Killing for Laws

People get killed when laws are enforced. How should this bear on our thinking about the laws’ legitimacy?

There is too much law. Considering that people in the business of keeping track of it cannot even tell how much of it there is, I don’t think this claim is reasonably open to dispute. But what laws should we get rid of? One seemingly attractive answer is: all those we are not willing to kill to enforce. It’s a great rhetorical weapon against laws: while we’re probably willing to resort to violence to stop violence, the boundaries of permissible law shrink very, very fast beyond that. But on further reflection I think this is not the right way to think about the issue.

Conor Friedersdorf quoted Stephen Carter’s statement of this view in a short piece in The Atlantic some years ago. (I haven’t tracked down the source of the quotation, though I haven’t looked very hard.) Professor Carter wrote:

[E]ven a breach of contract requires a judicial remedy; and if the breacher will not pay damages, the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.

This is by no means an argument against having laws. It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. … The statute or regulation we like best carries the same risk that some violator will die at the hands of a law enforcement officer who will go too far. 

David Henderson picked this up in a recent post on EconLog, which is how I came across this particular statement of the “willingness to kill” test for the appropriateness of law. Professor Henderson suggests that you

[t]hink about all the laws and regulations you want. Then think about whether you want the government to be willing to kill people if those who disobey escalate their disobedience. … Then ask yourself if that affects your thinking about any of the laws that you previously said you wanted. Laws that make gasoline cans almost useless? Laws that say you can’t have more than a certain volume of water per minute coming out of your shower head? Laws against using marijuana? Laws against growing marijuana?

Like I said above, the suggestion seems to be that we shouldn’t have such laws ― not just as a matter of policy, but that it is immoral to have such laws and to expose people to the risk of death at the hands of law enforcement for disobeying them. And, to repeat, I’m not convinced.

Part of the reason why was given shortly after Mr. Friedersdorf’s piece appeared by Joe Carter at the Acton Institute’s blog. Mr. Carter referred to Frédéric Bastiat’s argument that resort to law, and to force in enforcing it, is legitimate when, but only when, an individual would be justified in using force to assert his or her natural rights (i.e. life, liberty, and property). The law is a collective substitute for individual self-defence or self-help. Now, just as an individual will sometimes be justified in using force, but not deadly force, in protecting his or her rights, so the law’s intervention may be justified only to a degree. But an individual does no wrong if the accidental consequences of an application of force in self-defence exceed what would have been a priori justified in the circumstances. (Mr. Carter gives the example of a person struggling with a thief who falls and breaks his neck. It would have been wrong to kill the thief intentionally, but the person is not blameworthy for the accident, even though it would not have occurred had they not defended their property.) And this too applies to the law: “Intentionality”, says Mr. Carter, “carries a lot of weight in such scenarios, whether the force is being applied by me or by the Sheriff”.

I think this is mostly right, but I would add a couple of qualifications or nuances. First, I’d sharpen Mr. Carter’s argument a bit. In the example he gives, it’s not only the case that the person who struggles to keep his or her property and in the process accidentally causes the thief to die is blameless. It’s also that the thief is actually wrong ― not just to commit the theft in the first place, but also, additionally and separately, wrong to persist in it and to struggle to hang on to unjustly acquired goods. Similarly, at least if assume that the enforcement of some laws is justified, and further that it is sometimes just (more on this presently), then at least in some subset of cases “escalating disobedience” is actually wrong. The thinkers and practitioners of civil disobedience ― Thoreau, King ― warned against it. So it’s not obvious that we should have special solicitude for the person who escalates disobedience ― at least in some (significant) number of cases.

This brings me to the second qualification to Mr. Carter’s argument. He concludes by writing that “the problem is not the violence” which sometimes accompanies the enforcement of the law, but “the injustice” of far too many laws. But we have been painfully reminded, over the last few years, that too often “the violence” is indeed a problem. Even if the underlying law is just, it can nonetheless be enforced unjustly, in ways that make it impossible to analogize the suffering caused in the process to an accident of no real moral significance, let alone something the law-breaker is to blame for. Far too often, law enforcement resorts to lies, intimidation, excessive actual or threatened violence and deprivation of rights. These problems can be and too often are compounded by prejudice, notably racial prejudice. Also far too often, moreover, law enforcement agencies and agents are unaccountable for these wrongs.

