What we don’t know about Senator Fairbairn

Jordan Press notes the constitutional conundrum Senator Fairbairn might present.

The Senate internal economy committee has asked for a legal opinion about Fairbairn that experts say will have to review constitutional rules about how one qualifies to be and remain in the Senate and whether Parliament can change those rules without having the provinces agree to amending the Constitution.

“You can’t create new mechanisms for removal short of the ones that are in there and for good reason. Do we really want someone to be able to question someone’s mental capacity to remove them from office? Can you imagine the legal machinations that politicians could get up to?” said Bruce Hicks, a political scientist from Carleton University. “The issue then comes down to do we remove a person who is ill and should we remove them and under what grounds do we remove them? At what level do we have a right to remove a person who has the constitutional right to sit in the chamber? The issue is a constitutional one at the heart of it.”

Joanna Smith notes how little we know about the specifics of Senator Fairbairn’s condition.

What, exactly, does a declaration of incompetence mean and what relevance does it have to the fact that Fairbairn continued to sit in the Senate — voting a dozen times along party lines after it was signed — until the end of June? Without being able to see the document or speak to Fairbairn or her joint agents about it, the declaration can mean any number of things, including very little.

Mary Schulz, education director at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said the first thing to remember is that dementia does not affect every aspect of life all at once. “Having a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean that you are suddenly unable to do anything. . . . A person can be competent in some areas and incompetent in others,” Schulz said, adding that competency can change from one day to the next. “Ultimately we’re going to be incompetent in every way, but it’s an insidious process, it’s a complex process and it’s not a black-and-white process,” Schulz said.

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