Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Property rights?

Did anybody catch Stephen Harper saying, during the debate, that he would like to see property rights in the Charter? I know Martin said he would get rid of the notwithstanding clause, and everyone thought that was really the most important thing. But property rights in the Charter? Isn't that worth a third-page mention?

Putting property rights into the Charter is a great idea. To be sure, Canada's system of law does give some de facto security with respect to property. While we have no enshrined right to property, courts in the past have given deference to individual property holders with respect to some things, and in some contexts. Very much like a budget vote being a confidence motion. It isn't written anywhere, and it isn't formal, but tradition insists that you treat votes on the budget as formal votes of confidence as well.

Including property protection in the Charter has several benefits. For one, it might embolden a lot of us to resist eminent domain by government officials. While those familiar with the law, or in a position to speak to a lawyer, are aware that there are legal options when the government comes to take your home and dog away, a significant proportion of Canadians are not aware that they can fight such a move. Since the Charter is more well-known, inserting property rights is likely to make more people aware of their legal ability to do what's right--fight eminent domain.

Just as it might embolden Joe Canada, it might demoralize the civil servants looking to build statues in honour of Trudeau on the land that is now Mrs. Patty's kitchen. They better have very good reasons for trying to take someone's property before they begin the process. As it currently stands, any reason is good enough. The restraint is by convention, not by law.

These kinds of outcomes are easily measured. We see what proportion of eminent domain cases are challenged in court before, and after insertion of property rights into the Charter. My suspicion is that the number of court trials will increase. Alternatively, you might measure (taking appropriate account of demographics and population) the number of eminent domain cases in general. I suspect that they will drop perceptibly.

Property rights in the Charter would also send a powerful symbolic message. Something like: Canada respects property, and the government had better take heed of that. Or maybe: What's yours is yours, and Ceasar doesn't just get to take whatever he'd like.

At any rate, it's a great idea. I hope it happens. And I hope Harper meant it.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Jesse Gritter Online said...

"Putting property rights into the Charter is a great idea."

Harper mentioned it in the English language debate. And, I agree, it's a great idea.

10:00 AM  
Blogger dr_dog said...

I was impressed by this idea. However, amending the Charter would require consent from the provinces, and I doubt Harper would be able to pull it off.

7:15 PM  
Blogger dr_dog said...

On another note, Martin attacked Harper's proposal in the French debate last night (“He wants to enshrine property rights in the Charter, but he won't defend a woman's right to choose”) — but accidentally attributed the scheme to Layton instead.
Jack was not amused, but I sure was.

7:39 PM  
Blogger mostlyfree said...

This is totally my baby. (Well not just my baby, but still, I like to claim a tiny piece of credit for my part in it.)

I managed to convince our regional policy meeting to put it through to the party during the policy development process last year and voted on it at the convention.

So now, the pocket book of Conservative Policy says...

"The 1960 Bill of Rights, introduced by the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, confers the protection of property rights on Canadians. However, property rights are not mentioned in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A Conservative government will:

- Propose an amendment to the Constitution to include the right to own property, as well as guarantee that no person whall be deprived of their just right without the due process of law.

- Enact legislation to ensure that full, just, and timely compensation will be paid to all persons who are deprived of personal or private property as a result of any federal government initiative, policy, process, regulation, or legislation."

Yay!

9:10 PM  
Blogger P. M. Jaworski said...

Hey, you rock! We should make this the big issue once old man Harper is sitting in a more comfortable chair in the House.

11:41 PM  
Blogger mostlyfree said...

Agreed!

10:51 AM  

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