Ford says Trudeau ‘selective’ in criticizing use of notwithstanding clause

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Ford says Trudeau being ‘selective’ in criticizing use of notwithstanding clause
WATCH: Ford says Trudeau being 'selective' in criticizing use of notwithstanding clause – Nov 7, 2022

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won’t reopen the constitution amid controversy surrounding the Ford government’s use of the notwithstanding clause, but told premiers they shouldn’t “proactively” use the measure.

His comments came after Premier Doug Ford took a swipe at Trudeau on Monday, saying he is “selective” when deciding to criticize the use of the notwithstanding clause and said if he takes issue with it, then he should reopen the constitution — though Ford at the same time advised against doing that.

Ford made the remarks at a press conference at Queen’s Park where he provided an update on the dispute between the government and 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) that led to school closures.

Last week, the province passed legislation to impose a contract on the employees in a bid to avoid a strike by the union.

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Read more: CUPE members will return to school after Ford promises to rescind controversial strike legislation

The government’s legislation included the controversial use of the notwithstanding clause to guard against potential constitutional challenges. The clause allows legislatures to override parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year term.

CUPE workers staged a walkout despite the government’s move. Ford said Monday that he would repeal the legislation and return to the bargaining table if CUPE ended the walkout.

Not long after, CUPE agreed to end the protests and head back to work for the time being, but controversy over the province’s use of the notwithstanding clause remains.

Trudeau last week called Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause “wrong.”

“The suspension of people’s rights is something that you should only do in the most exceptional circumstances, and I really hope that all politicians call out the overuse of the notwithstanding clause to suspend people’s rights and freedoms,” the prime minister said.

Trudeau also said his government was weighing “all different options” when asked Friday whether Ottawa will seek to amend the use of the notwithstanding clause.

Read more: Trudeau calls Ford’s use of notwithstanding clause ‘wrong’

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During Monday’s press conference, Ford was asked about Trudeau’s remarks.

“Well you know, the notwithstanding clause is a constitutional tool for provincial governments to use,” Ford said.

“It’s well within our government’s right to use this tool. We’re using every tool we have to keep kids in class. And as for the prime minister, it’s very disappointing. The prime minister is being selective within certain provinces about his concerns of overturning the notwithstanding clause. If he wants to sit down with all the premiers and have a conversation about the constitution, that’s something he needs to decide for himself.”

Ford previously invoked the notwithstanding clause in June 2021 — for the first time in the province’s history — to restore parts of the Election Finances Act that had previously been declared unconstitutional. Ontario argued the move was necessary to protect elections from outside influence, while critics accused the government of trying to silence criticism.

In June, Quebec passed a major reform to the province’s signature language law that reasserts the right of Quebecers to live and work in French. Premier Francois Legault has said the entire bill is covered by the notwithstanding clause. In August, a judge suspended two articles of that language law, citing risks to access to justice, until the case can be heard on its merits.

Read more: Trudeau weighing ‘all options’ on notwithstanding clause use amid CUPE Ontario strike

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Quebec also used the clause in its religious symbols law that was adopted in 2019. Bill 21 prohibits public sector workers who are deemed to be in positions of authority, including teachers, police officers and judges, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job.

Trudeau said Canadians should be expressing concern over the use of the notwithstanding clause and said the criticism shouldn’t just come from the federal government.

“It should be Canadians saying, ‘Hold on a minute; you’re suspending my right to collective bargaining? You’re suspending fundamental rights and freedoms that are afforded to us in the Charter?’” Trudeau said.

“The outrage we’re seeing across the country right now at this latest use, building on top of previous uses that I have consistently condemned, is a moment for all Canadians to reflect and say, ‘Yeah, our fundamental rights are not to be cancelled away by governments who want to get things done in the easiest and most efficient way possible at the cost of people’s fundamental freedoms.’”

Ford said he’d be open to having a further discussion on when the notwithstanding clause should be used, but encouraged the prime minister to not “go down that road.”

“If the prime minister wants to sit down and have a constitutional conversation with all the premiers, I can assure you all the premiers will be there to talk about the constitutional changes if he wants to go down that road,” Ford said.

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“I’d highly recommend not to.”

Don’t use notwithstanding clause ‘proactively,’ Trudeau tells premiers

At an unrelated press conference later Monday, Trudeau was asked by a reporter whether he would be open to reviewing the constitution to address possible  “preemptive” uses of the notwithstanding clause in the future.

Trudeau said Canadians right now are focused on the cost of living, climate change, having good jobs available and preparing for future pandemics, “not reopening the constitution.”

“The proactive use of the notwithstanding clause suspends people’s fundamental rights and freedoms,” Trudeau said.

“I think all Canadians know how important it is to protect those fundamental rights and freedoms and this government will never back down from standing up for people’s rights and freedoms.

“And if premiers across the country want to avoid the kind of disruption that we’ve seen in Ontario over these past few days, the answer is simple: just don’t use the notwithstanding clause proactively.”

— With files from Aaron D’Andrea, Colin D’Mello and The Canadian Press


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