As I Please

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Matter of Rights

I haven't made any entries for quite some time, as I have resolved not to do so until my previous postings have all been completed, but on this day I decided to make an exception, it being the 25th anniversary of the formal passage into law of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or as we Canadians simply refer to it, the Charter of Rights. It is our constitutionally entrenched bill of rights, and in my humble opinion it is moving our country in the right direction. Before it could be enacted our constitution had to be patriated, and I recall my embarassment at the behaviour of some Progressive Conservative MPs in the House of Commons as the majority of MPs voted to bring our constitution home. Running up to the Speaker they shouted that Prime Minister Trudeau was going to establish a dictatorship among other things. As right-wing as I was then, I knew that their charges were idiotic and was disgusted at the behaviour of that section of the party I then supported. I was satisfied to know that at least they were a small section.
No longer unfortunately, as the right-wing of the party in power, the Conservatives (I do not consider them the Progressive Conservatives without the adjective), are now the leaders. And they are clearly hostile to the Charter. In that they are clearly representative of a sizeable number of Canadians who confuse democracy with majority rule, something admittedly I have found that even some political scholars have been guilty of. Decision by majority is a device of democracy but it is not democracy itself. The original, direct democracy of ancient Athens recognized this, according certain rights, admittedly few (right to trial, right to speak before the Assembly etc.), that could not in principle be overridden by the majority. What we call liberal or constitutional democracy extends this greatly by greatly increasing the number of rights protected against the majority, but in so doing better lives up to the literal meaning of democracy, the people rule, meaning all the people not just the majority, than a rights regime based on whatever majority sentiment permitted would.


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