On being responsible
The preamble of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1985 asserts that “the Canadian Human Rights Act provides that every individual should have an equal opportunity with other individuals to make the life that the individual is able and wishes to have, consistent with the duties and obligations of that individual as a member of society.”
In the current tumultuous debate about whether
Of course, I would have said that Mark Steyn’s stereotypical diatribe against Muslims did not meet the test of responsible journalism (as Maclean’s actually claimed it did at the time). That is why I am currently taking issue with Steyn and his chum on the right-wing blogosphere, Ezra Levant. Their opinions are theirs to express, but for the sake of society should be based on facts, not preconceived stereotypes or distortions.
My fact-check analysis of Steyn's book excerpt and columns in Maclean's told me that he does most of his research on blogsites. He was guilty of multiple distortions. I don't think that is “responsible.” It is not consistent with our duties and obligations as members of Canadian society.
What then is our collective responsibility as Canadian living in our society? It is clearly many things -- respect for free speech and all the other rights in Canadian law and society, including the right to be equal, the right to freedom of religion – and the rights we enjoy living in the world's first officially multicultural state.
In my view, we have not been encouraged to explore just what that means: What does living in a constitutional and official "multicultural state" really mean? Pierre Trudeau sort of sprung that on us, as a way out of the bilingualism and biculturalism conundrum, and it was a brilliant and inspired move. But there was never any real public debate about the Multiculturalism Act. It was a theoretical concept, meaning that
Abroad, that concept has made
That lack of understanding, the lack of debate, is part of what is now triggering the backlash against human rights commissions and the flexing of muscles in defence of free speech (which, in actual truth, is hardly under actual threat). Do we, as Ezra Levant says, enjoy an unlimited right to say whatever we want, no matter how irresponsibly, no matter who doesn't like it?
I don't think so. And I say that after considerable reflection. I have campaigned all my life for freedom of the press, which is part of freedom of speech and protected in our constitution. But the institution we set up to arbitrate our rights -- the Supreme Court of Canada -- has said quite clearly that no right automatically trumps another right. Our rights and freedoms must be balanced and weighed, often in individual cases. Although they are imperfect, human rights commissions were set up to help do that job.
So is the answer to do away with human rights commissions, as
A year or so ago, I participated in an academic symposium in
The concensus of most Americans there was that saying "nigger" on the air is more offensive than saying the f-word.
I believe we owe that to the “collective responsibility” of civility and respect that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act placed in our consciousness so long ago.