Musings —11.24.2014 07:51 PM—
In Latin, it’s called “audi alteram partem.”
That is, “hear the other side.” It’s a principle of what is referred to as natural justice. Put simply, natural justice offers citizens specific procedural rights – the right to be heard, and the right to a hearing free from bias.
Natural justice is an important concept, because it still forms the basis of much of our common law. Hear from both sides, and make it fair when you do: if you ever get in big trouble, that’s what you are entitled to expect.
Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews are in big trouble. Weeks ago, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suspended Pacetti and Andrews from the Grit caucus.
When he did so, Trudeau said this: “I am aware of how difficult it is for people to come forward. I believe strongly that those of us in positions of authority have a duty to act upon allegations of this nature…It’s 2014 – we have a duty to protect and encourage individuals in these situations to come forward. The action must be fair but decisive. It must be sensitive to all affected parties but, recognizing how difficult it is to do so, it must give the benefit of the doubt to those who come forward.”
When he rendered that decision, I and others considered it Justin Trudeau’s finest moment. He looked and sounded like a Prime Minister. He took decisive action that could only be harmful to his own cause. He did not identify the complainants in any way, and he acted swiftly.
In the Fall of 2014, when disturbing accounts of sexual harassment have seemingly become as commonplace as leaves on the ground, Trudeau’s actions were welcome. Unlike the CBC in the Jian Ghomeshi case, he did not dither for many months, hoping that the allegations would fade away. Unlike that crowd in Florida over the weekend, he did not give a standing ovation to Bill Cosby.
The revelation that the complainants in the case were New Democratic Party MPs came from the NDP itself. Representatives of the party quietly revealed to the media that members of their own caucus had made the allegations against Pacetti and Andrews. Thereafter, the NDP’s apparatchiks – who would have complained if Trudeau had waited – actually complained that Trudeau had acted too quickly. One of their MPs, a lawyer, even decreed that a crime had taken place. (But he didn’t, as far as we know, go to the police.)
Since then, nothing.
There has been a closed-door meeting on the Hill, apparently, at which participants determined they lacked the means to resolve the matter. There have been editorials and columns written, and plenty of angry recriminations back and forth. There has been the ongoing shunning of Pacetti and Andrews.
The two men may deserve their punishment, they may not. And therein lies the problem: we just don’t know.
Thomas Mulcair is rumoured to be a lawyer. He certainly enjoys styling himself as one in the House of Commons, ablaze with prosecutorial fury, as he peppers government benches with questions, all righteousness.
He’d be expected to know, therefore, that – in our system – individuals are to be afforded a fair hearing, free of bias, at which both sides are heard and tested. But the complainants in the Pacetti and Andrews case do not want to be heard anymore. Mulcair has said the NDP MPs have “a very strong desire to keep this confidential.”
Fair enough, and understandable, too. But it is also fair, and it is also understandable, that Justin Trudeau – and, almost certainly, Messrs. Pacetti and Andrews – possess “a very strong desire” to have the matter fairly and finally resolved, one way or another.
It is time for that to happen. The NDP may not care about natural justice – but they should.
It’s what we, the electorate – their bosses – expect.