genuinely held” [59], a criterion that would probably not be met if the disclosing party does not know how the information disclosed would be used, and still less if it know that it will be used to commit human rights violations.

Mr. Wakeling’s next argument was that the requirement that disclosure to foreign authorities be for the purposes of “the administration of justice” is unconstitutionally vague. Not so, said Justice Moldaver. “Administration of justice,” he said,”means that disclosure must be for a legitimate law enforcement purpose,” and that’s precise enough to guide legal debate.

Finally, Mr. Wakeling contended that par. 193(2)(e) did not provide sufficient accountability mechanisms, whether notice to the target of the wiretap, record-keeping, reporting to Parliament, or mandatory imposition of conditions on the ways in which the recipients of disclosure would use the information in question (known as “caveats”). Justice Moldaver rejected these claims, on the basis that the existing accountability mechanisms are enough. Additional safeguards may be desirable and worth encouraging; their existence or application to a particular case may even be relevant to determining whether a given disclosure was authorized by law or reasonable; but they are not constitutionally required. Justice Moldaver seems to have been concerned about imposing, as a constitutional matter, excessively rigid rules in the area of foreign relations and co-operation between law enforcement agencies. He concluded this part of his reasons by

emphasizing that this Court’s task is not to determine whether there may be better or additional accountability measures or stricter language that could be put in place with respect to the cross-border disclosure of wiretap communications. Any attempt to micromanage Parliament in this context must be approached with great care. The task at hand is to determine whether s. 193(2)(e) passes constitutional muster. [77]

It is worth noting here that, although she did not formally reach this question because of her conclusion that s. 8 was not engaged at all, the Chief Justice opined that “[t]hese are difficult questions more redolent of policy than of law. Parliament has considered them and answered with the offence provisions and exemptions of s. 193,” [100] and suggested that Parliament’s choices deserve deference.

The final prong of the s. 8 test asks whether the disclosure at issue was itself carried out in a reasonable manner. There was no real dispute that this requirement was satisfied here. However, Justice Moldaver pointed out that in other cases, “[w]here a disclosing party knows or should have known that the information could be used in unfair trials, to facilitate discrimination or political intimidation, or to commit torture or other human rights violations” [80], the requirement that disclosure be carried out in a reasonable manner could entail the imposition of caveats or other precautionary measures ― or, in the more extreme case, may operate to prevent disclosure at all.

For her part, Justice Karakatsanis disagreed with Justice Moldaver on the matter of accountability requirements. She worried that “[w]hen information is shared across jurisdictional lines, the safeguards that apply in domestic investigations lose their force,” which “can create serious risks to individual privacy, liberty and security of the person interests.” [118] To mitigate these concerns, Justice Karakatsanis would have made mandatory the imposition of caveats that would

provide some assurance to our law enforcement agencies that disclosed information will only be used to advance legitimate law enforcement objectives, in accordance with respect for due process and human rights and will not be shared further except as agreed to by the disclosing party. [133]

Furthermore, Justice Karakatsanis would have required the implementation of some form of record-keeping and notice-giving mechanisms applicable specifically to cross-border disclosures. The fact that such mechanisms apply to the general fact of the interception of communications was not enough, in her view, because cross-border disclosure comes with its own set of privacy risks. However, Justice Karakatsanis did not specify the form that such mechanisms ought to take, leaving it to Parliament to figure this out.

Having found that par. 193(2)(e) is not a “reasonable” law and thus infringes s. 8 of the Charter, Justice Karakatsanis summarily rejected the possibility that it might be justified under s. 1, on the basis that it is minimally impairing, since alternatives more respectful of privacy interests are available to Parliament.


I do not have any particularly deep thoughts about the substance of the Supreme Court’s decision. (Craig Forcese does, mostly about what it means for Canada’s security services, and what Parliament should do to address the somewhat uncertain situation in which they now find themselves. Do read what he has to say.) I will, however, make a couple of observations.

