Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Synopsis of Human Rights in Recent History - Part 1

Trying to get a Feel for the Historical Perspective

I started on my journey to understand Human Rights inadvertently while living in the US during the Presidential election in the Fall of 2008. At that time, while doing some pro-life work, the kind of stuff which puts me in league with other right wing extremists as far as Homeland Security is concerned, I pondered on the first Human Rights document I knew of, the United Stated Declaration of Independence.

United States Declaration of Independence

As Canadians, we are likely to be aware that this document was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, a gathering of the then 13 Colonies that would become the first 13 of the United States of America. I hear some wag in the back row saying to his wife: “Gee that’s the same day as American Independence Day. I wonder if that’s a coincidence, Martha.”

The document itself was principally drafted by Thomas Jefferson, from Virginia, who would later become the 3rd President of the United States. Jefferson was in fact wise beyond what was finally written, as about ¼ of what he wrote made the cutting room floor, but what remains is masterful, particularly that section which is called the preamble and which I have quoted below.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

If you recall Dean Steacy’s testimony from the Lemire case, which I commented on here, where he calls “freedom of speech” an American concept, here’s where they got the ball rolling. But, it’s not like they copyrighted the concept, and doled out marketing rights like the NFL or something.

Anyway, there is wisdom in these words, and every year there are parades to celebrate them, but a lot of their meaning has now hit that same cutting room floor in the US, and the valuable lessons that we, their nearest neighbour in Canada could have learned have gone to the Arctic or down the toilet. Ponder on these excerpts.

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. True, their unjust powers they get through lies and deceptions, when our backs are turned, and by churning out reports where they tell us what a great job they are doing, omitting deceptive practices and things they are too ashamed to admit to, for fear of losing their jobs. You can read what Ezra Levant has to say about Jennifer Lynch and the Canadian HRCs latest report here, including links to the actual report.

But as immediately follows: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it”. Jefferson and his peers were specifically talking about the British and their unjust rule over the American colonies, but even then, talked about man’s prudence, about altering before abolishing, and about suffering evils where they are sufferable before abolishing. But then there comes a time when action must be taken, words must be spoken or written, to protect the nation.

Four Freedoms Speech – January 6, 1941

Fast forward most of 200 years to 1941. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt voiced his own and the words and thoughts attributed to his wife Eleanor Roosevelt. Many credit these words as being an opening salvo in world wide Human Rights, particularly as they were later followed up with Eleanor’s work in the United Nations on Human Rights.

He spoke of 4 Freedoms in his State of the Union Address to Congress on that day. They were 1) Freedom of speech and expression, and 2) Freedom of religion both from the First Amendment and familiar to Americans of the time. He then added 3) Freedom from want, and 4) Freedom from fear. In context, there was a world war going on then that America was not yet engaged in, but was getting prepared for. So, these were heady times, and though Freedom from want is a post depression hope, more than a probability, Freedom from fear was high on everybody's list of hopes and dreams at the time. The entire speech is available in text here.

October 31, 1945 County of York, Ontario, Drummond Wren - An Unlikely Civil Rights Hero

Now come to Ontario Canada, for the convergence of the end of WWII, a well known Canadian jurist, and an unlikely war veteran turned civil rights hero.

The Second World War killed many fine Canadians, seriously wounded many others, and it woke a bunch of others up. One of the newly wakened was Drummond Wren. He bought a new home after the war, then promptly sued himself. Yes, he did. He sued because he saw a covenant that he had signed that said: “Land not to be sold to Jews or persons of objectionable nationality." He fought in a war for equality for all Canadians and he didn’t think this was right, so he sued to have this covenant declared invalid, and he won.

Ontario Supreme Court Judge John Keiller MacKay, a well respected jurist who would later be Lieutenant Governor of Ontario had this to say in the decision in Re Drummond Wren: "If sale of a piece of land can be prohibited to Jews, it can equally be prohibited to Protestants, Catholics or other groups or denominations. If the sale of one piece of land can be so prohibited, the sale of other pieces of land can likewise be prohibited."

In simile modo, one can also say that if a Catholic priest (Fr. Alphonse deValk) or an ordained minister (Stephen Boissoin) speaks what he believes to be true about homosexuality, which today is condemned as hate speech, then tomorrow, what the homosexual speaks about Christianity or medical care or some other identifiable group is also able to be condemned as hate speech. Simplistically, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and we're just waiting for the weather to change.

Judge MacKay also said in Re Drummond Wren: "Ontario, and Canada too, may well be termed a province, and a country, of minorities in regard to the religious and ethnic groups which live therein. It appears to me to be a moral duty, at least, to lend aid to all forces of cohesion, and similarly to repel all fissiparous (cool word of the day, means separatist or break away) tendencies which would imperil national unity."

Well spoken Judge MacKay in 1945. Jennifer Lynch would have us believe that people sparking debate about the work of the Canadian HRC by criticizing its practices and some of its cases is fissiparous. On the contrary, it is the practices themselves and the lack of accountability and failure to follow proper rules of evidence and procedure for bringing to trial that are hurting the cohesiveness of this country. I say: “Shame on you, Ms. Lynch for lying to us and blaming us for not rolling over and taking the lies.”

Although I digress from specific history of Human Rights, I was so impressed by the Honourable Judge MacKay that some things he said or thought were pertinent to the fabric of Human Rights in this country and so I have included them here.

In later life he also asked this question at one time: "Many new things are useful, but the experience of the ages must not be repudiated. Tradition has its failures but is it not so that tradition is the sum of those enduring values, which have been kept alive through all mutations and help to give us continual stability and direction to life?"

My first impulse is to stand up and start singing the song from Fiddler on the Roof about Tradition. But, more practically, I think of my personal Christian traditions, and those of Stephen Boissoin, and Father Alphonse de Valk, which they expressed in their writings, and for which they were charged with hate crimes. And it is our tradition in this country that, contrary to what our HRCs will tell us by either their testimony or the cases that they adjudicate, we have the freedom to speak our minds, should we choose to so do. That is how tradition and new ideas are communicated.

The one time mayor of Mimico Ontario, Hugh Griggs said of Judge MacKay’s philosophy of life: I think one should in the first place make a success in his own vocation. He should strive to be a lover of beauty, which is its own reward. He should be of service to others, which is one of the noblest attributes of mankind. He should value truth, without which no nation can become great and no society long endure. “

Judge Mackay is probably rolling over in his grave watching how the HRCs are tromping over the garden of jurisprudence that he strived to nurture in his lifetime is being filled with weeds. Judge MacKay believed you should value truth. Simon Fothergill of the Canadian HRC says the truth is optional, but if your feelings are hurt, somebody's gonna pay. There is a real disconnect here.

In Part 2, I will look at the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with some of my own thoughts, and try to work my way to today.

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