This is precisely why the “willingness to kill” argument, although not strictly valid, is intuitively appealing. At the very least, it draws our attention to the costs that our preference for and belief in the legitimacy of laws imposes on others (and sometimes, though rarely, on us). It also draws our attention to the fact that, our world being rather imperfect, these costs will be rather higher than ideal theory or even analogies to improbable accidents suggest, and unjustly so. And again the injustice is often compounded by the fact these costs weigh heavier on some groups of people than on others ― on the excluded, on the deviant, on the different. We can and should try to reform the system by which our laws are enforced to lessen the disparity, but we can and should also reform the legal system as a whole to reduce the cost of its enforcement for everyone, in recognition of the fact that injustice equally distributed does not cease being injustice.

Lastly, and despite the foregoing, I’ll add that, much as I love Bastiat, there is at least one kind of laws that are, I think, justified but do not fit the strictures of his definition: namely, laws that solve coordination problems. The classic example is the rule as to which side of the road people should drive on. I don’t think that such laws can easily be explained in terms of defence of natural rights; no one person has a right to dictate to another where to go. But such laws serve to make it easier for everyone to enjoy their freedom around other human beings and increase opportunities for peaceful collaboration. They are legitimate if any laws ever are, and even anarchists would want to devise (non-state) mechanisms for enforcing ― coercively if need be ― equivalent rules. It would of course be quite wrong to punish driving on the wrong side of the road by death, and we wouldn’t want anyone to to be killed for breaking this rule, even though it is very useful and not very onerous. But that doesn’t mean that there ought to be no rule about what said of the road to drive on, even if in some small proportion of cases rule-breakers who escalate their disobedience ― say by trying to drive away at high speed when the police attempt to stop them ― will end up dead.

With these qualifications, I think that the “willingness to kill” argument doesn’t quite work, but it draws our attention to some real issues. The concerns that make it appealing to some people are not decisive for or against a particular law, or even for or against a particular theory of legitimacy. But they should at least weigh on us when thinking both about individual laws and about theories of legitimacy, and make us prefer there to be less law rather than more, other things being equal.

The Judges’ Law

Did you always want to know what my dissertation is about? Let me tell you!

I have occasionally mentioned the doctoral thesis I have been working on for the past four and a half years, and even posted a few tidbits (here, here, and here). But I don’t think I’ve ever even explained what the damned thing is about. Yet it is ― until I defend it, hopefully this spring ― after all, my “day job.” Anyway, I was recently asked to produce an abstract of the thing, and I figure that, having done so, I might as well share it. Here it is.

The Judges’ Law

As citizens of democratic polities we mostly share an ideal of self-government, according to which the laws under which we live ought to be made by legislatures which we elect and which act on our behalf. Yet rules articulated by courts in the course of adjudication―which I refer to as “adjudicative law”―form a non-negligible, and in common law jurisdictions a very significant, part of the law of the law of such polities. This is a study of these rules: of the context in which they are articulated, of their origins, and of their legitimacy in a democracy.

I begin by describing the environment in which adjudicative law emerges. First, I survey some constraints that judicial adjudicators face: a duty to attend to the arguments put forth by the parties, to decide the dispute, to do so in accordance with a general rule, to give reasons for their decision, and to uphold and preserve the law’s coherence. Second, I consider a number of characteristics of courts as institutions, including judicial independence, judicial training, and collective decision-making on appellate courts. Third, I review the rules of justiciability and evidence, insofar as they influence the articulation of adjudicative law.

