2016 is ending and we can collectively agree it’s been a shitty year. Cops are spying on journalists, our Prime Minister has turned his back on the young people who elected him, comedians are being punished for their jokes, and icons from Prince to Bowie to Muhammad Ali to Carrie Fisher have left us. In the legal world it’s been an ongoing ugly parade and with the year FINALLY coming to an end, it’s time for a recap of some of the major legal issues affecting us this past year.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

The ongoing crisis in Aleppo has led to tons of refugees fleeing Syria. Unlike the US where debates regarding the refugee crisis were fraught with concerns about terrorism and an emphasis on keeping victims of Aleppo out, the Trudeau government took the moral high ground and pledged to welcome twenty-five thousand Syrian refugees. The Canadian government ended up going above and beyond this pledge and have thus far taken in thirty-eight thousand seven hundred and thirteen Syrian refugees.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

On February 3, 2016, Federal Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Canada’s behalf. Canada’s participation in the treaty was negotiated by the Harper government before its colossal defeat by the Liberals in 2015. Whether Parliament ratifies the agreement thus legally binding Canada remains to be seen.

Uber Crisis

Montreal taxi protest (photo Chris Zacchia)

Quebec cities were rife with cab drivers protesting Uber, a car service that is not bound by the ridiculous and expensive rules that must be obeyed by taxi drivers and company owners that specify everything from pricing and car specs to what the driver wears. In September 2016 Uber made a deal with the Quebec government which included Uber acquiring 300 taxi permits and obliging drivers to get a class 4C license and insurance. With the cab industry in Montreal already flooded, it remains to be seen whether this tentative deal will create peace between taxi companies and Uber.

Panama Papers

In April 2016 the decryption of the Panama Papers revealed the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to have helped many of the world’s wealthiest people hide their assets from governments. Those named included terrorists, CEOs, politicians, and athletes. Canadian tycoon and political wannabe Kevin O’Leary is dismissive of the papers, possibly because he too is hiding wealth from Canadian taxpayers for his own benefit.

Anti-Vaxxers and Naturopathic Remedies

David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life for failing to get their son medical attention for bacterial meningitis. As the Stephans are anti-vaxxers distrustful of modern medicine, their 19-month old boy Ezekiel was instead treated with echinacea, garlic, onions, hot peppers and horseradish. By the time he was brought to a hospital it was too late and the boy died. David Stephan has since been sentenced to 4 months in prison while Collet to 3 months of house arrest. They have been ordered to bring their kids to a medical doctor once a year and a nurse every 3 months.

OQLF

Quebec Culture Minister Hélène David announced modifications to Quebec language laws that would force businesses with trademarked non-French names to add French to their signs. Though the proposal is clearly in retaliation for the government’s legal defeat against Best Buy in 2014, it remains to be seen whether the changes will go through in a province exhausted and fed up with language and cultural debates.

Ghomeshi Verdict

In May 2016 former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi signed a peace bond to settle a sexual assault trial. Though for many this is a slap on the wrist, his former victim Kathryn Borel celebrated the bond as a public acknowledgment of Ghomeshi’s guilt. The 12 month long bond guarantees Ghomeshi will go to prison should he violate its terms and does not limit the prosecution from going after him for other sexual assaults.

Mike Ward

Mike Ward (photo Cem Ertekin)

In July 2016 Montreal Comedian Mike Ward was ordered to pay $42 000 to a disabled kid and his mother for making fun of him in one of his jokes. The verdict, which Ward has sworn to appeal, has turned the Quebec Human Rights Commission from a means of social justice to one of censorship. No one has questioned why the kid went after Ward and not the bullies who used his joke to hurt him, but it’s likely due to Ward’s celebrity status and wealth.

Pitbull Ban

Following the death of a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman after she was mauled by a dog, the City of Montreal has adopted a ban on dangerous breeds. The ban is hugely unpopular and has resulted in protests, the latest being the SPCA’s refusal to take in dogs following the Quebec Court of Appeal’s reinstatement of the ban after the Superior Court overturned it.

STM Fines

On September 7, 2016 the Municipal Court of Montreal ruled that fines given by STM rent-a-cops to people unable to produce their transfer is unconstitutional. The STM has vowed to appeal the decision.

Judge Robin Camp

In November 2016, Judge Robin Camp was recommended for removal from the bench by the Canadian Judicial Council following an inquiry into his conduct during a rape trial. Though the judge promised to reform, his behavior demonstrated such contempt for victims of sexual assault the Council ruled no amount of sensitivity training would repair his damage to the judiciary’s reputation.

Seafood and Civil Liability

In May 2016 Simon-Pierre Canuel ingested salmon at a bistro in Sherbrooke sending him into anaphylactic shock. He is now suing the restaurant and waiters for $415,000 though his negligence regarding his food allergy and rumours that he has tried to scam restaurants in the past make it unlikely he will get the full amount.

This past year has been full of legal debates that are as fascinating as they are numerous and outrageous. For every dispute brought before courts and councils we come closer to what we all strive for: a just society.

