A Message to the Government of Canada

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Take a look at the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For all its context, it is comparable to the American Constitution’s declaration of rights—the First Amendment, etc. For the most part, it’s an acceptable document. Most all of the fundamental and necessary rights which ought to be protected in a liberal democracy are there; freedom of speech, freedom of movement, judicial rights, the whole lot.

Passed in 1982 as a part of the aptly named Canadian Act 1982, it was considered as a reasonable upgrade for the previous Canadian Bill of Rights and is considered the legacy of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau—the father of the current Prime Minister. Unfortunately, this is one demonstrable and unacceptable fault in this integral piece of legislation. It is a simple fact, that we, as Canadian citizens, for all intents and purposes, don’t have any damn rights.

This may seem like an outlandish and unfounded claim; after all, the rights are right there, written in bold, black ink, glaring at you with demonstrable authority. But, often overlooked and always underestimated—at the top of the page—is a clause known affectionately as The Limitations Clause. Before any analysis or commentary on it, first take a look at the actual text:

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

If it is not immediately clear as to the way in which this section of, arguably, the most important document in Canadian law perverts the most integral of all governmental responsibilities, allow me to present such a case.

In 1689, over 300 years ago, John Locke published his Second Treatise of Government. The ideas which it contained defined his era, known as “The Enlightenment.” Discussed within were revolutionary concepts regarding government, society, and the self. Most important here, is Locke’s definition for the purpose of government:

So the great and chief purpose of men’s uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property.”

As a man’s property is an extension of himself which is most difficult of all for him to self-govern, it falls onto the sovereign to put foremost the protection of that right as such. Therefore, to elaborate that point, authority ought to use their power, their monopoly on violence, to secure the rights and freedoms of their citizens. Allowing any person to act as he would in a world of his own, with no one to impede or interrupt him, insofar as his actions do not harm (physically, however, the case can be made that it is sometimes justified for mentally) another man; essentially, the government ought to regulate one’s ability to act as close as possible to how one could behave in a vacuum. This idea is the basis for Western democracy, inspiring even Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the American Constitution.

Protest about bill C-51, an anti-terror legislation that gave broad new powers to Canada’s spy agency—in front of the office of the Canadian Prime Minister in 2015. (Photo: Robin_ottowa  CC2.0 )

Protest about bill C-51, an anti-terror legislation that gave broad new powers to Canada’s spy agency—in front of the office of the Canadian Prime Minister in 2015. (Photo: Robin_ottowa CC2.0)

So, assuming Canada is member to this idea of “Western democracy” (and, for all our sakes, I hope it is), it is not absurd to say that the Canadian government's priority should be in protecting its citizen's rights. And, at first glance, it seems that this is what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms accomplishes. Nevertheless, this is nothing more than a sneaky sleight of hand, a devastating shell game in which our rights are stolen from us and we, the people, are left broken and subjugated. We, as Canadians, have made such a terrible blunder in allowing this to occur. There should not, under any circumstances, be such limits on our fundamental freedoms. The Americans, with their Constitutional rights, have made the correct decision. They have managed to keep intact most all of the rights which they set out in their original (or amended) doctrine. A strong, concrete declaration of unalienable rights is a necessary step in securing one's nation.

However, is it not the case that Canada has remained steadfast in its commitment to liberty? Has there been any case where Section 1 has been misused? The answers to these questions are, at least in my opinion, completely irrelevant. Whether or not the law has been activated for nefarious means is an unnecessary point of information, if it is clear that they have the innate possibility of being misused. Despotism was shunned from this continent for this very reason; for, while there may exist a plethora of benevolent and “divine” rulers, there also exists malevolent and tyrannical ones. The world, for many years, allowed absolute power over their rights to be given over to a sovereign; what ensued was calamity after calamity.

One argument often heard about this specific case, is that of “unknowingly benevolent bureaucracy,”—meaning that there is so much red tape which covers this section, that there is no way it could ever be used maliciously. Those people who argue this, do so from the side of pragmatism—or so they would like to think; rather, anyone who argues such a position is naive and unprincipled. There is a reason we have an expression for “peeling back the red tape”, because all of these so-called hoops, can be undone. No matter what the restrictions may be, it’s from a principled stance that one must wholeheartedly object. There is no qualification or restriction which can make Section 1 acceptable. Right there, in a document central to the constitution of our nation, are codified terms which contradict, in its entirety, the ethos of Canada.

There exists no federal party of any relevant stature which hopes to amend this wrong. It is for this reason that every citizen in this country, no matter your age, race, or political affiliation, ought to voice their outrage over this hidden injustice.

It does not matter whether you are a Conservative, Liberal, New Democrat, Green, or a supporter of the People’s Party of Canada—if you believe that Canada is a nation which stands for individual liberty, you must stand against Section 1. If you believe Canada is a nation which stands for justice, you must stand against Section 1. If you believe Canada stands, not for tyranny, but for Canadians, you must stand against Section 1. You must demand your rights because no one else is going to do it for you. You must stand, feet firmly planted, and shout, with clarity, certainty, and Canadian spirit:

Give me my damn rights.