Eighty-two professors of law, political science and other fields have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Harper to oppose the retroactive changes to the Long Gun Registry Act.
As the Canadian Press reported in May, at that time the Harper government "moved to retroactively rewrite Canada's access to information law in order to prevent possible criminal charges against the RCMP."
The change was buried in a 167-page omnibus budget bill. It excluded all records from the now-defunct long-gun registry, along with any "request, complaint, investigation, application, judicial review, appeal or other proceeding under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act" that was related to those records.
As the Canadian Press article observed: "The unprecedented, retroactive changes — access to information experts liken them to erasing the national memory — are even more odd because they are backdated to the day the Conservatives introduced legislation to kill the gun registry, not to when the bill received royal assent.
The date effectively alters history to make an old government bill come into force months before it was actually passed by Parliament."
The full text of the open letter follows.
OPEN LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER HARPER
We, the undersigned academics, write to express our concern about the violation of the rule of law by your government through retroactive amendments to the Elimination of the Long Gun Registry Act (ELRA). We would like to stress that this particular piece of legislation is merely one example of your government’s violation of this vital constitutional principle.
Amendments to the ELRA inserted in the Omnibus Budget Bill C-59 retroactively exempt the long-gun registry from the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act requests, back to Oct. 25, 2011 which is when the bill to end the registry was introduced. However the ELRA did not receive Royal Assent until April 2012, which is when it became law.
An essential building block of a democracy is the rule of law or constitutionalism. The Constitution states that Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law. The rule of law is so important and fundamental to a robust democracy that it is being exported to some developing countries. Canada, together with other democratic states and multi-lateral institutions including the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has poured billions of dollars in foreign aid for promotion of this concept.
The rule of law is a hallowed principle that some trace back eight hundred years to the Magna Carta. At its core, the rule of law protects citizens from arbitrary and abusive use of government power. It has several elements including that: no one is above the law; the judiciary is independent and impartial; public law must always be exercised in accordance with the rule of law; laws are knowable; and laws are clear, public and stable.
The last two points relate to our concern: a government should not decriminalize its own actions if they were illegal at the time they were committed. This requirement precludes laws that are retroactive as they would re-write history. The insertion of clauses to effect retroactive changes to the ELRA is a dangerous precedent which will have far-reaching and disturbing consequences.
The values underpinning the rule of law are ancient and their violation is not justiciable on its own. However, this will be judged in the court of public opinion: citizens will be justifiably alarmed that their government has taken actions that have profound, negative implications for the practice of Canadian democracy. We urge you to repeal the relevant provisions retroactively inserted into the ELRA and bring your government’s conduct in line with the Constitution and the rule of law.
In closing, we would like to quote the Supreme Court’s comments in the Quebec Secession Reference ( 2 SCR 217 at para 67)
"[d]emocracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law...Equally, however, a system of government cannot survive through adherence to the law alone. A political system must also possess legitimacy, and in our political culture, that requires an interaction between the rule of law and the democratic principle.”
Peter Russell, Professor of Political Science and Principal of Senior College, University of Toronto. Former President of the Canadian Political Science Association.
David E. Smith, OC, FRSC, Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Department of Politics & Public Administration, Ryerson University
Michael Asch, Visiting Professor in Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria. Former President, Canadian Anthropology Society.
Frédéric Bérard, Lawyer and Lecturer, Université de Montréal (Law) and McGill University (Political Science).
Caroline Andrew, Professor, Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa. Former President, Canadian Political Science Association,
Doreen Barrie, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary. Former President Western Social Science Association.
Judith A. Garber, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Joyce Green, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Regina
Margaret Hillyard Little, Sir Edward Peacock Chair in Gender and Politics, Queen’s University
Don Smith, Professor (Emeritus), Department of History, University of Calgary
Peter J. Smith, Professor of Political Science, Athabasca University.
