Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thanks for playing, Maurice

A slightly better day for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in Dublin yesterday. Slightly. First, he received kudos for his putdown of pal Maurice Vellacott's latest legislative adventure:
The interests of children must take priority over a father's right to an equal parenting role after divorce, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said here Monday.

Nicholson was responding to an emotional plea from a Canadian lawyer who, with the support of the Canadian Bar Association, urged Nicholson to reject a Conservative MP's private member's bill introduced in June that called for "equal shared" parenting.

"Will you stand up for children and oppose this private member's bill?" asked Meg Shaw of Kelowna, B.C.

Nicholson said the government hasn't taken a formal position on the bill introduced in June by Saskatchewan Tory MP Maurice Vellacott, but the minister made his personal position crystal clear.

"I believe, and I think most people who have been involved in family law or studied this, that the best interests of the child are always paramount . . . and should be," he said, triggering applause from several hundred lawyers attending the CBA's annual meeting in Ireland's capital.
Love it when Conservatives have to disavow their back-to-the-50s-brethren when cornered in public, don't you? Vellacott's got to be smarting at that, the Justice Minister stamping on his bill at a high profile event. Kind of think that will put the kibosh on Vellacott's "equal shared parenting" brainstorm. Or at the very least put a crimp in the move as Nicholson's remarks will be likely to tick off the Vellacott supporters.

But otherwise yesterday, Nicholson was grilled by questioning lawyers, about the Harper government's death penalty policy for Canadians abroad and the Federal Court of Appeal ruling on Omar Khadr's repatriation. Then there was this, from "Atlantic Canada’s foremost criminal lawyer" who weighed in with a heck of a question:
One Halifax lawyer, Joel Pink, complained that the Harper government's various bills setting minimum sentences may be popular with the public but are causing overcrowded prisons and not protecting Canadians.

"Why is your government so vigourously pursuing measures that promote neither justice nor public safety and at such enormous expense to taxpayers?"

Nicholson responded that the government has the obligation to give both guidance to judges and to protect victims. (emphasis added)
In other words, Nicholson did not answer the question. And somehow I just don't believe that the report's account of Nicholson's response conveys the quaking and stammering that must have accompanied the words.

All in all, heck of a conference, CBA. Doing exactly what a national lawyer's organization should be doing at the moment with a government whose respect for the law is frequently tenuous.