Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized Canada for Quebec’s Loi 78, a law designed by the Charest government to subdue the Quebec students’ strike that has been going on for several months. Commissioner Navi Pillay said that the law demanding that students register protest routes with the police before marching and gives police more powers to quell protests was “alarming.”
In response to this statement, many people scoffed and pointed to other far more serious human rights abuses that are perpetrated in places like China, Russia, or Syria. This is an absolutely fair assessment, seeing as the action Charest has taken is nowhere near the atrocities that some government visit upon their population. Lumping Canada in with the likes of Syria, where the government has shelled cities to punish protesters, is in many ways an affront to other people around the world who face much bigger challenges than Quebec students.
At the same time, the idea that because there are other governments in the world that are worse than our own means we shouldn’t be bothered to make a fuss over certain rights infringements, is not a legitimate excuse to say nothing when our government does something comparatively less bad. When I watched the coverage surrounding the heightened security for the Montreal Grand Prix, I was legitimately shocked that I was looking at images that came from Canada. While cries of “police state” might be hyperbole, it was still discomforting to see the sheer brute power of the state at work to make sure that people couldn’t speak their minds.
A lot of people do not understand that human rights are never taken away outright, they are eroded over time. Each time people concede to having certain human rights taken away, it becomes easier and more reasonable to concede other rights. While Canada is certainly no Syria or Russia, it didn’t differentiate itself from those countries by allowing the government to run roughshod over opposition or slowly eat away at human rights because each little infringement was not as bad as something happening elsewhere in the world.
Luckily, we have the Supreme Court to protect us from these infringements. However, while it’s nice to sit back and say that the Supreme Court will handle everything when it comes to human rights, it’s a very apathetic and dangerous way to approach a very serious subject. We need to be active and aware so that when our government steps out of line, we can demand that they be held accountable.
Of course, there’s also the problem of assuming anything that’s done democratically is automatically good (see paragraph seven), but that’s a serious problem that will need to be dealt with later.