Frances Abele Professor, School of Public Policy & Administration, Carleton University
Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Chloe Atkins, Associate Professor, Law & Society Program, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary
Bob Barnetson, Associate Professor, Labour Studies Program, Athabasca University
Colin Bennett, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria
Andrew Biro, Professor, Department of Politics, Acadia University
Linda Briskin, Professor Emeritus, Social Science Department, York University
Janine Brodie, Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta
Michael Byers, Professor & CRC Global Politics & International Law, University of British Columbia
Daniel Cohn, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy & Administration, York University
John Conway, Professor & Head, Department of Sociology & Social Studies, University of Regina
John C. Courtney, Professor Emeritus, Senior Policy Fellow, Johnson-Shoyama School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. Former President Canadian Political Science Association
George Colpitts, Professor, Department of History, University of Calgary
Mark Crawford, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Athabasca University
Francois Crepeau, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Shadia Drury, CRC in Social Justice, University of Regina
P.S. Elder, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary
Lynda Erickson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Simon Fraser University
Gloria Filax, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Athabasca University
Alvin Finkel, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Athabasca University
Katrin Froese, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary
R. Douglas Francis, Professor, Department of History, University of Calgary
James Frideres, Emeritus Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary
Alain-G. Gagnon, FRSC, Professor, Department of Political Science, Former President Quebec Political Science Association, Universite de Montreal a Quebec
Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director British Columbia Freedom of Information & Privacy Association
Thomas Homer-Dixon, Professor, Faculty of Environment, CIGI Chair of Global Systems, University of Waterloo
Betsy Jameson Professor, Imperial Oil-Lincoln McKay Chair in American Studies, University of Calgary
Martha Jackman, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Matt James, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria
Rebecca Johnson, Professor of Law, University of Victoria
Ellen R. Judd, FRSC, Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
Darlene Juschka, Associated Professor, Religious Studies, University of Regina
Charis Kampuis, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Thompson Rivers University
Julie Kearns, Senior Instructor Emeritus, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary
Ruana Kuokkanen, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science & Aboriginal Studies Program, University of Toronto
Christopher Leo, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of Winnipeg
Karen Lochead, Contract Faculty, Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University
Tina Loo, Professor/Head, Department of History, University of British Columbia
Alfredo Louro, Senior Instructor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Calgary
Robin Mathews, Professor (Retired), English & Canadian Studies, Carleton University & Simon Fraser University
David McGrane, Associate Professor, Political Science, St. Thomas Moore College, University of Saskatchewan
Stephen McBride, Professor & CRC, Department of Political Science, McMaster University
Tom McIntosh , Professor, Politics & International Relations, University of Regina
Angela Miles, Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
David Newhouse, Professor, Indigenous Studies, Trent University
Michael Orsini, Professor, School of Public Policy, Director, Institute of Feminist & Gender Studies, University of Ottawa
Darren O'Toole, Assistant Professor, Law, University of Ottawa
Leo Panitch, CRC, FRSC, Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science, York University
Martin Papillon, Professor Agrégé, Political Science, Université de Montréal
Stephen Patten, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
Timothy Pyrch, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary
Marilyn Porter, Professor Emeritus, Memorial University
Wesley Pue, Professor, Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Donald Ray, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary
Philip Resnick, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia
Andrew Robinson, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University
Tom Rosenal, Associate Professor Emeritus, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
Carol Schick, Associate Professor of Education, University of Regina
Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Meenal Shrivastava, Associate Professor, Political Economy & Global Studies, Athabasca University
Elizabeth Smythe, Professor, Department of Political Science, Concordia University of Edmonton
Lorna Stefanick, Professor & Program Coordinator, BPA Governance, Law & Management, Athabasca University
Saul Templeton, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary
Neil Thomlinson, Associate Professor, Department of Politics & Public Administration, Ryerson University
Sandra Tomsons, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Winnipeg
Linda Trimble Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta
James Tully, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Law, Indigenous Governance and Philosophy, University of Victoria
Mary Valentich, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary
Jill Vickers, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, Chancellor's Professor, Carleton University
Cora Voyager, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Calgary
Reg Whitaker, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, York University
OC Order of Canada
CRC Canada Research Chair
FRSC Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada