What does the phrase “human rights abuse” suggest to you?
If you are like most people, when you hear about “human rights abuses”, you probably think about forced labor or extermination camps, about military dictators summarily executing their critics, about torture and ethnic cleansing, and other things similar to these.
What do all of these have in common?
First, they are all activities of governments rather than by ordinary people.
Secondly, they all involve actual physical suffering of some sort imposed on a large scale.
Finally, they have nothing to do with the laws and institutions established by progressives in Western countries like Canada, ostensibly to protect “human rights”.
Take the Canadian Human Rights Act, for example, which Parliament voted into law in 1977. This piece of legislation was clearly written, not to protect people from government abuses like ones mentioned above, to authorize government intrusion into the every day interactions of ordinary people.
In fact, this is blatantly stated at the very beginning of the CHRA itself. The “Purpose of Act” (Section 2) states:
The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.
Observe the following:
First, while governments are the perpetrators of the abuses we most commonly associate with “human rights” in ordinary conversation, the Canadian Human Rights Act’s declared purpose is “to extend the laws in Canada”, not to limit the power, scale, and scope of government.
Second, while we ordinarily think of “human rights abuses” in terms of extreme physical suffering, death, and unjust confinement, the CHRA is about economics.
Third, the CHRA points to an underlying principle as its justification. Upon closer examination that “principle” is just a standard progressive/leftist ideal. A principle, remember, is something you learn over time, at home growing up, in church, and from the folklore, traditions, and customs that represent the accumulated wisdom of your society, which forms your character, and guides you in your everyday decisions. An ideal is something that you dream up in your youth, as an abstract exercise in imagining a perfect world, and seek to impose on others.
“Equal opportunity” is an ideal not a principle. In its best form it is a negative ideal, declaring that individuals should rise and fall on their own merits or lack thereof, and that the government should not do anything, one way or another, to give any particular person an advantage over others. In its worst form it calls upon the government to create “equal opportunity”.
One person has an advantage over another because his father is a doctor and can afford to send him to the best schools whereas the second person’s father is the janitor’s assistant at the local grocery store and cannot afford the same privileges to his son. This is intolerably “unfair” to progressives and leftists who declare that the government needs to get involved and tax the doctor to pay for the education of the janitor’s assistant’s son so that they both have “equal opportunity”.
The “equal opportunity” of the Canadian Human Rights Act is also a form of the kind of “equal opportunity” that calls upon the government to take action rather than simply asking it to mind its own business. In this case, the CHRA authorizes the government to take action to protect “individuals” from “discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.”
What are these discriminatory practices? Do they involve torturing, confining, or killing people because of their race, their national or ethnic origin, colour, religion or any of the other criteria listed?
No. Acts of that nature were already illegal in Canada prior to the passing of the CHRA. Well, at least they were until the Chretien government followed the American government’s bad example in voting itself the right to do these things to anyone suspected of “terrorism” after 9/11. That is a topic for another time however.
The acts which are considered “discriminatory practices” by the CHRA include the denial of “access to, any such good, service, facility or accommodation” which is “customarily available to the general public” (Section 5) or the denial of occupancy of “commercial premises or residential accommodation” (Secion 6), and the refusal of employment or termination of employment (Section 7) to anyone based on the prohibited grounds.
At first glance these rules might make sense to some. Consider, however, the implications. If you own a business or an apartment block and depend upon that for your and your family’s livelihood, these rules say that you do not have the final decision in who you do business with, who you hire to work for you, or who you rent your apartments too.
Lets say you own a restaurant. The services it provides are “customarily available to the general public” and so fall under Section 5. Someone comes into your restaurant who is drunk and abusive and starts harassing other customers. That person is of another ethnicity to yourself. What do you do?
The right thing to do, of course, is to boot the guy out on his arse. Your family depends on you to support them, the restaurant is your livelihood, and you cannot afford to give the impression to potential regular customers that they will be harassed if they come to your establishment and that you will do nothing about it.
However, because of his ethnicity, Section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act forces you to reconsider. If you kick this man out it will not be because of his ethnicity but because he is a drunken, boorish, lout. You know that but that is not what matters. What matters is that the law says you cannot deny services to this man because of his ethnicity, and if he complains to the Human Rights Commission that you kicked him out of your restaurant because you were prejudiced against him, it is his word against your word.
Who will the adjudicators of the CHRA be most likely to believe, him or you?
It would be nice to say that the traditional, prescriptive, English right to the presumption of innocence applies here, but in fact it doesn’t. The CHRA, like all forms of anti-discrimination legislation, is stacked against the defendant. It will cost the man nothing to file a complaint against you – you will have to hire a lawyer to advise you of your rights and defend you. And the adjudicators of laws like this operate on a presumption of guilt – to doubt the word of a “victim” of “discrimination” is to victimize him again in the thinking of progressives.
Laws of this nature are not necessary. Civilization survived for millennia without them. Moreover, as we have just demonstrated, these laws can be a positive evil. Lord Falkland once declared “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”, to which excellent conservative axiom I would add the corollary “When it is not necessary for there to be a law, it is necessary for there not to be a law”.
It is the government’s job to provide us with the protection of the rule of law against murder, theft, assault, rape, and other criminal activities in which someone causes real physical harm to our persons or property. It is not the government’s place to interject itself into our everyday interactions with others and decide who has been treating who unfairly, and when it attempts to do so it makes things worse because it is not competent to do so.
What the Trudeau government and the progressive Left have done with the Canadian Human Rights Act is a form of sleight-of-hand. It was the Left that introduced the concept of “human rights” into our political discussion, selling the concept as a protection against the worst abuses of government. As a result we have come to associate the opposite of “human rights” with the horrors of tyranny.
Then it introduced legislation in the name of “human rights” that does nothing to protect people from such tyranny, but rather empowers the government to intrude into their everyday lives, and boss them around about who they do business with, who they rent their property to, and who they hire, fire, and promote in their businesses.
If it were done on a stage for our entertainment it would be trick worthy of standing ovation.
Since it was done with the laws of our land and affects our everyday lives, it is instead a fraud worthy of nothing but condemnation.
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