The 1-3-3 split in Wakeling, following similar multi-way splits in cases such as R v Tse, 2012 SCC 16, [2012] 1 SCR 531, and R. v. TELUS Communications Co., 2013 SCC 16, [2013] 2 SCR 3, seems to indicate that s. 8 and privacy rights more broadly remain an area on which the Supreme Court, so inclined towards consensus on most topics, still cannot agree. Yet it is worth noting that the splits do not involve consistent “camps” that would suggest irreconcilable differences of views. Indeed, in Wakeling, Justices Moldaver and Karakatsanis go out of their way to acknowledge each other’s concerns ― to an extent remarkable even by the Court’s usually polite standards.

This, to me, seems to suggest that we are in an area of reasonable disagreement between people debating in good faith. And that, in turn, might mean that Justice Moldaver’s and the Chief Justice’s appeals for deference to Parliament are especially appropriate. At least insofar as Parliament considers the interests at stake and tries to strike a balance between them, judges should probably hesitate before upsetting this balance. This is all the more so if they have limited evidence about how cross-border information-sharing actually operates, which may well have been the case in Wakeling. That said, Parliament should not get the benefit of deference if it fails to study and debate the issues before it with some degree of care and honesty. Unfortunately, the legislative practices of the current government do not inspire much confidence on that front.

L’Affaire Mainville: The Québec Factum

As promised, here are some thoughts on Québec’s factum in the Mainville reference, in which it argues that judges of the federal courts cannot be appointed to Québec’s Superior Court or Court of Appeal. Such appointments, in Québec’s view, would contravene s. 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides that “[t]he Judges of the Courts of Quebec shall be selected from the Bar of that Province.” Québec’s position is that, while the words “from the Bar of [Québec]” are not meant to be read literally (as applying only to active members of the bar), they encompass current lawyers and former lawyers who are now judges on Québec’s ― but not federal ― courts. In my view, this position is untenable. I have already set out my general argument in support of the constitutionality of appointing former members of the Québec bar who have become judges on federal courts, such as Justice Mainville here. In this post, I will focus on what I see as some of the key weaknesses of Québec’s argument to the contrary.

One weakness of the Québec factum is that it decontextualizes its historical arguments relative to the function of s. 98 as a protection of Québec’s distinct civil law system. It does so, first, by insisting that s. 98 is fundamentally different from s. 97, which provides ― on its face anyway ― the exact same guarantee to common law provinces, stating that “the Judges of the Courts of those Provinces appointed by the Governor General shall be selected from the respective Bars of those Provinces.” Indeed s. 98 is arguably somewhat dependent on s. 97 in that it omits the words “appointed by the Governor General” ― yet Québec agrees with the federal government (quite rightly, in my view) that they must, in effect, be read into s. 98. The other difference between these two provisions, which Québec stresses, is that s. 97 is said to apply only until the civil law and procedure of the common law provinces has been “made uniform” (pursuant s. 94 of the Constitution Act, 1867). Québec claims that this means that while s. 98 is “a fundamental guarantee for Québec,” s. 97 is merely “an element of transitional law” (par. 73; translation mine). But of course, whatever, the expectations that might have existed in 1867, the civil law and procedure of the common law provinces was never “made uniform” (as Québec acknowledges); indeed, so far as I know, no attempts at unification were ever made. Section 94 gave the provinces the choice to unify their law or not, and s. 97 ensured that until they chose unification, their judges would be versed in their law. Thus s. 97 is no less a fundamental guarantee for the common law provinces than s. 98 for Québec.

The other element of context which Québec conveniently ignores is that federal courts simply did not exist in 1867. Before 1867, and for some time thereafter, it was true that the only people who were trained in Québec’s civil law were the members of the Québec bar and the judges of its courts. To respect the “fundamental guarantee” of civilian judges on Québec courts, only such people could be appointed. The federal courts ― the Exchequer Court and the Supreme Court ― came into existence only in 1875. Québec itself says that the framers of the Constitution Act, 1867 were concerned not to freeze the court system as it existed then by enumerating courts in the constitution. To say that the 1867 constitutional bargain did not allow the appointment of federal court judges to Québec courts is to say nothing at all, because there were no federal judges back then.