I then examine the sources from which the rules of adjudicative law are drawn. After reviewing of the some academic writings on this point, I consider the reasons given by courts in a number of important, precedent-setting cases drawn from a variety of areas of the law. The main sources of adjudicative law I describe are underlying legal principles, social practice, and judicial fiat implementing a court’s policy judgment.
Having thus described some salient characteristics of adjudicative law, I turn to the question of its legitimacy in a democratic polity, focusing on four themes. The first is democracy, in connection with which I address the issue of the democratic deficit of adjudicative law and the argument that it can claim a democratic legitimacy that does not rest on the ballot box. Second, I consider the quality of adjudicative law, its fitness for purpose. Under this heading, I assess some issues with the courts’ institutional competence, on the one hand, and the claims that adjudicative law stands in a privileged relationship with reason, on the other. Third, I address the question of whether adjudicative can satisfy the requirements of the Rule of Law. Finally, I consider the relationship between adjudicative law and the past, focusing on the principle of stare decisis.

The outcome of this re-assessment is a nuanced one. Adjudicative law suffers from undeniable weaknesses, when compared with legislation―or at least with legislation as it might be, and not necessarily as it actually is. But the gravity of these weaknesses varies across areas of the law and depends on the specific institutional arrangements used in each legal system. It is best, I conclude, to refrain from across-the-board condemnations or endorsements of adjudicative law, and consider each case in its own context and on its own merits.

We are, I explain in conclusion, bound to live with adjudicative law, flawed though it may be. Yet its flaws can be addressed to some extent, even within the framework of our current institutional arrangements. These remedies, which I briefly outline, will not make the problems of adjudicative law disappear, but they may somewhat improve the situation. Since adjudicative law is with us to stay, even slight improvements would be worthwhile.


Is It Legit?

I am continuing my series of posts about the duty to vote ― or nonexistence thereof. Earlier this week, I addressed what I called information-based arguments: claims to the effect that we must vote in order to contribute our views, either about what political option is best for us, or about which of them will make for better government in the general interest. I had addressed the gratitude-based arguments in an earlier post. Here I take on a different sort of argument, which I will describe as legitimacy-based. It is the idea that it is necessary for people to vote because the continuing legitimacy of our democratic political arrangements depends on widespread participation. If abstention rates are too high, democracy itself is at risk. This argument, in my view, is both empirically and normatively problematic.

Let’s start with the normative problem. The legitimacy-based government (like the information-based one) is an instrumental one: it considers that voting is a duty not for its own sake, but for a ulterior purpose. In order for democracy to endure and thrive, you ought to vote. But not everyone agrees with this purpose. A democratic society does not expect or require all of its members to be democrats. There are authoritarians in our midst, and there are anarchists. I happen to think that they are wrong; most people presumably think so too. But they are entitled to their opinions, and I do not see why they would have a moral duty (still less, of course, how one could justify imposing on them a legal duty) to nurture a political system with which they disagree.

Very well, you will say, but what of the majority who do believe that democracy is the best political system, or at least the worst except all the others? Don’t they have a duty to vote in order to reinforce this system? Indeed, there is some threshold of participation below which an electoral system can lose its legitimacy and will be in danger of being replaced by less democratic arrangements. The situation of Québec’s school boards is a case in point: the commissioners and chairpersons of the boards are elected, but in 2014, only 5.5% of the province’s voters bothered to cast a ballot ― and the government is now planning on scrapping the elections. (To be clear: I have no idea whether, in that instance, less democratic means worse.) But is the theoretical possibility of this happening enough to justify a duty to vote?

Nobody actually thinks that everyone must vote in order for an electoral system, or the result of a given election, to be legitimate. The Québec secession referenda were not illegitimate because turnout was “only” 85.6% in 1980 and 93.5% in 1995. Nor were Canadian elections grounds for legitimacy concerns when turnout fluctuated around 75%. Of late, however, it has been substantially lower ― around 60%. But for all the worries about the vitality of Canadian democracy that these numbers have provoked, they would be reasonably high for presidential elections (never mind, say, mid-terms) in the United States. I’m not sure anyone worries about the survival and legitimacy of democracy in the United States, at least not because of turnout figures ― though to be sure there is no shortage of people who would like them to be higher. The same goes, to the best of my knowledge, for Switzerland, where turnout in the three federal elections held since 2000 has consistently been below 50% (45.2% in 2003, 48.9% in 2007, and 49.1% in 2011).

