Montréal, 9 décembre 2000  /  No 73
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          This issue is being devoted to those items which each contributor thinks are important in the sense that their chosen item will have some kind of effect, whether for good or ill, in the twenty first century. 
         As I grow older, although not necessarily wiser, I am conscious of becoming more and more cynical about such matters as democracy and politics. My latest experience of Canadian election campaigns has done nothing to change this view. However, I do admire that enthusiastic optimism of youth that is so frequently demonstrated by my fellow contributors to this e-zine, a periodical which is well on its way to becoming an important element in the life of reflective Quebeckers.
          Casting around for a suitable topic I concluded that attacks on liberty seem to be more and more frequent, even in such mild countries as Canada. By way of example, one can see in the present government of Quebec an increasing tendency towards totalitarianism. On November 15 last, this government, which methinks doth protest far too much about its social democratic outlook, introduced a law regarding mergers. A law that brooks no opposition, a law that shows how little respect our government has for the wishes and desires of the electors. 
          While most of the fuss is over Montreal and other large towns, and many of my colleagues at QL have already written quite eloquently about it, this new legislation may also apply to other municipalities. Indeed, as a pre-emptive strike before tabling the bill, the government took pains to announce that no property tax increases exceeding 5% would be allowed. In just that one statement they showed that the objective of these mergers is not to reduce the excessive tax load that we all bear. They are admitting that taxes will rise for many and they are also admitting that you will do as you are told whether you desire a particular merger or not. With inflation at around 2% the prospect of paying up to 5% more in taxes should not meet with the plaudits of the multitude. 
          However, given the continuing fascination many people seem to have for the present Quebec government, most will probably comply while muttering under their collective breaths, before they vote again for the same people. The so-called Liberal opposition is making noises about the law and may succeed in making this into the election winning strategy that it should be so I have nothing further to add about this pernicious piece of legislation. I am confident that others more knowledgeable than I can perform that task. My point was simply to show that even here, in Mr. Chrétien's « best country in the world », our freedom to make our own choices is being removed inexorably, a little at a time. 
Not so Nice 
          As this article appears, an event is occurring in Europe that could have quite serious consequences for many of the inhabitants of that region. I am referring to the discussions in Nice, France, over the future of the European Union, the outcome of which is to be known as the Treaty of Nice. The meeting is supposed to be about enlarging the European Union from its present 15 countries to 20 or more countries and changing some of the rules governing its operation. The meeting is to discuss the European Union's new Charter of Rights, a document that is basically incompatible with the British tradition and concept of rights. The EU authorities say they are providing « Rights » but they reserve the power to take those « Rights » away whenever they wish. This is a typical EU « benefit »; now you see it, now you don't. So the Charter is a farce and if ordinary people try to alter it, they can be accused of abusing their « Rights » and have those « Rights » taken away. Tony Blair may well be about to exchange British traditions and legally established freedoms for these dubious « Rights ». 
          There are some things that are to be discussed at this meeting of member states which will affect some countries more than others. Some rather astonishing remarks by various European statesmen indicate that freedom of expression is not uppermost in their minds as they continue to create this Superstate. For example, just last month, the Advocate-General of that institution laughably known as the European Court of Justice gave a legal opinion (in case C-274/99) that criticism of the EU, its institutions or its leading figures was akin to blasphemy. Further, that, because laws against blasphemy were acceptable both under the common law of England and the existing European Human Rights Convention, it then followed that punishing someone for allegedly criticizing the EU – even if such allegations were never proven or supported by evidence – was not an infringement of free speech. 
          This astonishing pronouncement was triggered by a case brought by a British European Commission official Bernard Connolly, who had been sanctioned for writing « The Rotten Heart Of Europe », a book rather critical of the EU operations. Taken to task by the European Commission, the European Court of First Instance found against him, ruling that the EU may restrict political speech to protect its interests. Now the case is at the appeals stage in the full court, and is waiting its final ruling. In his defence, Mr. Connolly had argued that a landmark British case, Wingrove VS. United Kingdom, had established that political speech could not be limited except in extreme circumstances of blasphemy. 
     « Even here, in Mr. Chrétien's "best country in the world", our freedom to make our own choices is being removed inexorably, a little at a time. » 
          The Wingrove case concerned a pornographic video showing St. Teresa of Avila engaged in various sexual acts. The case went all the way to Europe's other court, the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which announced that the government could suppress the video, given the egregious offence to Christians, but it also ruled that this did not give political authorities a licence to restrict political speech. 