This leads me to the second flaw I see in Québec’s argument, which is that it presents the federal court as something alien to Québec, its law, and its legal culture. Some former members of the Québec bar, it contends, can be appointed pursuant to s. 98 ― those, that is, who “have retained a continuous, tangible, and concrete relationship with Québec’s legal milieu” (par. 92). That’s a plausible-sounding test, albeit a rather vague one. But Québec asserts that “only the members of Québec’s courts who have been appointed to the bench because they were, prior to their appointment, members of the Québec bar, retain such relationship” (par. 92). Why only “Québec’s courts”? It’s worth recalling ― though Québec’s factum ignores this too ― that all the federal courts have seats reserved for judges “appointed to the bench because they were, prior to their appointment, members of the Québec bar.” Justice Mainville was such a judge. But federal courts, Québec suggests, are not really civilian courts, because they apply neither “civil law” in its narrowest sense nor Québec’s legislation inspired by the civilian tradition. But,  as the federal government points out in its factum, federal law is inspired by the civil law tradition as much as by the common law. And if it is not, then the judges of the Criminal and Penal Division of the Court of Québec should also be ineligible for appointment under s. 98, since they, even more than the judges of the federal courts, spend their time applying federal law and it alone. Besides, as the Federal government cogently points out in its reply factum (at par. 14), many judges of the Federal Court have in fact made ― and have been recognized as having made ― outstanding contributions to Québec’s law and legal culture.

Québec’s position is thus inconsistent. Indeed, one wonders whether it is not the result of an attempt to manufacture a constitutional theory that fits a politically pre-determined result. Consider, in conclusion, the following hypothetical. Suppose that Justice Wagner decides, in a few years, that he wants to pull a Lord Denning and to come back to the Québec Court of Appeal. Unlikely, of course, but the precedent is there. (Indeed, Chief Justice McLachlin did something similar too, briefly, going from the the BC Court of Appeal back down to the (trial) Supreme Court, as Chief Justice, before her appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.) Under Québec’s interpretation of s. 98, he couldn’t do it, since he is no longer a member of the Québec bar, nor at this point, a judge of one of Québec’s courts. On this view, by going off to represent Québec’s law and social values at the Supreme Court, he has severed the relationship to its legal milieu necessary to authorize his appointment to one of its superior courts. How does that make sense? It would be interesting to see Québec’s lawyers answer that one… especially in front of Justice Wagner himself, if the matter goes to the Supreme Court.

The Elephant in the Room : l’inexplicable constitutionnalité de l’intégralité des traités modernes

À l’occasion de ma série de billets sur l’arrêt Tsilhqot’in, j’avais affirmé que, si elle devait être tenue pour cruciale, la question de la portée précise de la compétence fédérale exclusive sur les autochtones et des conditions auxquelles les provinces peuvent constitutionnellement intervenir en ce domaine qu’est le droit des autochtones n’avait pourtant toujours pas trouvé de réponse satisfaisante. Cette réponse serait nécessaire à l’explication des conditions de validité des traités dits “modernes” qui portent règlement d’une revendication de droits ancestraux territoriaux ainsi que des dispositions législatives, fédérales comme provinciales, relatives à leur mise en œuvre.

Je ne prétends évidemment pas répondre définitivement à cette question dans les paragraphes qui suivent. J’aimerais plutôt me servir de la tribune qui m’est ici généreusement offerte pour mettre à l’épreuve les résultats préliminaires d’une analyse qu’il reste à approfondir. Je dois admettre d’entrée que je suis un peu choqué par les conclusions que, provisoirement du moins, je me suis résigné à tirer. L’intérêt virtuel des développements qui suivent est de s’attaquer de front à un problème juridique sans doute complexe. Mais ce problème est peut-être au contraire un “éléphant dans la pièce”, c’est-à-dire un de ceux dont il est convenu qu’il vaut mieux ne pas le soulever.

