Canada has a strong history of freedom
Earlier this year, I came across a framed copy of the Canadian Bill of Rights, the freedom-expanding law enacted by then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and passed by Parliament in 1960.
I read the document years ago, but seeing it up close reminded me of Canada’s long tradition of freedom, from anti-slavery efforts in the late 18th century to Pierre Trudeau’s defense of individual rights. . These realities of Canadian history are too often forgotten today.
One of the reasons Diefenbaker pushed for the Bill of Rights, even though it was only an Act of Parliament and lacked a constitutional basis, is that although the ideals of freedom had existed for centuries in English and French speaking countries, their application had been narrow. Many individuals, if they belonged to the “wrong” group – women, for example, or Chinese immigrants – were mostly denied equality or even the rule of law.
My find was timely. I purchased the framed print shortly before the Freedom Convoy arrived in Ottawa to protest restrictions on their freedoms. While I sympathize with their general preference for a free Canada, there are always two things to keep in mind about freedom.
The first is that no freedom is absolute, whereas violation should be rare. John Stuart Mill made this point in On Liberty over 150 years ago in his famous Harm Principle: that the state should use force only to prevent harm to others.
Thus, people have the right to associate and protest, but not to deprive others of their liberty by interfering with border trade, pipeline construction, or travel in Vancouver, to name a few contemporary examples. I also believe in property rights, but my neighbor has no right to poison her land for fear of poisoning mine. This reminder of the limits of freedom annoyed some readers who liked the rhetoric of freedom but had perhaps forgotten its necessary twin: responsibility.
My second point — that Canada has a long history of freedom — has provoked an equally strong reaction among those who dismiss any “freedom talk” as un-Canadian or “extreme.” In fact, this country has a long history of rhetoric and commitment to freedom, including a clear understanding of where rights originate – with individuals, not governments.
Inspired by British parliamentarian and abolitionist William Wilberforce, John Graves Simcoe, Governor of Upper Canada between 1791 and 1796, promised early in his term that any law or policy that framed or supported slavery would henceforth be attacked. His first action was to make it illegal to import more slaves, a common first step by abolitionists in their crusade against the trade in human flesh.
As for the rhetoric of freedom, think of what a parliamentarian said to a crowd in Winnipeg in 1894: “The good Saxon word, freedom; freedom in every sense of the word, freedom of expression, freedom of action, freedom in religious and civil life and last but not least, freedom in commercial life.
Today, those words sound almost American, only because many Canadians have lost the language of freedom. But the speaker was Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier, who would become prime minister in 1896. The spur of Laurier’s freedom speech was the Conservative government’s protectionism, which he relentlessly attacked. Laurier emphasized freedom precisely because it resonated with Canadians, and he used it to counter the unjust suppression of “commercial life,” that is, free trade.
Another proponent and rhetorical publicist of freedom?
Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the main architect of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although a collectivist by default on economic issues, Trudeau understood well that individuals must have their civil rights protected from those who pushed what he called the “collective rights theory”. This is why Trudeau consistently opposed Quebec nationalists who discriminated against Anglophones, an attack on individual rights that continues today.
Why is individual freedom important and where does it come from? In a 1992 speech at a dinner at the Cité libre in Montreal, Trudeau explained that “larger and smaller collectives clash in the heart of one and the same country, and this can eventually lead to war. civil. And that is why the French Revolution established freedom as a fundamental right.
He then clarified that although collectives – nation states – obviously exist, it was essential to understand that citizens and their rights precede the state and that the state must always justify infringements on liberty. “(C)citizens, you are all first of all equal among yourselves, and… your rights take precedence over those of the State. … The community is not the holder of rights: it receives from the citizens the rights that it exercises.
This brings us to Trudeau’s son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act, which allowed for the arbitrary closing of bank accounts, among other serious and unnecessary invasions of liberty. . It was a stark reminder of why our default principle should always be that governments must justify infringements on citizens’ liberty – it is not up to citizens to justify their preference for a free society.
Freedom is as Canadian as maple syrup and the Canadian Rockies. Don’t let the collectivists tell you otherwise.
Mark Milke is executive director of the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy. His latest book is The Victim Cult: How the Grievance Culture Hurts Everyone and Wrecks Civilization.