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Michael Mandel

Toronto, Wall & Thompson, 1989. 368pp, paper, ISBN 0-921332-13-0 (cloth) $34.95, 0-921332-05-X (paper) $19.50. CIP

Post-secondary / Adult
Reviewed by Grace Shaw.

Volume 17 Number 5
1989 September

Mandel's complex and detailed book, The Charter of Rights and the Legalization of Politics in Canada advances the thesis that the judicial process has superseded the political process, increasing the centrality and power of the legal system in Canada. Exploring the history, philosophic rationale and implications of the Charter, Osgoode Hall law professor Mandel charts the judgements of the court through the Parti Quebecois, Operation Dismantle, Meech Lake, and cases involving class struggle and disadvantaged groups.

Equally important assertions are that the Charter is undemocratic and that it is partisan. Interpreted by judges who are not responsible to anyone "but who are empowered to nullify the laws of those who are responsible," the Charter moves beyond public scrutiny and removes responsibility from the politicians who wrote the law and picked the judges to enforce it. Politicians can now appear resolute but take no risks. Although the Ontario Divisional Court stated that the Charter "was not intended to transform this land from one governed by a parliamentary democracy to one governed by a judicial oligarchy," it has done so.

So inadequate is the justice system, and the Charter in particular, at defending the rights of the socially weak that Mandel suggests the success of such class struggle would have to come against the Charter, in spite of it, "maybe even over its dead body." A scaring indictment indeed. Enumerating countless cases of inequity and the law, Mandel demonstrates the consistent victory of business over organized labour and against all forms of regulation and the victory of the powerful over the power­less. Other democratic movements such as anti-nuclear, women's and aboriginal people's groups have met complicated opposition, small gains and no evening of the odds between strong and weak as promised. The ultra-conservative Charter protects the status quo.

Mandel has succeeded in what he set out to do; 'To reveal the dishonest nature of legalized politics and to show how what has been sold as a democratic movement is actually its opposite." His next book could continue his last chapter: what to do about the Charter?

The other side of the coin, and an annoying one for supporters of the status quo, this book needs to be read not only by political science students but also by all those who care about the kind of country we live in.

Grace Shaw, Vancouver Com­munity College, Vancouver, B.C.
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