Opinion. By Mike Archer. Relying on the courts to force our politicians to draw within the lines and abide by the law, while it can be seen as an embarrassment (at least for the politicians who force us to defend ourselves against their actions by forcing them to obey the law), is becoming the line being successfully drawn in the sand on a great many fronts across the country.
Given Chilliwack’s method of keeping controversial or dangerous economic development decisions behind closed doors until they can be approved with little input from the public, a judge may be one of the few barriers which stands between downriver communities and the horrors of a toxic waste spill from Chilliwack’s proposed toxic waste faciulity on the shores of the Fraser River.
The First Nations have been consistently winning lawsuits for at least 20 years in Canada and forcing our governments to not only abide by the law, but to hounour the deals they made and begin acting as though the law means something other than some sort of arrangement to be negotiated later under more favourable conditions
While Prime Minister Harper didn’t take kindly to being told that even he must obey the law, it is a lesson politicians everywhere should learn. The supreme court justices he appointed told him in five successive and rapid-fire decisions this spring, that he could simply not do what he wanted to do because Canadian law, it turns out, forbids it. Even prime ministers have to obey the law.For a petulant, stubborn, spoiled little brat that is hard medicine to swallow. Just imagine how hard it was for Stephen Harper.
The BC Liberal government, after being told by the courts that it had engaged in deliberately provocative and inappropriate negotiating tactics in forcing the BC Teachers’ Federation into a strike on their last labour dispute, simply said, ‘Uh Huh … we’re gonna do it again too,’ and proceeded to do so. The law, it seems, in a growing number of politician’s minds, is simply an inconvenience to those in power who haven’t yet gotten around to changing it.
In Abbotsford, the most victimized and defenceless citizens in the community – the homeless – have finally managed to find protection from their city politicians and police by having the courts force the City of Abbotsford to abandon its ludicrous Anti Harm Reduction bylaw which prevented health authorities from providing life-saving healthcare through clean needles to drug addicts.Because the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has been forced to admit it assaulted, pepper-sprayed and stole from homeless people, it has been forced to admit responsibility and pay restitution. Those who suffer from mental illness, alcohol dependance, drug addiction and other terrible challenges, who had the terrible misfortune of being citizens of Abbotsford may yet find relief through the series of lawsuits and human rights complaints slowly making their way through the system which may, force further change which may bring Abbotsford in line with the rest of the country (and most of the Western World) in its treatment of the poor.
The worldwide embarrassment alone has managed to force Abbotsford into becoming a slightly safer place in which to be poor, homeless, mentally ill or the victim of drug addiction or alcohol dependence as the City has stopped using chicken feces as a social policy tool and the APD has, temporarily at least, stopped enforcing the police chief’s ‘Abbotsford Shuffle’ method of dealing with poverty by moving homeless people from one patch of chicken shit covered ground to another in the middle of the night.
Now it is Chilliwack’s turn
Paul Henderson of the Chilliwack Times reported on Thursday that the coalition of environmentalists, First Nations, fishers, naturalists and community groups who oppose the Mayor Sharon Gaetz and her council’s approval of a toxic waste facility on the Fraser River is taking the City of Chilliwack to court asking that the politicians’ decision be set aside because the city’s rezoning process violates the Local Government Act.
The City’s advertisement for the original public hearing contained no mention either of the fact it was a toxic waste facility or the fact it was almost adjacent to the Fraser River.Mayor Gaetz, who relies on a self-created reputation as an environmentalist, said when the issue first blew up that, the process in place for approval of such a controversial project did not allow her or her fellow politicians to tell anybody what was going on.
Only a self-styled pseudo environmentalist who has no intention of running again would dare slip a toxic waste facility into her community but Gaetz seems unfazed by the rather odd juxtaposition of her puffy love for the environment and a toxic waste facility on the Fraser River.
Gaetz appears to expect to be able to convince a judge that regulations put in place by politicians to restrict them from being able to tell the public what they are doing until after they have done it, absolve her and her council for responsibility for their actions.
She is either drinking her own Kool Aid or in critical need of guidance. Taking critical and controversial decisions which politicians know the public will not like out of the public eye in order to provide the secrecy required to do bad deals is not what economic development departments are supposed to be about. Economic development is supposed to be about real economic growth which brings decent, well-paying, long-lasting jobs and business opportunities to a city so that it can experience growth which is good for the community.Only the community can make that judgment call. Not a bunch of well-connected backroom boys and girls with little or no oversight. And Abbotsford’s second one-term wonder of mayor, Bruce Banman, is proposing just that for his beleaguered community. Not happy with Abbotsford’s reputation for having the highest unemployment in Western Canada; the lowest rate of investment in the Lower Mainland; building permits and housing starts that would embarrass a third world country; and a reputation for a staggering inefficient and non-business-friendly bureaucracy, Banman thinks things would work much better if Abbotsford followed Chilliwack’s lead and take economic development function behind closed doors.
We have reached an awful point in our history when our politicians have sunk to such a low caliber that we now require the protection and regular intervention of the courts just to stop them from doing anymore damage or threatening our interests any more than they already have.
A toxic waste facility on the shore of the Fraser River. Really Sharon. This is what you chose as your legacy. If you won’t listen to your own citizens please listen to those who live downriver and who will bear the brunt of your folly.
It’s a sorry state of affairs but at least we can rely on the courts to uphold the rule of law when our politicians demonstrate such a passing, timid and flawed acquaintance with it.
If Sharon can’t protect us from toxic waste, maybe a judge can protect us from Sharon.