Drainville just doesn't get it

By Beryl Wajsman on February 17, 2014

Yes, I know. The title of this piece is an understatement, at the least, given my previous critiques of most elements of Bill 60. But this is not about the law, it is about the man.

As I have written before, reasonable people can agree that laity in the areas of the public square where we make laws, interpret them and enforce them has a long history of tradition and jurisprudence in western democracies. There have even been lay regulations in public schools that have withstood tests of intellectual rigour and legal challenge. What is not acceptable about Bill 60 is the breadth and depth of its imposition of secularism in areas such as healthcare where it is irrelevant. It should not, and must not, be imposed beyond the confines described here.

But law is more than about the words in a bill. It is about how it is debated, written and applied. It is about just and due process. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated, “Justice must be seen to be done as well as to be done.” This is the reason for the title of this editorial.  Bernard Drainville doesn’t seem to understand that justice must be seen in the process in order to have any hope of actually achieving just law.

The reason it is important to write about this today, is Minister Drainville’s unacceptable badgering of Angela Mancini, Chair of the English Montreal School Board’s Council of Commissioners, at the Bill 60 hearings last week. Mancini was presenting the EMSB’s brief on the issue. In it she stated that the EMSB would never apply the law as written if passed in the current form. She pointed out that the Bill was directly at odds with Quebec Education department directives on respecting, teaching and accommodating diversity in schools.

In the question period that followed, Drainville unceasingly badgered Mancini on one point – whether Mancini was suggesting and supporting civil disobedience. The manner of his questioning was so unrelenting, the cadence of his words so aggressive, that the Chair of the committee asked Mr. Drainville to restrain his rhetoric. A Liberal member of the committee reminded Drainville that this was not a trial and he was not a prosecutor. And this too is something Drainville does not get. He confuses consultation with coercion.

Drainville’s questioning was objectionable on several levels. First, he implied that civil disobedience was somehow a foreign element in public affairs, not only forgetting that it was only through the use of that weapon that the American civil rights movement succeeded and but indeed was a vital factor in the rise of his own party’s brand of nationalism -  heavily laced with allies practicing not only civil disobedience but some of the other kind as well – to power. It was suffocating hypocrisy. Second, Drainville evidenced a total disregard for the consultative nature of committee hearings seeking instead to intimidate Mancini, which he failed to do. Finally, the tone and tenor of his questioning was reminiscent of nothing less than US Senator Joe McCarthy and his communist witch hunts of the 1950s and his famous question, “Have you now or have you ever been…” Drainville went beyond the pale of appropriate democratic discourse.

His performance was so outrageous that it brought into stark relief the public face of his colleague Jean-François Lisée. One can disagree with Mr. Lisée, the Minister responsible for Montreal, on many issues. And he would certainly disagree with us on many. But since taking office Mr. Lisée has been punctilious in respecting civil discourse when engaging with his opponents whether as witnesses in the Assembly or in meetings in this city. He has understood, intrinsically, that part of “ justice being seen to be done” is to be respectful of opposite points of view. And it matters little whether deep within him he might like to express his opinions in a more passionate manner. He honors his office in his behavior, understands its responsibilities and shows respect to his opponents. He gets it. Mr. Drainville on the other hand, our Minister for Democratic Institutions,  could use some mentoring.

All of us would like to see as little conflict in society as possible. But we would also like to see law and legislation  not used as a two-edged sword of craft and oppression. We want it to be the staff of the just and the shield of the innocent. But when it is not, let us remember the words of Gandhi – whose writings Mr. Drainville respects – when he wrote in the 1940s that, “We are a society of laws and not of men. But when bad men make bad laws, and unprincipled officials compromise good ones, then it is time to stand up and be a man and exercise responsible agitation to stop governments from staggering drunkenly from wrong to wrong merely to perpetuate their own immortality.”


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