By Gudrun Schultz

OTTAWA, Ontario, January 10, 2006 ( – Prime Minister Paul Martin, who in 2003 indicated he might use the notwithstanding clause to protect churches from performing gay ‘marriages’, said last night the first act of a new Liberal government would be to remove the clause from the Constitution. reported on Dec. 19, 2003 that on CBC radio Martin expressed a willingness to use the notwithstanding clause to protect churches. “I would look at it if it was a question of affirming a (religious) right,” he said.

However, in the English leaders debate last night in Ottawa Martin said, “[T]he first act of a new Liberal government is going to be removing, by Constitutional means, the possibility for the federal government to use the notwithstanding clause, because quite simply, I think governance says that the courts shouldn’t be overturned by politicians.”

The notwithstanding clause is an override power which allows parliament to overturn court decisions on Charter issues.ÂÂ

Gwen Landolt, vice president of Real Women of Canada, said it was alarming to hear of a decision with such profound ramifications.

“The implications are frightening. The clause is there to put a control mechanism on the courts. It is beyond belief that one would allow the handpicked appointees of the courts to operate without check.”

Landolt said the Supreme Court has already altered the Constitution by writing in protection for same-sex relationships that was not originally present.

“[Such actions] are not based on law, precedent, or legal principle. They are simply from the judges’ own heads.”

Conservative leader Stephen Harper said he believes the notwithstanding clause creates a necessary balance of power between parliament and the courts.

“[T]here is a danger in saying that the courts, regardless of the decision, will always be right. Our Charter and our Constitution sets up the dialogue where there’s a balance between parliamentary supremacy and the supremacy of the courts. That’s the balance I support,” Harper said in the debate last night.

See the text of last night’s debate at:

See previous report
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