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The idea to expand Medical Assistance in Dying (#MAiD) to Canadians suffering from poverty may seem shocking, but it is just the latest addition to the Canadian State’s trend of dereliction of its sacred duty to protect its citizens.
A GLIMPSE FROM AFAR
My first glimpse of the criminal law system in Canada happened when I was preparing to move to Canada from the UAE. One of my colleagues had relatives living in Vancouver, and he had just come back from a month-long visit to them. Our discussion happened to be about how to deal with armed robberies, and I narrated an incident from my years in Kenya where a homeowner had shot the robbers dead. He said that if anyone does that in Canada, they can be charged criminally. I found that hard to believe; I offered that for sure, there should be an investigation to establish the facts, but once it was proved that it was a case of a homeowner defending their life, and that of the other family members, they should be in the clear. My colleague smiled and said that it doesn’t work that way in Canada. I got upset. He responded that there was no point getting upset at him – he was just stating the facts as they existed in Canada.
Afterwards, I reflected on why I had been upset, and realized that it was because I considered self-defense to be a sacrosanct right of any individual. Moreover, I also consider it the first and the most sacred duty of a State to ensure the physical well-being of its citizens. Many years prior, I had read the excellent essay in which Cyril Northcote Parkinson has explained how what we now call ‘government’ has its roots in the protection racket. From this starting point, I postulate that it is imperatively important for the protection racketeer to see to it that the only physical threat to the people under his control are from himself and no one else. Otherwise, he loses control over those people. From this (admittedly self-serving) imperative, the foundational tenet of a State emerged, that anyone threatening the physical safety of a citizen would be punished by the State. As civilization became more refined, it also became necessary for the State to become less threatening to its citizens; exercise of its monopoly over the use of force became increasingly confined to cases where someone had threatened the safety of another person.
THE 59TH ‘SECOND CHANCE’
However, the Canadian State has been treating the threaten-ers in an increasingly lax fashion over the past few decades. We regularly see reports where a person arrested and charged in relation to a crime had a slew of prior charges and/or convictions for violent offences. When I had a talk show on a radio station in Mississauga, I used to feature such stories on my show at least once a week – and that is just in the Peel Region (which is now going to be dissolved, with Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon becoming ‘independent’). The breaking point for me came (as I suppose it did for many of my compatriots as well) when we learned that one of the two perpetrators who went on a mass stabbing / killing spree in Saskatchewan had 59 prior convictions. At the time, I wrote an article about this (‘Road(blocks) To Redemption’) wherein I stated that in my view, “Self-defence is the first human right; all the other rights of an individual amount to naught in its absence”.
Of course, having the right to self-defence does not mean that everyone has the ability to defend themselves. The main responsibility for this falls on the State. I believe (and history is witness to this) that a State’s legitimacy depends crucially on its ability to provide physical safety to its citizens; in cases where the State fails to do so (because it cannot be present everywhere all the time), the State reacts by penalizing the person causing harm to others (which may be one reason why capital punishment has existed throughout the history of civilization).
Giving someone a ‘second chance’ is a good thing. Giving that ‘second chance’ to someone who has 59 convictions is a bad thing – because it amounts to the State’s neglect of the physical safety of everyone else. Unfortunately, appearing to be nice has become a political imperative in Canada. Equally unfortunately, the notion enjoys widespread support. When a tragedy like the Saskatchewan mass stabbing occurs, everyone sheds crocodile tears for the victims, but there is nary a thought given to how many times violent offenders deserve a ‘second chance’. This allows the State to merrily keep being derelict in the duty of protecting people.
In the summer of 2019, the requirement by the federal government that any organization receiving grants / funding for summer jobs must provide an attestation from the organization as to their support for women’s ‘reproductive rights’ ignited a furious debate, because religious organizations were put in a quandary. This was my first brush with the abortion issue in Canada. Prior to that, I had only heard about it on two occasions – in 2013, on the 25th anniversary of the famous Supreme Court verdict in the Morgantaler case, and a some time later, when Dr. Morgantaler passed away. I hadn’t gone deep into the issue then, partly because my life was too hectic. In 2019, I decided to find out for myself what this was all about, and ended up writing an article (‘Dead On Arrival’) detailing what I had found in the text of the Supreme Court verdict. Before I get to the part of that article that is relevant to the present discussion, allow me to point out that the Supreme Court verdict was not unanimous (it was a 5-2 ruling), meaning that there was significant divergence of judicial opinion at the highest level in the country. By contrast, in popular discourse, the verdict is commonly depicted as an iron-clad authoritative ruling on that matter. With that caveat in place, let us now look at what the Supreme Court said about the State vis-à-vis protection of lives (of unborn children), via these screenshots from my above-referred article:
It is therefore clear that the Supreme Court opined that the State DOES have an interest in the protection of the unborn child, and that this interest grows as the pregnancy advances. The Supreme Court also said that the precise point at which the State would be both authorized and obligated to step in to protect that unborn child requires the legislature to consult with the subject experts from the relevant disciplines. It is now 35 years since the Supreme Court basically asked the parliament to consult with the relevant experts in order to arrive at the definition of this point where it becomes incumbent for the State to protect the (dare I say ‘life of’?) unborn child. In those 35 years, we have had 6 prime ministers, and 9 elections – but even the faintest hint of an attempt to arrive at that definition (even a tentative or subjective one) has not been in evidence.
I am perfectly (and perhaps painfully) aware that the very mention of the word ‘abortion’ suffices to induce conniptions among a large percentage of Canadians. Allow me to offer, therefore, this clarification that I am not advocating for any restrictions on abortion here; my sole point is that the Supreme Court pointed out that the State has an interest in (and thus a duty to) an unborn child, and that this interest / duty takes precedence at a certain point over the autonomy of the mother-to-be – whereas the multiple parliaments that we have had since the verdict have made absolutely NO effort to arrive at a determination of when this point is reached during a pregnancy. That, to me at least, is a clear case of abdication of the State’s duty to protect lives.
