Department of Justice chided for suspending lawyer who questioned legality of new legislation

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms marks its 30th anniversary on April 17, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is not marking the occasion because the Charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter.

Canada's Department of Justice has been chided for suspending a lawyer who raised concerns about new crime and immigration legislation.

Lawyer Edgar Schmidt was suspended without pay after challenging the department in court, claiming the department knows that new laws could be found to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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The Globe and Mail had the exclusive on Wednesday morning, with details about Schmidt's suspension, coming after he claimed that mandatory minimum sentence legislation, and immigration and refugee laws, was likely to result in legal challenges.

The Department of Justice said Schmidt was suspended for violating his duties as a public defender. Schmidt says he is a whistleblower.

Federal Court judge Simon Noël criticized the Department of Justice on Tuesday for the suspension.

Noël told government lawyers, according to the Globe:

The day after the filing of this statement [by Mr. Schmidt], bang: ‘You’re suspended.' It’s unbelievable … Your client has done everything it can to kill this thing. The court doesn’t like that … We see that in different countries and we don’t like it … Canada is still a democracy.

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The entire piece is worth a read. The issue pits the Department of Justice against one of its own. Hanging in the balance is the degree to which the Minister of Justice is responsible to warn the House of Commons that proposed legislation does not mesh with the Charter.