All that to say that while there is some turnout threshold below which the viability of a democratic system can come into question, it is quite clearly situated well below the turnout levels actually observed in Canadian elections. Quite clearly, nothing like near-universal participation in elections is necessary for a well-functioning democracy. It is thus not at all clear that an individual’s commitment to democracy translates into a duty to vote. Besides, that commitment can be expressed in any number of ways other than voting, a topic to which I will come back in a subsequent post.

The legitimacy-based argument sometimes has a somewhat different focus, reflecting a concern not with the vitality of the democratic system as such, but with the legitimacy of specific governments. Thus Andrew Coyne worries that “‘[m]ajority’ governments are now formed in this country with the support of barely one in five adult citizens — about the same as elected governments a century ago, when women were not allowed to vote.” In his view, this amounts to “a crisis of democratic legitimacy.” As with the concerns about the legitimacy of democratic politics as such, it is not clear that the crisis is real. Was there a crisis of democratic legitimacy during the presidency of Bill Clinton, first elected in 1992 with 43% of the popular vote on a turnout of 55.2%, and thus the votes of 23.7% of the registered voters, re-elected in 1996 with 49.2% of the votes cast out of a turnout of 49%, and thus the support of 24.1% of the registered voters? If there was, why is it that more than 60% of the American people apparently approved of that job he had done by the end of his second term? Actually, I doubt that Mr. Coyne or others who trot out this particular argument really believe in it. It is a nice rhetorical flourish, and nothing more.

The need to preserve the legitimacy of our democratic system or even of the governments that it produces cannot justify a duty to vote even for those who accept that this need is a pressing concern ― which is not everyone in politically free and pluralistic societies. There are at least a couple of other arguments in favour of such a duty that I have not yet addressed, however. I try to do so shortly. And if you are worried that I will miss your favourite one, do not hesitate to tell me about it!

Les légitimités et le droit

Un récent billet de Pierre Trudel illustre bien certains problèmes dans une pensée, malheureusement, commune face au conflit « étudiant » qui sévit actuellement dans quelques universités et collèges du Québec. Se présentant comme une position de compromis entre l’immobilisme gouvernemental et irrédentisme des associations étudiantes pro-grève, cette pensée réclame l’ « encadrement » d’un droit de grève étudiante, au sujet duquel il existerait une ambiguïté, par voie législative ou, à défaut, par règlement imposé dans le contrat d’études. Or, cette pensée, même si elle est souvent véhiculée par des juristes, dont le professeur Trudel, fait l’économie de certains principes juridiques fondamentaux. Le soi-disant compromis qu’elle propose n’en est pas un.

Le prof. Trudel écrit que

[d]eux légitimités sont en présence: d’une part la légitimité dont se réclament les associations étudiantes, accréditées en vertu de la loi pour défendre les intérêts collectifs de l’ensemble des étudiants et d’autre part, la légitimité dont se réclament les individus qui invoquent le contrat qui existe entre chaque étudiant et son institution d’enseignement. De part et d’autre on revendique la légitimité, l’affrontement est inévitable. On connaît la suite, on vit les perturbations, la confusion, la judiciarisation du conflit et la violence.

Ces conséquences néfastes seraient, selon lui, évitées si le droit de grève était reconnu aux associations étudiantes, par loi ou règlement, puisque « [c]ela rendrait pratiquement impossible les recours judiciaires afin de rendre inopérantes les décisions des associations étudiantes ». En contrepartie, il faudrait aussi encadrer la façon dont les votes de grève sont tenus.

Le prof. Trudel a certes raison d’affirmer que « deux légitimités sont en présence ». En fait, dans une société, il y a au minimum autant de légitimités qu’il y a de citoyens, dont chacun est un être libre et porteur de droits inaliénables. Cependant, il y a aussi des légitimités additionnelles créées par des associations de ces citoyens libres, qu’elles soient « accréditées en vertu de la loi » ou aient une existence, pour ainsi dire, propre (telles des églises). L’idée que chaque individu et chaque association volontaire d’individus est, a priori, libre est le principe philosophique fondamental duquel je pars.

Ce principe philosophique se reflète dans celui, juridique, que tout ce qui n’est pas interdit par la loi est permis. Autre principe philosophique et juridique fondamental : c’est l’État qui, par le droit, règle les conflits entre les légitimités présentes dans la société. Mis ensemble, ces deux principes ont comme corollaire le principe supplémentaire voulant que, pour contraindre un individu (présumé libre!) au nom du respect d’une légitimité concurrente à la sienne, une autorisation juridique est nécessaire. Cette autorisation juridique peut prendre plusieurs formes ― loi, règlement (autorisé par la loi), contrat (autorisé par la loi ou la common law), etc. ― mais elle est une condition sine qua non de la contrainte légitime.

Ces principes élémentaires permettent de rejeter l’idée qu’il existerait, en ce moment, une quelconque ambiguïté au sujet d’un prétendu « droit de grève » des étudiants qui leur permettrait d’empêcher leurs confrères d’assister à leurs cours. Puisque ni la loi ni aucune autre source juridique n’accorde pas un tel pouvoir coercitif aux associations étudiantes, elles ne l’ont pas. Il est donc faux de parler de confusion, comme s’il s’agissait d’une conséquence normale de l’état actuel du droit. Si confusion il y a, elle n’est due qu’à ceux qui prétendent faussement que le défaut du législateur à autoriser les associations étudiantes à contraindre laisserait la question de l’existence de ce pouvoir sans réponse. Et il est tout aussi erroné de déplorer la « judiciarisation du conflit ». Le droit, y compris bien sûr les institutions judiciaires, existe justement pour régler des « conflits de légitimité », et lorsqu’une partie à un tel conflit ignore le droit, l’autre est justifiée de recourir aux tribunaux pour le lui rappeler.

Cela ne règle évidemment pas la question de savoir si les associations étudiantes devraient se voir accordé un pouvoir coercitif. Avant d’en dire quelques mots, il faut, tout de même, souligner qu’autoriser les associations étudiantes à imposer leurs décisions collectives à ceux qui ne sont pas d’accord avec ces décisions représenterait bel et bien un changement important du droit, et non seulement l’éclaircissement d’un flou ou l’élimination d’un vide juridique.

Il faut aussi aborder la question, soulevée par le prof. Trudel, de savoir comment ce changement devrait se faire, si tant est qu’il est juste et opportun. L’adoption d’une loi serait certes un mécanisme approprié. Qu’en est-il, toutefois, de la modification, par règlement universitaire, du contrat d’études, solution de rechange proposée par le prof. Trudel? À cet égard, je soulignerais simplement que le contrat d’études en est un d’adhésion et qu’on devrait, à tout le moins, hésiter avant de soumettre une personne à un pouvoir coercitif par un tel contrat. Même si l’imposition d’une obligation de respecter un mandat de « grève étudiante » par contrat d’adhésion ne serait pas abusive au sens de l’article 1437 du Code civil, et donc nulle, sur le plan moral, il faudrait tout de même avoir une bonne raison pour la justifier ― tout comme une loi au même effet, du reste, car une loi, bien plus encore qu’un contrat d’adhésion, oblige ceux et celles qui ne sont pas d’accord avec elle.

