Monday, June 30, 2014

A profound difference in Canadians and Americans

Last Thursday, in a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, the first time the court has made such a ruling regarding aboriginal land.

Last week's decision by Canada's Supreme Court certainly surprised me; but nothing surprised me more than the public support for it among Canadians.  Just read a few of the comments to the CBC report cited above.  They are overwhelmingly in favor of the natives; many thanking the natives for standing up to the government in defense of their rights.

Canada's First Nations, our aboriginal citizens, enjoy two bodies of rights that are recognized in Canada's Constitution.  The first is called their "inherent rights", rights they have as the original inhabitants of this land; the most important inherent right (under law) is that of self-governance.  The other set of rights are "treaty rights", those result from treaties between the natives and the Crown of England.  I believe that the inherent right to self-governance grants the First Nations their right to make treaties and thus underlies the legal rights in the treaties. Those native treaties are part of Canada's Constitution; in every way, a part of that body of law that is considered the "highest law of the land."

And that is a major difference in Canada and the US.  In the US, even though the Constitution of the United States says, explicitly, that "all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land," treaties made with the American native peoples have all been abrogated, a gross violation of honour.

Not only do Canada and the US differ in their application of law to their respective aboriginal populations, but look at the difference in the attitudes of the people in the two countries.  Americans, by and large, are learning to accept a "tyranny of the majority" (to borrow John Adams' famous phrase). Where Canada has its vaunted "mosaic" of cultures; the US has a level of collectivism and forced conformity that is far more threatening to individual liberty than universal health-care. The American view is "Let every man live as he chooses. As long, of course, as he chooses to live like me."  The best example is probably the freedom of religious expression, which very many Americans feels applies only the the "one true religion."

What most Canadians recognize, still, is the concept of individual rights that supersede the will of the majority.  And, ironically, it just doesn't get more "American" than that.  Canadians realize that they protect the rights of every individual by defending the rights of the minority; not by enforcing the dictates of the majority.

You want to protect your own right to free speech?  Then stand for the right of another to express a view with which you strongly disagree.  Some of you can start with me.

You want to protect your right to be free from indefinite imprisonment without trial? Defend the rights of those who have been held in prison for 12 years without a single shred of evidence of any wrong-doing ever presented to a judge.

You want to protect your right to practice religious expression?  I think you know what to do.

As Ron Paul said in his 1987 book Freedom Under Siege, "Government by majority rule has replaced strict protection of the individual from government abuse."

Not necessarily so in Canada.  Not yet, anyway.

Thank you, Tsilhqot'in Nation!

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