Archive for March 28th, 2011

“Reader Beware!” (A Reminder)

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Someone sent the following article to me in email –
“Parliamentary law bars Harper from re-election. Found guilty of a culture of abuse of Parliament”

Here is my response to the sender about the above article (with some minor editing – mostly minor grammar, style, and linking to other pages):

I actually find the article a little misleading. While I detest Harper to the max and will never forgive how he treated protesters during the G20, I don’t think all the legal facts are accurate or presented in this article.

For one thing, the article itself does not cite primary legal sources (these would be relevant statutes and regulations of Canada). Only the person who commented provided some links. That person also left out some legal facts as well, such as what paragraph 502(3)(a) says. It says, “(3) Any person who is convicted of having committed an offence that is an illegal practice or a corrupt practice under this Act shall, in addition to any other punishment for that offence prescribed by this Act, in the case of an illegal practice, during the next five years or, in the case of a corrupt practice, during the next seven years, after the date of their being so convicted, not be entitled to (a) be elected to or sit in the House of Commons;” See Canada Elections Act, section 502. I shall point out that the person must be “convicted of having committed an offence that is an illegal practice or a corrupt practice under this Act” (“this Act” refers to the Canada Elections Act). This means that the person must be convicted of an offense under paragraph 502(1) and (2) of the Canada Elections Act.

As for “contempt of Parliament”, a quick search of the http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/ site does not provide any results. It is likely that while “contempt of Parliament” exists in Canadian law, it is not necessarily a criminal offense. Indeed, the Wikipedia article on “contempt of Parliament” states that only “Some jurisdictions consider contempt of parliament to be a criminal offence.” Another point to note is that Harper alone is not found in contempt of Parliament – his government was. This alone is a big distinction.

These are some of the things to consider when reading the article you sent me. Be very careful about random online articles purporting to report on legal ‘facts’ – a lot of the time they aren’t entirely accurate (usually due to the fact that the average person does not fully understand how the law really works, which is why there are lawyers and paralegals). Ever heard of “buyer beware” in terms of shopping? Well, reader beware! when it comes to journalists and the law. Journalists are not the same as law clerks who have been trained in legal research, unless the journalist has a legal background.

Thus, I would personally be very careful about disseminating that article without a caution to the reader and additional comments.

Additionally, since the presscore article mentions U.S. law, I would like to point out that Canadian law and U.S. law are different in many ways. Although I have not studied U.S. law, I do know that constitutional law is different in both countries, not just the constitution but in terms of procedure and how the constitutions came about. Furthermore, human rights are treated differently in the law in both countries. Additionally, laws on copyrights are somewhat different in both countries. I’ve come across Canadians who cite something they’ve heard based on U.S. law, but they are completely unaware of that fact. Notably, “fair dealing” as found in Canadian law is similar though not the same as “fair use” in U.S. law. Laws in one country are very complex and can become more confusing when viewed from an international perspective.

The topic of the presscore article aside, this reminds me how important it is for people to develop analytical and critical thinking skills. As a blogger, I want my readers to think critically about what I write and to analyze the arguments and viewpoints presented. (Often, I write because I’m trying to understand something myself!) I do not encourage blind agreement, which is why I always try my best to provide citations, sources, and links in my blog articles. I expect good writers and journalists to also provide the same.

~~~C