Existe-t-il une telle raison? Le fardeau de persuasion repose, me semble-t-il, sur ceux qui proposent de changer le droit, non seulement parce que c’est généralement le cas en matière de changements juridiques, mais aussi, et surtout, parce que le changement en cause vise à limiter la liberté de personnes qui ne consentent pas à l’imposition d’une telle limite. Or, le prof. Trudel ne fournit aucune raison qui le justifierait, sinon que la reconnaissance d’un pouvoir de coercition aux associations étudiantes permettrait de régler le conflit actuel. Accorder un poids quelconque à cette justification reviendrait tout simplement à céder à la violence de ceux qui ignorent le droit actuel, et donner à tout groupe minoritaire et contestataire une raison de recourir à la perturbation, voire à la force, dans l’espoir que la volonté de préserver la « paix sociale » mènera les autorités à faire droit à leurs revendications. Ce ne serait pas un compromis, mais une capitulation.

Par ailleurs, invoquer la « démocratie » étudiante ou la volonté d’une majorité comme justification d’un pouvoir coercitif ― ce que le prof. Trudel ne fait pas, si je le comprends bien ―  ne serait qu’une pétition de principe. La question est justement de savoir si la majorité devrait avoir ce pouvoir là. Dans un État constitutionnel, même la majorité des citoyens n’a pas tous les pouvoirs. Une majorité doit toujours justifier les pouvoirs qu’elle réclame face à ceux qui ne sont pas d’accord pour les lui octroyer.

Je laisse aux défenseurs de la coercition des associations étudiantes le choix de la justifier. J’aimerais seulement leur rappeler que, comme le souligne fort justement Simon Langlois dans le Devoir,

[l]’université n’est pas au service d’une cause, d’une Église, d’un parti, de l’État, des entreprises, d‘une idéologie dominante ou encore d’une classe sociale. Telle qu’on la connaît aujourd’hui, l’université est d’abord un lieu d’enseignement et de recherche […].

Stanley Fish a souligné, à moult reprises (par exemple, dans ce billet), que les professeurs qui remplacent, de façon plus ou moins transparente, leur enseignement ou leur recherche par l’activisme à la faveur d’une cause ou d’une idéologie abusent de leur liberté académique et se détournent de la mission de l’université. « Save the world on your own time », leur dit-il. Or, on peut fort bien dire la même chose aux étudiants qui, en réclamant la reconnaissance de leur « grève sociale », cherchent eux aussi à abuser de leur position au sein des institutions académiques pour faire avancer des causes n’ayant que peu, voire pas, de liens avec la mission de celles-ci.

De la connerie

Je voudrais revenir sur une chronique qu’a publiée hier Alain Dubuc dans La Presse. Faisant allusion à la une récente de Libération qui, s’adressant à l’homme le plus riche de France, qui aurait demandé la nationalité belge dans le but de payer moins d’impôts une fois établi dans le plat pays, hurlait “[c]asse-toi, riche con!”, M. Dubuc se demande si les québécois aisés seront, eux-aussi, tentés de “se casser” en réponse aux augmentations d’impôts prévues par le Parti québécois. (Étant donné la position minoritaire du gouvernement du PQ, il n’est pas certain que ces augmentations auront lieu.) Ce qui m’intéresse ici, ce n’est pas l’aspect économique (les hausses prévues sont-elles nécessaires? vont-elles causer un exode d’entrepreneurs?), mais plutôt certaines questions relatives à la moralité politique tant de la hausse proposée que du départ possible de certains contribuables en réponse à cette hausse.

M. Dubuc suggère que les mesures proposées par le PQ sont illégitimes:

Ces taux élevés posent néanmoins un problème d’équité. Les deux tiers des contribuables visés ont un revenu entre 130 000 et 200 000$. Ce ne sont pas des Tony Accurso, mais des gens tout simplement à l’aise, souvent des salariés. Avant de leur taper dessus, il aurait fallu démontrer qu’ils ne paient pas leur juste part. Et démontrer que l’effort que l’on exige d’eux était essentiel. Ce n’est pas le cas. On leur demande d’absorber une contribution santé qui visait 4 millions de personnes et de payer le gel des droits de scolarité. Il y a là un choix idéologique qui entache la légitimité de la ponction.

