Citizens Take the Canadian Government to Court

By Michel Chossudovsky | 1999-03-01 12:00:00

A citizens' initiative is underway in Canada to challenge the legitimacy of the Canadian government negotiating the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). The initiative questions the authority of the federal government to negotiate an international treaty that violates fundamental rights guaranteed by Canada's Constitution.

The Vancouver-based Defence of Canadian Liberty Committee (DCLC) has taken the federal government to court, arguing that "the MAI is unconstitutional under Canadian law because it gives entrenched rights to international banks and foreign corporations guaranteed by international law which Canadian citizens do not have....This is contrary to the principle of equality before the law which is part of the Canadian constitution enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

The applicants challenge the jurisdiction of the federal government to sign a treaty that "would be outside of the power granted by and ultra vires of the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982" and "would not be in the best interests of Canadian citizens." The applicants also argue that "the government of Canada has no authority to sign a treaty without a mandate from Parliament. To do so is a violation of the fundamental principles of democracy and representative government. Exercise of power must be subject to the Constitution."

Three lawyers well versed in constitutional and human rights issues are acting on behalf of the DCLC. At the hearings in Vancouver, the federal government's witness provided many new documents, most of which were heavily censored.

The government is now attempting to stall the legal challenge and prevent it from going to the trial stage. Already the government has been calling for adjournments.

Judge Dube, a former Cabinet Minister and friend of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, is a defendant in the proceedings. The applicant's lawyers have demanded that he be replaced and that the federal government produce documents and answer questions they have refused to answer on the grounds of "Cabinet Privilege."

This initiative questions the legitimacy of politicians and bureaucrats undertaking negotiations (behind closed doors) that impoverish people and derogate fundamental human, cultural, and economic rights.

"Internationalizing" the Legal Challenge

The legal challenge in Canada identifies a framework for the launching of similar legal challenges in other countries, not only against the MAI, but also in relation to other international treaties that were negotiated and/or signed without legislative assent and/or in contradiction with entrenched constitutional rights.

Important lessons can be drawn from the Canadian court challenge against the MAI, particularly in countries which have a similar legal framework to that of Canada.

The resolve of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deregulate capital movements was taken behind closed doors with very little press coverage, barely two weeks before citizens' groups from around the world gathered in Paris last April in opposition to the MAI.

The Amendment of the IMF Articles weakens the powers of national societies to regulate foreign investment and control the movement of speculative capital. The deregulation of capital movements is to be achieved without the legal hassle of a global investment treaty entrenched in international law.

It is important to challenge the international rules governing the movement of speculative capital, which is largely responsible for the collapse of national currencies in all major regions of the world.

Many of the administrative rules governing stock markets, currency markets, and offshore banking have never been subjected to legislative assent. In other words, many of the rules which govern international financial transactions (including the lucrative flow of dirty money) are also in blatant contradiction with fundamental economic and social rights and should therefore be questioned in the courts.

Information concerning the Legal Challenge can be found at:

Michel Chossudovsky is an economics professor at the University of Ottawa.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1999

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1999, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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