À deux reprises, l’Accord définitif Nisga’a (1998), un traité moderne constitutif d’un gouvernement autochtone, a vu sa constitutionnalité être contestée en justice, et ce, notamment sur la base de la répartition fédérative des compétences, au motif que celle-ci ne permettrait pas une telle institution d’un « troisième ordre de gouvernement ». Dans l’affaire Campbell, la cour supérieure de la Colombie-Britannique a rejeté cette thèse au motif que la répartition fédérative des compétences qui est prévue à notre loi suprême ne serait pas « exhaustive », de sorte que s’y déroberait la compétence correspondant au droit à l’autonomie gouvernementale que comprendrait le titre aborigène « in its full form ». Dans l’affaire Sga’nism Sim’augit, la cour d’appel de la Colombie-Britannique fut unanimement d’avis qu’il ne lui était pas nécessaire de se prononcer sur le bien-fondé de cette thèse judiciaire (par.45). À mon sens, cette thèse est nulle. D’abord, c’est à la Cour suprême du Canada qu’il revient, le cas échéant, de renverser le principe de l’arrêt qu’elle a rendu dans l’affaire Pamajewon. Ensuite, jamais la jurisprudence de la plus haute cour au pays n’a encore dérobé les droits ancestraux et issus de traités à la répartition fédérative des compétences, cette jurisprudence faisant plutôt – non sans poser problème, j’en conviens – ressortir les droits garantis par l’art. 35 de la LC 1982 à compétence fédérale exclusive prévue au par. 91(24) de la LC 1982. Sur ce plan, tout ce qu’est venu faire l’arrêt Tsilhqot’in est de retrancher les droits constitutionnels des peuples autochtones du « cœur » de cette compétence fédérale, au sens où l’entend la théorie jurisprudentielle de la protection des compétences exclusives. Enfin, la thèse selon laquelle la répartition fédérative des compétences n’est pas « exhaustive » tient de la contradiction dans les termes. De dire que les droits ancestraux et issus de traités ne sont pas l’objet d’une compétence législative est une chose. De dire que, en tout ou partie, ils coïncident avec une compétence qui échappe au partage fédératif en est une autre. Dans toute fédération, c’est l’ensemble de la compétence législative qui est partagée entre les sphères fédérale et fédérées de pouvoir. C’est pourquoi toute loi constitutionnelle fédérative prévoit normalement l’attribution d’une compétence résiduelle. Certes, la fédération canadienne a représenté une exception, mais cela seulement durant sa période coloniale, qui s’arrête en 1926. De 1867 à 1926, l’empire s’était réservé la compétence sur les relations intercoloniales, coloniales-impériales et internationales, la répartition originelle de 1867 en les sphères de pouvoir fédérale et fédérée de la nouvelle colonie s’étant limitée aux compétences jusqu’alors déjà reconnues aux colonies d’Amérique du Nord britannique. Avec l’accession du Canada au statut d’État souverain au sens du droit international public, les compétences réservées du législateur impérial se sont transférées au législateur fédéral canadien. C’est ce que suggère entre autres l’arrêt Croft v. Dunphy, [1933] A.C. 156.

L’argument avec lequel il a été principalement disposé de l’affaire Sga’nism Sim’augit par la cour d’appel de la Colombie-Britannique était que, relativement à l’institution d’un gouvernement autochtone, le traité de 1999 avec les Nisga’a et ses lois de mise œuvre correspondaient à une forme de délégation de pouvoir législatif inconstitutionnelle parce que définitive. La réponse de la cour d’appel à cette objection est faible. Elle consiste à dire que la délégation en question n’est pas définitive, parce que les législateurs fédéral et provinciaux peuvent, en matière de droits issus de traités, recourir au test de l’arrêt Sparrow, test pourtant relatif à seule restriction des droits constitutionnels que l’art. 35 de la LC 1982 garantit aux peuples autochtones. En réalité, la seule délégation qui est clairement interdite à un législateur est la délégation « horizontale », c’est-à-dire celle qui serait faite en faveur du législateur de l’autre des deux sphères (fédérale et fédérée) de pouvoir, et ce, même si, en raison du principe établi selon lequel le parlement actuel ne peut pas lier un parlement à venir, une telle délégation ne saurait être définitive. La ou (plus exactement) les délégations en cause dans cette affaire n’étaient pas horizontales. Par contre, la tension entre, d’une part, la protection constitutionnelle des compétences d’un « gouvernement autochtone » par le biais de celle des droits issus de traités et, d’autre part, le principe selon lequel le législateur ordinaire actuel (fédéral ou provincial) ne peut lier ses successeurs était bien réelle. Cette question aurait mérité un meilleur traitement.