Je pense que M. Dubuc a tort. Certes, augmenter les impôts sur certains contribuables pour redonner de l’argent à d’autres relève d’un choix idéologique. Et alors? Ne pas le faire, c’est un choix idéologique aussi, seulement animé par une idéologie différente. Comme le reconnaît M. Dubuc lui-même, “[l]a fiscalité, […] ce n’est jamais neutre.” Quels que soient les choix qu’on fait en la matière, l’idéologie y joue un rôle, et il faudrait éviter de prétendre que nos choix sont objectifs alors que ceux de nos adversaires, et seulement ceux-là, sont contaminés par l’idéologie.

Mais si on aurait tort d’essayer de délégitimer le choix politique d’augmenter les impôts sur les contribuables aisés sous prétexte qu’il s’agit d’un choix idéologique, on aurait tout aussi tort de vouloir délégitimer le choix de certains de ces contribuables de “se casser”, à la manière de Libération (dont le titre était, on s’en doute bien, une antiphrase). Car il n’y a rien d’immoral à ce que les membres d’une minorité―et il s’agit bien d’une petite minorité, 135 000 personnes sur les quelque 5 millions d’électeurs québécois―qui, par définition, ne peuvent prévaloir dans une compétition électorale démocratique, cherchent à échapper aux prétentions de la majorité. Ceux qui ne peuvent pas faire compter leur voix ont l’option de la sortie, et l’injuste consiste non pas à ce qu’ils l’exercent, mais à vouloir la leur enlever. Et cela ne dépend pas de la justice de sa revendication sous-jacente. Même si on pense que l’état est en droit d’interdire la consommation des drogues, on ne prétendrait pas, je pense, que la personne qui déménage dans le pays voisin qui, lui, la permet, afin de s’y adonner commet une injustice quelconque. (Pourtant, cette personne-là aussi nous prive de ses impôts et de sa contribution éventuelle à la chose publique.) Il y a quelque chose de pervers, de cruel, à dire à une personne que non seulement on n’a pas la même vision de ses droits qu’elle, mais qu’elle ne doit même pas aller rejoindre un groupe qui, lui, partage la sienne.

La fiscalité, comme bien d’autres enjeux de politique publique, divise les opinions. C’est normal, c’est tant mieux même. Cependant, lorsque nous débattons nos opinions contradictoires, il ne faut pas tomber dans le piège de diaboliser nos adversaires. C’est une chose que de les accuser de ne pas maîtriser les faits ou de ne pas comprendre les implications ou les conséquences de leurs positions. C’en est une autre que de les accuser de mauvaise foi. On peut les traiter de cons si on veut,  mais pas de salauds. Car c’est ça, justement, la vraie connerie.

Legal and Political Questions about Student Protests

Faced with the lengthening strikes and the prospect of losing their semester – and thus having their graduation and their entry on the job market delayed – students at many of Québec’s CÉGEPs and universities have turned to the courts and have been seeking, and obtaining, injunctions forcing the schools to get back to teaching the courses they are registered for. The injunctions tend to prevent the student “strikers” from blocking entry to their schools and otherwise disrupting classes. The injunction obtained by a student in a technical programme at the CÉGEP de Saint-Laurent is, I understand, fairly typical. Other injunctions, aiming directly at student protesters, have been obtained by universities.

The law, explained for example in the CÉGEP de Saint-Laurent decision, is quite clear. Student associations do not have the same status as trade unions. They are not entitled to impose their “strike” votes on their members, as trade unions are. Students contract for education services, and pay, however little. They are entitled to have the classes they contract and pay for. They suffer great prejudice if they lose their semester. The protesters, on the other hand, can still protest if they feel like it, despite the injunctions.

Yet the courts’ stepping in to apply the law and grant these injunctions has produced an outcry, including from lawyers. The argument is that what’s going on is a “judicialization” of a social conflict; that the courts are improperly stepping in to resolve political questions. This is the issue I want to address today. What is the distinction between legal and political questions? And is a wrongful “judicialization” affecting the student protests in Québec? Continue reading “Legal and Political Questions about Student Protests”