          The advocate general has now turned that argument upside down and argues that the blasphemy ruling implied a broader protection for the « rights of others ». It was the cornerstone of his argument that the EU can legitimately punish dissent. Since this case (C-274/99P) threatens a key principle of English law – that a governing body cannot restrict political criticism to protect its own reputation – the ruling represents another threat to free speech. Also the claim must be considered in the context of the Nice Treaty. 
          Article 52 of the new Charter of Fundamental Rights authorises the EU to limit rights « where necessary » in the « general interest » of the EU. It is of course the European Court that will decide what is « necessary », and what constitutes the « general interest ». The Connolly case provides the clearest guide to date as to how the court may deploy its not inconsiderable powers once the charter is formally proclaimed. 
European Justice 
          In November, Members of the European Parliament were voting for a European Police College tasked with « developing a European approach in the field of crime-fighting, border surveillance, protecting internal security and maintaining law and order ». They were also voting for a judicial co-operation unit, Eurojust, « composed of prosecutors, or magistrates, to reinforce the fight against serious organised crime », and separately for a set of measures to create a « genuine European Area of Justice » that will lead to « the emergence of a European criminal law ». 
          This creation of an EU criminal jurisdiction had, for the first time, the UK's Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, vowing to oppose it, although he was careful not to say that he would actually veto the measure. In all probability he will accept it to avoid Britain becoming isolated. 
          Those who have read or heard of Corpus Juris will be familiar with this proposed piece of legislative tyranny and I will merely comment that, if agreed to at Nice, it will abolish Trial by Jury, Habeas Corpus, Double Jeopardy in both Britain and Eire (see CORPUS JURIS, le QL, no 39). The remaining signatories will see it as nothing new because they already have inquisitorial systems of justice. I recall reading somewhere that the late and little lamented Italian fascist, Benito Mussolini, once proclaimed that « We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forms of civilisation, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become ». EU Commission President Romano Prodi and his ilk seem to have taken up Mr. Mussolini's mantle. 
          Reading through the various press reports over the last year or so one finds conflicting statements emanating from pro-EU politicians. Britain's Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, attacked as a  «myth» the attempt to create a European Superstate. His statement though is at odds with the pronouncements of European statesmen such as Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, who opined that: « Transforming the European Union into a single State with one army, one constitution and one foreign policy is the critical challenge of the age ». Commission president Romano Prodi said too that, « Here in Brussels, a true European government has been born. I have governmental powers, I have executive powers for which there is no other name in the world, whether you like it or not, than government ». 
          At his Mansion House speech last month, Tony Blair said of the forthcoming meeting at Nice that Britain would not give up its veto on taxes, immigration, defence and social security despite his Government's readiness for a more « constructive » engagement in Europe. Notable for its absence was any mention of the words Justice or Home Affairs. Blair also said: « We have to negotiate toughly and get our way, not stand aside and let other European countries make the decisions that matter to us. Where we believe other countries are wrong, for example on tax harmonisation, we will say so. » Interestingly tough talk from a man who goes on vacation with four dozen machine pistol toting Special Forces and helicopters hovering over him and rides around in a missile proof Jaguar. 
          Later, after a 75 minute video conference with Jacques Chirac, Downing Street explained that Mr. Blair also was opposed to French attempts to extend the powers of the EU to cover aspects of direct taxation. However, the British Government was ready to give up the veto on a « case by case » basis in some limited areas, including the environment, the EU Commission's accounting procedures and the speeding up the work of the European Court of Justice. Presumably to further remove more rights and freedoms from EU citizens. 
          To conclude, after thinking about all of the above the following quotation struck me as quite apropos. « The generations which follow us will no doubt accept without comment the unification of Europe which we are about to accomplish, in the same way as the majority of our contemporaries regard the foundation of the Bismarckian Empire as a simple fact of history. The immense labour involved in the welding of northern, western, central and eastern Europe into one entity will be quickly forgotten... » 
          So now, as I go out into the neighbouring wood to cut my politically correct, « Non-denominational community winter-tree », I should not leave you without disclosing the identity of the speaker quoted above. Older readers may well have got it right, but in case you didn't, it was Adolf Hitler, speaking on 29 June 1942; although he tried to do it by force and happily for us all, he failed. 
          May I wish each of our readers a Happy Christmas and a superb start to the new millennium. 
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