Si la jurisprudence avait situé les droits constitutionnels des peuples autochtones sur le même plan que les droits et libertés garantis par la Charte canadienne – c’est-à-dire dans la constitution des droits par opposition à celle des pouvoirs – alors ces droits auraient échappé au partage fédératif des compétences, et il aurait été possible de voir dans les dispositions de l’art. 35 de la LC 1982 relatives aux droits issus de traités l’aménagement d’une forme de pouvoir constituant, qui serait ainsi venue s’ajouter à la partie V de ce même loi constitutionnelle. Suivant un tel scénario, la mise en œuvre, par le Parlement fédéral et la législature provinciale, d’un traité conclu avec des autochtones aurait pu être tenue pour relever de l’exercice de ce pouvoir constituant plutôt de l’acte de législateurs ordinaires séparés. De cette façon les principes relatifs à la délégation législative et aux rapports entre législateurs actuels et futurs auraient-ils été facilement écartés. Or il n’en est rien, la jurisprudence prévoyant plutôt que, du moins à titre principal, les droits issus de traités des peuples autochtones relèvent de la compétence sur les autochtones que le par. 91(24) de la LC 1867 attribue en propre au législateur fédéral. En d’autres termes, en plus de voir sa dimension porteuse de droits en faveur de la partie autochtone être protégée constitutionnellement par l’article 35 de la LC 1982, le contenu d’un traité relève toujours ou, en d’autres termes, doit toujours relever principalement de la compétence fédérale sur les autochtones. Il ne pourrait qu’accessoirement relever de compétences autres, que celles-ci soient fédérales exclusives, provinciales exclusives ou concurrentes. Dans tous les cas, il relève entièrement de la répartition fédérative des compétences. Formellement, la loi de mise en œuvre d’un traité tient donc de la loi ordinaire. Dès lors qu’il est question de la mise en œuvre de droits-compétences issus de traités, force est donc de conclure à une forme de délégation législative. Comme nous l’avons vu, celle-ci n’est pas « horizontalement » inconstitutionnelle. En ce qui concerne son caractère définitif maintenant, la seule manière de soutenir la thèse de sa constitutionnalité est d’affirmer qu’ici l’interdiction normalement faite au législateur actuel de lier ses successeurs est spécialement levée par l’article 35 de la LC 1982.

À l’exception des Traités de Williams de 1923 à la négociation desquels prit part le gouvernement ontarien, tous les traités conclus avec des autochtones après la fédération de 1867 ne l’ont été que par les autorités fédérales. Quant à eux, les traités modernes sont aussi conclus avec le gouvernement provincial, le cas échéant. Il serait faux d’affirmer que l’état actuel de notre droit (ou même celui de notre doctrine) indique clairement si une telle participation du gouvernement provincial est juridiquement nécessaire. Une telle approche laisse entendre que certains aspects des traités modernes (et bien sûr de leur mise en œuvre) peuvent relever de la compétence des provinces. Si un « traité autochtone » se définit en fonction d’un contenu obligationnel relatif aux droits fondamentaux d’une communauté autochtone en tant que telle, alors, en vertu des principes généraux relatifs à la compétence fédérale exclusive sur les autochtones, on pourrait vouloir conclure que seul le gouvernement fédéral peut y être partie. En revanche, la forme la plus élémentaire de compréhension du fédéralisme comme forme d’organisation d’un État s’entend du principe selon lequel, dans toute fédération, chacune des attributions de compétence doit avoir des limites matérielles ; aucune attribution ne saurait être matériellement illimitée. Partant, la compétence fédérale exclusive sur les autochtones, y compris celle relative aux traités conclus avec des collectifs autochtones, ne peut pas être sans bornes.

