"Any person charged with an offence has the right. .. to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal."
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 11(d) 1982 Independent and impartial.
No matter where Canadians stand on the six-months-long Senate scandal, the law cannot be swept out of the way just because we disagree with the annual $100-million costs of the Upper Chamber.
Yet some of their colleagues have been denying Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau their constitutional right to due process.
Furthermore, although it's not the job of Parliament to oversee the rules it sets for senatorial expense claims, it appears the Prime Minister's Office may have meddled in or directed the politically charged response from Duffy's Senate colleagues.
For this discussion, whatever you and I may think about the overall value of the Senate is irrelevant to the questions that need to be asked: Under the rules that applied until June 2012, why didn't the Senate's Board of Internal Economy just deny reimbursement if/when Conservative senators Duffy and Wallin first submitted their claims for what are now said to be ineligible expenses? Why did Parliament wait to change the rules until after taxpayers were on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars? As for retroactive audits - to paraphrase Duffy's lawyer: If you submitted tax returns under rules of the day and then, years later, Revenue Canada audited you for filing a false claim under 2013 rules, how would you react? These questions and more were on my mind as I watched the scandals unfold.
So with the full story yet to be told and having a personal reason for doing so, I decided to pen the following open letter: Mr. Prime Minister: During the early days of the Reform Party of Canada, you and I met informally when you accompanied then leader Preston Manning on his membership-building trips to British Columbia.
Like many others Westerners, I joined the party because I'd had enough of a succession of federal governments that treated the West as a cash cow and little else. We were opposed to the National Energy Program and fed up with pandering to Quebec demands. We did not trust Brian Mulroney's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber and were skeptical about weak explanations provided for briefcases full of cash.
Later still, we were disgusted by Liberal sponsorship scandals that involved hotels, golfcourses and goodness only knows what else.
Underpinning our work and fund-raising, Mr. Harper, was our naive belief in the rallying cries of "The West Wants In!" and the promise of a renewed Upper Chamber - a Triple-E Senate that would, indeed, be equal, elected and effective.
The first rumblings of unease began when Preston talked of an alliance with the decimated Mulroney/Kim Campbell Tories. Yet, for me anyway, the argument that the party needed to "go national" if it was to have any power at all in Ottawa seemed reasonable. Many British Columbian Reformers disagreed with the move but decided to bite their tongues and wait.
We waited again after your own early successes at the ballot box. We understood that if you were to win a majority in Parliament, you needed to keep a tight rein during your minority administrations.
Patience was rewarded - yours and ours.
Now, we thought; now is the time for a truly democratic federal government.
Alas, what you sought was advice from Brian Mulroney, a former prime minister the country had rejected.
What you gave us were your arrogant refusals to answer questions on all manner of important issues that were asked by the media on our behalf.
In order to gain seats in Quebec, you fell prey to the same old federal political games - except this time they were not being played out in an informed media for all to see.
What we didn't get - on the excuse that Quebec would never agree to it anyway - was the Triple-E Senate we had been promised.
Instead, we have 60 Conservative appointees, 33 Liberals, six Independents and six vacancies for a total of 105.
Who knows how many are playing by the rules? Furthermore, due to your refusal to be open about 'who knew what and when did they know it' on the $90,000 cheque Nigel Wright is said to have written on behalf of Senator Duffy, Canadians are riveted to their televisions watching the latest episode of How the Senate Turns.
Your government, Sir, has been a betrayal of everything Canadians, especially Western Canadians, had worked for - an ethical, scandal-free, efficient yet compassionate government.
Yet again, we are embroiled in a constitutional turmoil which makes a fool of this country on the international stage.
Last but not least, the true mark of democracy has always been the rule of law - in the senators' case, the presumption of innocence.
Like them or not, believe them or not, the four or more senators who labour under black clouds of suspicion are entitled to far more than a politically fuelled inquisition - whether or not the inquisitors are acting under your direction.
That is why embattled Senator Duffy - one of your own senatorial proteges - chose to end his opening statement to the Upper Chamber with this disillusioned admission: "I wish I'd had the courage to say 'No' back in February when this monstrous political scheme was first ordered."
Not only do I echo that wish, I wish I had been a far better judge of political character and motivation before I ventured onto the hustings to urge people to vote Reform! Never again, Mr. Harper; you blew it. Yours truly, Elizabeth James email@example.com
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