One of the many stirring responses to the U.S. travel ban came from a familiar, strong voice. Newly appointed Canadian Senator Ratna Omidvar published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail calling on Canada to lead a global response to the refugee crisis, including immediately opening the door for all those caught in the US ban to be welcomed in Canada. This position stands in stark contrast to Liberal Government policy and it is not clear if Ratna Omidvar is writing as the long-standing activist for the protection of refugees she has been (and she remains a visiting professor at Ryerson’s Global Diversity Exchange), or as the Senator for Ontario that she has now become.
This kind of independent voice in the Senate is heartening – and clearly can be linked to Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s efforts to stimulate independence among Senators – both by dissolving the Liberal Senate caucus (making all formerly Liberal Senators independent) and by instituting a new merit-based appointment process. So, what will a “modern and independent” Senate look like – and how will it differ from the partisan model it is replacing? In this post, I offer some reflections drawn from comparisons with independence as it is understood in other parts of our political and legal system, and drawn from the Senate’s own history.