Dans l’arrêt Howard (p. 308), la Cour suprême a suggéré, en négatif, que les provinces seraient compétentes pour conclure seules des traités autochtones portant autre chose qu’une cession de territoire. Rappelons au passage que certaines « conventions complémentaires » de la CBJNQ, dont la Convention complémentaire no 24, n’ont pas été signées par les autorités fédérales. Voilà qui pourtant paraît difficilement compatible avec les arrêts Simon (p. 411) et Morris (par. 43 et 91), suivant lesquels les droits autochtones issus de traités relèvent de la compétence fédérale sur les « Indiens » et les terres qui leur sont « réservées ». Une manière de concilier les deux thèses serait de soutenir que, si la participation du gouvernement fédéral est nécessaire à la validité de tout traité conclu avec des autochtones (de sorte que le gouvernement d’une province ne saurait conclure seul un tel traité avec), en revanche il peut arriver, en fonction de la portée de son contenu, qu’un traité donné avec des autochtones ne puisse être conclu par le seul gouvernement fédéral, qui doit plutôt s’assurer de la participation du gouvernement provincial concerné. Dans l’arrêt Grassy Narrows, la juge en chef McLachlin a affirmé que, nonobstant les dispositions d’un traité, « [l]e paragraphe 91(24) [de la LC 1867] ne confère pas au Canada le droit de prendre des terres provinciales à des fins exclusivement provinciales » (par. 37). Cela suggère à mon sens que de grands pans du contenu matériel des traités modernes conclus et à venir ressortissent en réalité à la compétence exclusive des provinces, même si celles-ci ne pourraient sans doute pas seules conclure un traité avec un groupe autochtone. Si cette toute dernière hypothèse devait se révéler fausse (et donc que les provinces pouvaient signer seules certains traités), en revanche il faudrait se rappeler qu’il n’a jamais été mis en doute que seul le gouvernement fédéral peut recevoir une cession de droits ancestraux.

L’interprétation qui me semble être la plus rigoureuse est que, la compétence fédérale exclusive sur les autochtones ne pouvant pas être illimitée et celle de conclure des traités avec les autochtones en faisant partie, rien ne garantit que chacune des dispositions des traités modernes présente au minimum un double aspect, de sorte qu’il est vraisemblable que certaines de ces dispositions ne fassent, en réalité, pas validement partie d’un tel traité, ne soient porteuses d’aucun droit issu de traité au sens de l’article 35 de la LC 1982 et n’aient force de loi qu’à la faveur de la loi ordinaire qui les met en œuvre.

D’autre part, même à concéder, aux seules fins de la discussion, que certaines dispositions des traités modernes, outre la compétence fédérale exclusive sur les autochtones, peuvent, en présentant un double aspect, ressortir aussi, en en tant que telles, à la compétence exclusive des provinces – de sorte que les provinces auraient une (pourtant improbable) compétence partielle de conclure des traités avec les autochtones –, il n’en demeure pas moins que, dans les faits, nombre de dispositions de certaines lois provinciales de mise en œuvre de tels traités se rapportent plutôt à des stipulations dont le « rattachement » dominant est plutôt avec cette compétence fédérale exclusive sur les autochtones. Ces lois à contenir des dispositions d’une constitutionnalité plus que douteuse sont notamment lois provinciales suivantes de mise en œuvre de la CBJNQ et de la CNEQ : Loi sur les autochtones Cris, Inuits et Naskapis, LRQ, c. A-33.1 ; Loi sur le régime des terres dans les territoires de la Baie-James et du Nouveau-Québec, LRQ, c. R-13.1 ; Loi sur les villages cris et le village naskapi, LRQ, c. V-5.1 ; Loi sur les villages nordiques et l’Administration régionale Kativik, LRQ, c. V-6.1.

St-Hilaire on Federalism and “Modern Treaties”

Just a quick announcement of an upcoming guest post by Maxime St-Hilaire, a friend who teaches aboriginal law and constitutional law at the Université de Sherbrooke. Prof. St-Hilaire, who blogged this summer on the Supreme Court’s decision in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44, will discuss some issues left open by the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on federalism and the implementation of “modern treaties” between the federal and provincial governments, and aboriginal nations. Welcome back!