… AD FINEM
As many of you know, I have written extensively on the issue of Medical Assistance in Dying (also known by the horrifyingly anodyne acronym MAiD). As I have said earlier, I have nothing against assisted dying in a specific set of circumstances: terminal illness, reasonably foreseeable natural death, extreme suffering and fully informed voluntary decision of the patient. However, my concern (and that of a very large percentage of Canadians) is about the expansion of MAiD to other categories of people whose natural death is NOT reasonably foreseeable and who are NOT suffering from a terminal illness. It is not my intention here to reiterate what I have already said on the issue (anyone interested can check out my 9 articles on MAiD by accessing my article ‘Death Spiral’, which contains links to all of them). Rather, my focus here is on the fact that the ceaseless expansion of this MAiD policy is of a piece with the Canadian State’s decades-long (and ongoing) tendency of increasingly abdicating its sacred duty to ensure the physical safety of Canadians.
Insofar as making MAiD ‘available’ to the disabled, the poor and the mentally ill is concerned, this is, to a degree, the result of the State failing to provide the promised succor to these people; people hang in there for as long as they can, but when their circumstances become unbearable (because of the State’s failure), the State gets an easy way out by offering them death. In the same boat, you have people who have been made to wait for healthcare for so long that their ailment becomes unbearable (and sometimes untreatable); MAiD provides an easy out yet again.
‘Universal’ healthcare system was ushered in with the promise that everyone would get the healthcare that they need, with equal access. In the bargain, the State arrogated to itself a monopoly over providing healthcare, to the point of enacting legislation that prevents Canadians from accessing it privately by using personal funds. In this scenario, the duty of the State to provide healthcare (and thus ensure the physical safety of its citizens) gets doubled. But duties are relevant only if (a) one is inclined to carry them out, and (b) there are consequences for failure. In the context of the crumbling ‘universal’ healthcare system, we have neither. The question is why, given (a), we don’t have (b).
Democracy is a system of participative governance. Therefore, the quality of governance derives from the quality of participation. As much as we would like to put the blame for the poor quality of governance on the people in government, at least some of the responsibility is borne by the section of the populace that brings these governments to power and allows them to avoid facing the consequences of their failure(s). To make matters worse, when succeeding governments don’t fix the problems created by their predecessor government, they also face no consequences.
As a result, for the political parties, winning elections becomes a function of (a) constructing narratives and (b) recruiting as many voters as possible to the ‘tribe’ that subscribes to their narrative; efficacy at doing their jobs is rendered irrelevant. This process is so airtight (albeit, not for all the voters, but with enough of them to be decisive) that defending the narrative of their ‘tribe’ becomes an article of faith. Coupled with this, there is the added difficulty in that the media – which is ideally meant to inform and enlighten / educate the voters – also falls in the tribal paradigm. As a result, you get the same ideas and arguments being repeated and rehashed ad infinitum in the media; any serious and objective analysis of major issues is sorely lacking. The uninformed voters – busy in their hectic lives on the work as well as the family front – have little to no opportunity to become better informed.
Policymaking, and shaping public opinion on policies, thus becomes completely captured by a small coterie of people, both in politics and the media (I dislike the overused term ‘elites’, but here it seems apt). This is why you get opinion polls revealing that one-third of Canadians are fine with prescribing MAiD for homeless people. Or why you see a startling graph showing that in B.C., death by overdosing on drugs has increased by 528% over 10 years (from 7.2 persons per 100,000 in 2013 to a projected 45.2 persons in 2023; see this Tweet by the Globe & Mail journalist Andrea Woo) – and yet, opposing the policy of ‘harm reduction’ via ‘safe supply’ instantly makes one a monster who wants to kill people.
This inversion of reality happens because we have a State that is guilty of dereliction of duty, which is supported by enough Canadians who are apathetic to this state of dereliction, due to hyper-tribalism. No amount of data, facts & logic will suffice to budge them from their opinions because they would perceive doing so as an act of disloyalty to ‘their tribe’. I have examined this phenomenon at length in my earlier article ‘Structural Dysfunction’. As the title suggests, my view is that the policy-making apparatus in Canada is structurally dysfunctional, and therefore is not capable of delivering good policy. Any exception to this is purely the result of random chance.
THE CANADIAN GAUNTLET
To paraphrase an idiom, the failure of the Canadian State in ensuring the physical safety of its citizens (which here includes non-citizens such as Permanent Residents etc.) stretches from ‘conception to the grave’. Over the past 35 years, the Canadian State has gone from not bothering to determine when its interest / duty to protect the unborn child kicks in, to offering death to people because its own healthcare system failed to treat their ailment until it became untreatable, to offering death because it failed to provide the social supports needed by a disabled individual. Anyone who is lucky enough not to have faced this gauntlet is STILL at risk because violent offenders may be out on bail in their area (or out on parole, if they have been sentenced). Recently, I became aware of a notion called ‘faint hope’ that is used to let out violent offenders regardless of how many times they have been sentenced for grievous crimes. I remain puzzled as to how a ‘faint’ hope for a habitual violent criminal can take precedence over the far greater possibility of them causing harm to others. Beneath the veneer of being a peaceful society, Canada is a place where a lot of people’s lives or physical safety are unnecessarily at risk because the Canadian State has decided that it is no longer responsible for fulfilling its core and sacred duty to ensure that safety. It is up to Canadians to demand that the State once again start caring for their physical safety – assuming that they can rise above their hyper-tribalism.
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