Monday, April 16, 2007

My Rights are an Unintended Consequence

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the repatriation of our Constitution, I wonder what life would be like without the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. My father immigrated to this wonderful country before the Charter came into effect and from what I am told, the world was very different then. The Charter forced logical debate over people’s rights and forced out the emotional, racial, and historical biases. I am a female of Chinese descent, and I challenge anyone to find me one country on either side of any ocean that would have granted me basic civil rights as recently as 100 years ago.

When the founders of the New World got together and came up with this idea of democracy, it is no secret that “equal” was restricted to white men in the upper echelons of society. However, they had also laid the foundations for me to vote… perhaps it was an unintended consequence.

Freedom of religion once meant that one was free to choose which sect of Christianity one would like to follow. The inclusion of Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and all the other religions in our society ruffled many feathers I am sure. Would our MPs 25 years ago have been as enthusiastic about the Charter if they knew it would give a woman the right to an abortion and homosexuals the right to marry? Was this foresight or a serendipitous case of myopia?

It boggles my mind that there are those even in my extended family that question gay rights. If it were not for this beautiful thing called the Charter, many of our communities may not even have rights. If we expect equality, should we not treat others as equal? Should we not stand shoulder to shoulder as Canadians regardless of our backgrounds? Thank goodness for the enshrinement of our basic civil rights regardless of sex, race, or religion. As tolerant as we Canadians are, we only tolerate that which we have learnt to accept. I wonder what else society may have in store for us next.

Thank you for the right to vote, free speech, and religion. I also thank you in advance for all future rights that others or I may receive that no one has yet conceived of. That is the beauty of enshrining universal rights for all.

I would like to think that Pierre Trudeau had this foresight… but I cannot say for sure.

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