In 2017, let’s aim for just that.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has made a lot of headlines in the past year. Canadian participation in it was negotiated by the Harper government just a month before its colossal defeat by the Liberals. It was signed on Canada’s behalf by our International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland on February 3rd of this year.

People in favour of the TPP say that it will result in job creation, innovation, and give Canadian companies access to international markets. People against the TPP are worried that Canadian industries like maple syrup, dairy products and poultry will suffer when the market is flooded with inexpensive competitors from participating countries.

People are worried about job loss especially in Canada’s auto industry and that enforcement of the intellectual property rules within the agreement will come at the expense of Canadian innovation. Others consider Canada’s participation to be the lesser of two evils and that it’s better to be a part of something than be left out.

This article is not going to cover all of the TPP because the text of the agreement is six thousand pages long. It IS going to give you an overview of three of the main components of the agreement and a quick tutorial on how treaties work.

When a government representative signs a treaty on Canada’s behalf they are not legally obligating Canada because they don’t have the power to do so. Canada is a democracy and all laws and treaties have to be approved by our parliament made up of the House of Commons and Senate.

When Chrystia Freeland signed the TPP on Canada’s behalf, what she was actually agreeing to was that her government would put the TPP before our Parliament to debate, discuss, and vote on its ratification within the two year deadline of the agreement. It is only when a country ratifies a treaty that it becomes legally bound by it. If our Parliament decides that the TPP is rubbish and votes against ratification, Canada won’t be bound by it. If it votes in favour and ratifies the agreement, we will be.

Now Let’s Talk About Labour

People in favour of the TPP say that it will result in improved working conditions by making countries enact and enforce labour laws that are fair to workers and there is some truth in that. Under the labour provisions of the TPP, parties are required to enact laws that guarantee the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced and child labour, minimum wages, reasonable working hours, safety, and the end to discrimination with regards to employment. The rules also state that countries aren’t allowed to weaken or reduce legal protections for workers in order to encourage trade or investment. These all seem like great ideas but there are problems with the language used.

Though parties to the TPP have to adopt laws against discrimination, the agreement doesn’t specify what kinds of discrimination are prohibited, and the vagueness of the language leaves participating countries too free to deny women, LGBTI people and visible and religious minorities basic labour rights.

There is a dangerously reluctant tone to these provisions. Parties have to enact and enforce fair labour laws but only to ensure a level economic playing field. The subtext seems to be: “we don’t give a shit about our workers and if we could make our stuff cheaper by paying them less we would, but since we can’t, you can’t either or it wouldn’t be fair.”

Now Let’s Discuss Competition

The TPP competition policy is designed to create a level economic playing field. It requires that parties adopt competition laws that punish anti-competitive business practices including the unauthorized use of consumers’ personal information. They also establish procedural rules for contesting a charge of violating those laws, the burden of proof being on the state claiming the violation.

On the surface the rules seem fair, but when you think about how much Canadian industries like dairy benefit from government protection, the dangers of such an agreement becomes clearer. However, the policy does provide for exceptions if a country’s chosen exemptions from competition laws are transparent and based on public interest.

Last But Not Least We Must Address the TPP’s Intellectual Property Rules

Critics of the TPP claim that it is written to favour countries like the US who have a lot of patents and copyrights and aggressively demand their enforcement. And the critics are right.

Though the TPP reinforces the clause of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS) permitting countries to violate drug patents in states of emergency, the bulk of the provisions of the TPP are geared at protecting patent and copyright holders. They call for countries to establish civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement that will even include prison terms.

Though in Canada the authorities generally don’t go after people who illegally download music and movies for personal use, the TPP could change all that. The provisions allow copyright holders to sue violators for monetary damages including legal fees. Our legal system is already overtaxed and participation could create an even greater backlog of cases to the detriment of Canadians seeking justice.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a damned if we do, damned if we don’t debate. Most experts agree that it will be beneficial for Canada but only marginally. As the Trudeau government does its best to clean up the mess Stephen Harper left behind, now is an opportunity for them to put our country back on the map and regain our place as the world’s moral authority.

That means making sure that if we ratify the agreement we do it on OUR terms, without bending over and throwing Canadians workers and businesses under the bus in the name of international cooperation.

It means not sacrificing our state sovereignty and our values. This is their chance. Let’s see if they take it.

Panelists Jerry Gabriel, Cem Ertekin and Drew Bell discuss Just for Laughs and the concept of comedy, a week that could define Barack Obama’s presidency and what it means to be Canadian. Plus the Community Calendar and an interview with Gilbert Gottfried

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

 

Panelists

Cem Ertekin: FTB news editor

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor

Drew Bell: FTB contributor

Gilbert Gottfried interview by Jerry Gabriel (FULL INTERVIEW AVAILABLE)

FTB PODCAST #7: Gilbert Gottfried, Obama, and O Canada by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer Hannah Besseau

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons