On Friday March 25, 2011 the Canadian House of Commons found Prime Minister Stephen Harper guilty of contempt of Parliament. According to parliamentary law, contempt of parliament is a federal crime. Being that Harper has been found guilty of a crime Harper is barred from seeking re-election on May 2, 2011. No federal government or cabinet minister has ever been found in contempt before.
The vote by the Canadian House of Commons is very much the same as an impeachment of the president of the United States of America. In the US if a president or US lawmaker is impeached (a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity) that person is removed from office and cannot run for office again. Richard Nixon avoided a vote of impeachment by resigning as president. Harper was essentially impeached from the government of Canada for the federal crime of contempt of Parliament. As a direct result of the House of Commons vote the Harper government was dissolved. As Stephen Harper was found guilty of unlawful activities he is no longer deemed fit to be the Prime Minister of Canada and an election was called to choose a new leader.
If Stephen Harper has been found guilty of the federal crime of contempt of Parliament why is he running again for the same office that he was removed from? Parliamentary law bars Harper from running again in the upcoming election. Under the Constitution Act, 1867, Parliament is empowered to determine the qualifications of members of the House of Commons. The present qualifications are outlined in the Canada Elections Act, which was passed in 2000. The acts bar individuals found guilty of election-related crimes and are prohibited from becoming members for five years (in some cases, seven years) after conviction. The House of Commons voted unanimously to judge Stephen Harper on election-related (parliament) crimes and declared Harper guilty of the charge of contempt of parliament. The House of Commons vote handed Harper a guilty conviction and as punishment for his crime his leadership was immediately stripped.
The prime minister of a minority government only holds his or her office as long as the “confidence of the house” is maintained. If members of the lower house lose faith in the leader for whatever reason, they can call a vote of no confidence and force the PM to resign. Such a vote of no confidence was made against Stephen Harper on Friday March 25, 2011. That vote not only declared that Stephen Harper no longer had the confidence of the house but the house also found Stephen Harper guilty of the serious offense of contempt of parliament. Contempt of Parliament is the crime of obstructing the parliament in the carrying out of its functions, or of hindering any Member of Parliament in the performance of his or her duties.
The highest duty of a Prime Minister of Parliament is to uphold the Constitution of Canada, which includes the rights and privileges of the House of Commons and the duties owed to the Queen’s representative in Canada. Stephen Harper keeps on failing in his duties on both counts as evidenced by 2 consecutive prorogation of Parliament. Stephen Harper forced the Queen’s representative to dissolve Parliament just so the Conservatives could avoid losing a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.
The first undemocratic shut down of Parliament by Stephen Harper was clearly to avoid the scrutiny of a House of Commons committee over the mounting evidence of willful complicity by the Harper government over the transfer of Afghan detainees to a substantial risk of torture. This is a war crime and one of the most serious allegations any government has faced in the history of Canada. Stephen Harper did everything possible to hide from a vote of confidence, and on Dec. 4, 2008 Stephen Harper unilaterally shut down Parliament. The Governor General had little option but to grant the undemocratic request to avoid a political crisis in Canada. It had put her into an untenable position.
There was no precedent in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world where a democratic parliament was shut down to hide from a vote of confidence. It opened the door for other abuses of the rights and privileges of the majority of Members of Parliament elected by Canadians. Harper has gone through that door again. This time the Governor General did not even merit a personal visit by Stephen Harper to be told to shut down Parliament until early March. Respect, even for the Queen’s representative, by Stephen Harper is in short supply.
This undemocratic criminal behavior by Stephen Harper is another piece of evidence of a major shift in Canadian constitutional democracy taking shape. First, there was the unconstitutional behavior of the Harper government to deny the committee uncensored documents despite a subpoena by the House of Commons. Secondly, there was the Harper-ordered boycott of the committee by the Conservative MPs at the committee. Thirdly, we saw the forced adjournment of the Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry of the Stephen Harper’s complicity in torture and the Stephen Harper firing of its chief investigator, Peter Tinsley. This commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal has been stymied in its attempt to determine the truth over the detainee transfer issue. Finally, there was the unprecedented attempts by Stephen Harper to slander Richard Colvin, a senior Canadian diplomat who was a key witness in the Canadian Afghan detainee issue, for just doing his job of speaking truth to power and then accusing anybody who supports him of either being Taliban dupes or undermining our brave Canadian military heroes.
These are serious examples of abuse of executive power over Parliament, the Governor General, the public service and ultimately the Canadian voters who elected MPs to make Parliament work. There is only one person who is responsible for and has been found guilty of such abuse of power, for such disdain towards the authority of the people’s parliament, for such disrespect towards the Canadian people and for total disregard for the rule of law. His name is Stephen Harper.