Bar This Claim

Last Friday, the Supreme Court heard challenges to mandatory minimum sentences imposed for some gun-related offences as part of the federal government’s “tough on crime” agenda. In R. v. Nur, 2013 ONCA 677, the Court of Appeal for Ontario declared them unconstitutional because, although the sentence was not grossly disproportionate to the accused’s blameworthiness in the circumstances of that case, it could become so in a “reasonable hypothetical” situation, which made it “cruel and unusual punishment” contrary to s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The “reasonable hypothetical” framework has long been a staple of s. 12 jurisprudence, going back to the Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Smith, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 1045. Yet as Justin Ling explains in the CBA National Magazine, during last week’s argument in Nur, “many on the top bench were pondering a departure from the practice.”

And, I would suggest, should be food for thought for the judges of the Québec Court of Appeal who, on December 4, will hear an appeal from the Superior Court’s decision to allow the Québec Bar to challenge, wholesale, 94 mandatory-minimum provisions recently added to the Criminal CodeBarreau du Québec c. Canada (Procureur général), 2014 QCCS 1863. As I explained in criticizing the Superior Court’s decision, although Justice Roy found that the Barreau’s challenge is a “reasonable and effective” way to make the argument that mandatory minimum sentences unconstitutionally infringe on the judiciary’s discretionary powers, this argument is at best secondary in the Barreau’s application. The main one is of the sort that was made in Nur ― a claim that mandatory minimum sentences infringe s. 12 of the Charter. Needless to say, this argument proceeds in a factual vacuum, since no one actually accused of anything is involved in the case. The Barreau contends that this does not matter since s. 12 arguments can be made on the basis of reasonable hypotheticals anyway. But if the Supreme Court chooses to eliminate, or even merely to limit the use of reasonable hypotheticals in s. 12 analysis, this claim will ring more hollow than ever.

As for the claim that mandatory minimum sentences as such infringe the judiciary’s protected discretion, I remain of the view ― which I explained here ― that it is simply not a serious argument. On this point, the words of Chief Justice MacDonald of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in the recent case of R. v. MacDonald, 2014 NSCA 102, which struck down the same mandatory minimum that is at issue in Nur, are apposite. The case, he said (at par. 9), is about

the comparative roles of the judiciary and Parliament. Specifically, in our constitutional democracy, Parliament decides what actions will constitute a criminal offence together with the corresponding range of punishment for each. This may include, in Parliament’s discretion, mandatory minimum sentences for certain offences. In this regard, the will of Parliament shall prevail, unless the sentencing provisions are so severe as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment as prohibited by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It then falls to the judiciary, as guardians of the Charter, to prevent such occurrences. (Emphasis mine)

It is Parliament’s role, not the courts’, to define the range ― that is to say the upper as well as the lower limits, if any ― of sentences for the offences which Parliament creates. It should go without saying that a power to create and define offences entails the power to define their relative gravity, and that the imposition of sentencing ranges is the most obvious (and maybe the only?) way to meaningfully do this. The only constraint on Parliament’s discretion in this regard is the Charter. The Barreau’s separation of powers argument is without merit, and the Court of Appeal shouldn’t repeat the Superior Court’s mistake by allowing its application to proceed on this shaky basis.

Kingsley & Mayrand on Election Law

I had the chance to attend a great talk at McGill yesterday, with the former and current Chief Electoral Officers, Jean-Pierre Kingsley and Marc Mayrand, speaking and exchanging views on the past, present, and future challenges of election law in Canada. It was great, and especially interesting in that their two perspectives, while similar, were just different enough to make the conversation into something, for lack of a better term, tri-dimensional. Mr. Kingsley was freer in his statements, more activist. He is concerned about the disappearance of public financing for political parties; Mr. Mayrand spoke more of the value of private financing. Still,, on most issues, they largely agreed.

I live-tweeted the conference ― a first for me, and more enjoyable than I expected ― so what I’m going to do, below the fold, is to collect my tweets, as they came. It’s obviously not a verbatim transcript, but rather my record (and translation!) of what struck me most in what Messrs Kingsley and Mayrand said. Here goes.

(NOTE: I accidentally published a very incomplete version of the post last night. Apologies!)
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