Many political observers in the Canadian province of Ontario are calling for a change to the law after a mandatory minimum penalty was accidentally applied to a powerful white man.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s seat has been declared vacant by a judge after Ford was found to have violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which also contains the harsh requirement that he lose his job.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” said area man Scott Johnston, who noted that he was more comfortable with mandatory minimums being used for laws typically prosecuted against poor people, black people, and generally “people who, I don’t know, aren’t like me?”
Frank Rashton, political science professor at the University of Toronto, said that enforcing the MCIA sets a dangerous precedent for other laws meant to hold political leaders to account. “I mean, what’s next,” Rashton asked, “we start enforcing election laws too?”
Pointing to a number of examples where elected officials have admitted breaking election laws in order to gain power, as well as ongoing cases where political parties are accused of engaging in systemic voter suppression, Rashton said “expecting politicians to be accountable under the law” would “[open] up a whole new can of worms.”
“I don’t think we’ve seriously considered the implications of going down that road,” he said.
Others argued that the real problem is not the law itself, but that in this particular case there weren’t enough loop holes designed to be exploited by powerful people. Columnist Sarah Simmer, who called the decision “Conrad Blackian*,” said that while it’s true enforcing other similar laws would be dangerous, it’s unlikely to create a rush on the courts since most of those laws already have built-in exceptions. “Look at Ontario,” she said. “A minister was set to be held in contempt by the legislature, but the premier was thankfully able to step in and stop it.”
Simmer said it would be dangerous to simply get rid of the MCIA’s penalties, because they’re “important for the appearance of accountability.” It would be better to instead ensure the penalties are never applied, she said.
When asked, outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty disagreed with Simmer’s interpretation. “We’ve been very clear. Using power to avoid accountability is only wrong when Conservatives do it. In the case of Rob Ford, it would not be appropriate.”
McGuinty also said that since municipalities are the responsibility of the province it would have been helpful if the legislature were sitting right now in order to respond to concerns about the MCIA, as well as questions regarding how the MCIA relates to municipal codes of conduct, before adding “hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.”
Chris Tindal is on Twitter.
* The author and publisher of this post would like to make it exceedingly clear that they don’t believe Conrad Black has ever done anything wrong ever and that that Simmer person was totally out of line, even for a fictional person employing parody.