One of the hallmarks of a civilized, progressive, democratic nation is that it treats all its citizens fairly before the law. For the people of a country to have any respect for their social, judicial and legislative institutions, it is fundamentally important these entities deal with every individual before them in an equal fashion. Unfortunately, here in Canada, despite having human rights legislation that is sometimes zealous to the point of overbearing, it is readily apparent that, in this egalitarian society we are so proud of, some are definitely more equal than others. There are both certain individuals, as well as large, identifiable groups that get preferential treatment and everybody knows it.
One of the most irksome examples is when lawmakers break the law. You’d think the people who create the legislation that is the backbone of our social order would be held to a higher standard. Unfortunately, lawmakers are also politicians and so we know that won’t be the case. If I were to defraud the government by falsifying residency documents, like Mike Duffy did or massage my expense claims for personal gain a la Bev Oda, I would be in the slammer before you could say “Attawapaskatolgy”. There is no way they would let me just mumble an apology, pay some of the money back and then just move forward as if nothing happened. For governmental cheats, there is little to no risk or punishment, while the rest of us would be arrested on charges of defrauding the government. We would face repayment, fines and likely some time in the Crowbar Hotel. It must be nice to be a law maker.
You also are way more equal than the average Joe Blow, even if you’re not an individual law maker but a whole party of them, like the Alberta PC’s, for instance. This is the group, you’ll recall, that accepted campaign donations from municipalities, provincial learning and financial institutions and other quasi-governmental bodies despite it being against the law. I’m not sure what kind of law, however, because, well, did anybody go to jail for it? Nope. Did anybody lose their job over it? Nope. Sure, the Alberta PC’s had to pay back a couple years worth but they got to keep all the funds they took in inappropriately prior to 2010. “What?” you may well rage, “ They don’t have to give it all back?” It must be nice to be a ruling political party.
Another privileged group is, of course, the wealthy. It is no secret that money talks, even in the halls of justice. The sentencing difference between those that can afford a capable lawyer and those that must rely on the effort of an over-worked, understaffed Legal Aid system is enormous. Equality before the law isn’t supposed to be based on ability to pay but that is precisely how our court system appears to work. Case in point; most people who have renounced their Canadian citizenship, committed a felony abroad and did jail time as a result, would not exactly be welcomed by our immigration department. If your name is Conrad Black, however, and you have oodles of money and enormous political influence having amassed so many media outlets, it’s apparently no problem to come back to the homeland you had forsaken. It must be nice to be a newspaper baron.
We could also mention First Nations people are unequal before the law but in two rather contrasting ways. Natives are incarcerated at a far greater rate compared to their percentage of population than any other identifiable group. This represents a horrible indictment of the many governmental systems in place that manage native activities. Still, some First Nation offenders get a choice of regular channels of justice, depending on the crime. They could opt for regular punishment via provincial or federal judges, or “sentencing circles” where the elders of your tribe decide an appropriate, traditional punishment. This choice, of course, is not available to non-native people, which demonstrates an obvious preference before the courts. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada even spelled out that natives should have the circumstance of being native, to be taken into account during sentencing in regular courtroom settings. Before the Supremes, (the court, not the band) it’s nice to be a native.
Another group that seems to get off rather easy when appearing before judges is our various levels of constabulary. It has become almost a “Groundhog Day” scenario where even video evidence taken of unprovoked beatings by police officers isn’t enough to gain a guilty plea for assault. No matter how obvious the assault appears at the time, after lengthy court proceedings, sometimes two or three years later, the not-guilty verdicts are reported on the back pages of the newspaper, jammed in amongst car ads. I would never want the stress, strain, responsibility or risk that our police folks must bear but I recognize, if you’re in front of a judge, it would be nice to be a cop.
There are other examples of special cases that could be mentioned. Celebrities, for example, get preferential treatment all the time. Some even get a police escort from the airport to their accommodations. When was the last time you received a police escort that you actually welcomed?
Or, how about certain clergymen? Rather than being punished for their twisted sex crimes, they don’t even come before a judge, generally. Rather, they are quietly shuffled somewhere else, sometimes to attack again. A number of them were even promoted within the church.
It’s a shame to think that, all things being equal, Canadians aren’t. It’s time our legislative and justice systems embraced the concept of true equality for all.
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