Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Celebrating Our Past, Preparing For Our Future

At 147 years Canada stands amongst nations of the world as a teenager, its future shining with an abundance of hope and promise. We have not known anguish or struggle over ideology, setting brother against brother as have our neighbours. Nor have we been exposed to the terror of invasion by foreigners as those lands from which many Canadians find a link through ancestry. Our growth and gradual maturity has been peaceful, built on discussion and debate rather than anger or violence.

Although our past has travelled down roads of peace we had not ignored the call for help from others. The two great wars saw Canadians proud and strong standing alongside other nations willing to sacrifice life for the ideals of freedom and dignity. More recently our brave men and women travelled to lands where democracy and freedom as daily concepts had no existence or chance of practice. So it can't be said that in our youth we have not known sacrifice or experienced the pain of loss.

No Canadian had known how it would feel to wear the yoke of slavery. Individual freedom has been an almost presumed code of existence. Yet another form of slavery had not escaped our society, and we still deal with it today. The notion that race, religion or gender can be identifying marks may seem repulsive to many yet those marks still exist.

Although Canadians had not taken part in the horrors of slavery and willingly opened their doors to those brave enough to travel the dangerous road toward freedom, we still fought with the notion of branding. Five courageous women, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louis McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, later to be known as The Famous Five, dared to question the ideal that a person was not a person, unless he was a man.

These five Canadian women asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, “Does the word 'Persons' in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons,” in the case Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General). The Supreme Court on the 24th of April in 1928 summarised its unanimous decision that women were not such “persons.” Later on October 18th 1929 the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council overturned the judgement. What these five courageous women did brought about change in the Canadian judicial approach to the Canadian constitution that has come to be known as the “living tree doctrine.”

As it came to be known the “Persons' Case” also had important ramifications for women's rights and women had never stopped demanding equality. From women's rights to human rights Canada has found individuals willing to stand against the flow and dare to provide reasons to change. John Peters Humphrey authored the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and on December 10th 1948 the General Assembly unanimously adopted the declaration.

All of humanity had witnessed the horror of war and the unspeakable atrocities committed by man against man. It was not only a time for healing, it was a time for change. Mrs. Roosevelt dubbed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the “International Magna Carta of all mankind.” In 1882 Canada adopted its own legal framework to protect and defend basic human rights of all Canadians with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadians have been willing to show that change is the nature of humanity and we have provided examples of true pride in our past. Yet it is the future that has to be thought about, as our recent past has not had the same dignity. Our true independence relies on the dependance on all Canadians. We still have to deal with big issues in relation to equality of all, but as individuals it is our home base that holds the true relevance to each of us.

It is on that level that we need to care enough to stand up for the ideals expressed by the few courageous individuals in our past. There are weaknesses of the human spirit that cannot be eradicated on the whole but to simply accept that fact and do nothing about it is simple cowardice. Environmental issues, although clouded at times, are very real and not simply play things for hippy activists. If we are not willing to care for the soil we walk on, the air we need to breathe or the water that sustains all life today then what are we handing down to our children and grandchildren?

Accepting things simply because fear of raising one's voice is too great to overcome will only in the end bring about an erosion of individual freedom. In St. Catharines, Ontario self-imposed censorship has reached a level where greed and corruption are the true masters of the future. It is easy to claim that one individual, any one individual, cannot bring about change. Yet looking at a crowd what do you see, it is a gathering of single individuals willing to stand together for an ideal.

Whether we remember the Famous Five who stood against all that was accepted in their time, or remember the eloquence of thought of someone like John Peters Humphrey, it is the individual human spirit that is worth celebrating. Mary Ann Shadd, editor of The Provincial Freeman first printed in March 1853, provided a motto for her life, her work and the reason behind her courage, “Self-reliance is the true road to independence.” As we celebrate Canada Day these words need to be held tightly to our spirit. It is the individual who is part of a whole that provides strength to the whole. Our future depends on each of us, and each of us are equally responsible for our combined future.

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