Conrad Black and that meddlesome Supreme Court

Tony Wilson
Boughton Law
I’ve always found Conrad Black to be an intellectual force to be reckoned with since I read his book on Maurice Duplessis for a Canadian history class I took in the ’70s at the University of Western Ontario (as it was then called). His command of English compels his readers to either step up to their “A” game (with their dictionaries firmly in hand), or give up. He may still be Lord of Crossharbour, but he’s also the “Lord of Large Words” (where smaller ones will do). He’s smug and pompous but always entertaining and insightful (even when he’s smug and pompous).

Over the past number of years, I’ve warmed to his writings in The National Post; a newspaper he started and once owned. The takedown of Diane Francis for her column suggesting that Canada be bribed to join the “Excited States of America” should be required reading for all Canadians.

I also enjoyed columns he wrote about his time in prison, serving a sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice (the essential facts of which needn’t be repeated here, because they are well known).

I say I “enjoyed” his columns from prison not out of any sense of schadenfreude, but because rubbing shoulders with fellow inmates and teaching them history and English may have humbled him a tad; his noblesse oblige, I suppose.

As we all know through his well-publicized legal battles in the United States (particularly arising from that pesky closed-circuit camera that caught him removing boxes of documents from his office, despite a court order prohibiting him from doing so), he has a problem with authority, particularly if that authority is judicial in nature and is at odds with his views on how the world should be run (and who should run it). So I’m fascinated with the most recent column he’s written for the Post on the topic of the Supreme Court of Canada having effectively “gone wild.”

He believes the judiciary, including the Supreme Court of Canada, is a legion of affirmative action, idiosyncratic hobby-horse tinkerers and “meddlers in almost every aspect of life.”

Case in point? Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), where the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Canadian adults in horrible, grievous, and unending pain have a right to end their life with a doctor’s help. The sanctity of life, the court said, must also include the passage into death. The prohibition on physician-assisted dying prescribed in the Criminal Code infringes the right to life, liberty, and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice enshrined in s. 7 of the Charter.

Black didn’t like the Carter decision. He stated: “There is, in fact, not even a doffing of a judicial wig toward the sanctity of life. This is a step to the commoditization of life, the debunking of any spiritual notions of life, and is a usurpation of jurisdiction from legislators who have abdicated their responsibility to clarify the Charter of Rights and to determine who has a duty to live and who may legally dispose of their own or others’ lives, sanctity and all.”

The Carter decision, he says, “is another egregious direct trespass in the provincial authority over property and civil rights and can be, and should be, partially overturned in the individual provinces,” presumably by the notwithstanding clause.

With respect, I really hope he’s never in horrible, grievous, and unrelenting agony, like so many others who want to leave this world with a little more dignity and a lot less pain.

The Carter decision is monumental, and recognizes, among other things, that adults should not have to slowly and painfully die without dignity simply because advances in medical science (and the risk of litigation) keeps them barely alive to die another day. I for one don’t want to be told by Parliament, the Catholic Church, or Mr. Black that I can’t “self-snuff it” when the right time comes. It’s my life. Stop preaching about why I can’t end it on my terms.

Although I’d wager most Canadians support the decision as an exercise in common sense (particularly those of a certain age who don’t want to be kept alive by the miracle of modern science), I did run across a few Facebook posts where the terms “evil,” “devil,” and “Satan” were used to describe the ruling, and those who wrote it. I decided not to send them the recent YouTube link of Stephen Fry, telling Irish TV what he’d say to God if he met him at the pearly gates.

In my view, the Carter decision is another example of the Supreme Court going where angels, pollsters, focus groups, spin-doctors, and politicians fear to tread. If the politicians won’t take bold steps to deal with social hot potatoes (fearing a decision will adversely affect votes or alienate their “base”), it seems the Supreme Court will. Good on them for having the guts to make the tough calls.

Notwithstanding Conrad’s protestations, it’s what I call nation building.

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