(Image Credit: vuorikari via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)

On a number of policy issues, the deep political divide that exists – and persists – is because we haven’t sorted out the fundamental issues involved, and especially the conflict between the rights of different groups.


After I posted my article ‘MAiD versus Religiononline, one of the responses I received was that “Religion has no place in health or education”. This was an interesting comment, given that religious organizations pretty much founded healthcare and education in Canada. And since this opinion is widely shared among Canadians, I thought it was worth taking a deep dive into the issue.

Another comment was that any organization receiving public money should not be able to refuse certain types of service. This brings us to one more intriguing question: Would this yardstick apply to all the organizations receiving public money? All sorts of organizations receive grants from the government, many of them under the policy of encouraging multiculturalism. Can these entities exclude anyone from their activities because they don’t belong to the identity group for whom the organization was formed?

Thinking about these questions, I concluded that when it comes to policies that have a significant impact on the lives of Canadians, and on the society as a whole, not enough thought has gone into ironing out the basic questions and doubts that naturally arise from any given position on these policies. On the politicians’ part, this could be deliberate – or at least something that they are happy for the existence of – because the ensuing ambiguity is bound to lead to acrimony among different groups within the Canadian society that they can exploit for electoral gain. The onus, therefore, is on the citizenry to push for debate on and resolution of all the differences of opinion that naturally arise from the structural conflicts contained in these policies. In this article, I will strive to take a dive into some of these structural conflicts.


In 2017, as the MeToo movement took off and gained ground at incredible speed, it became fashionable for politicians to say, “Believe all women”. Anyone pointing out that one needs to respect ‘due process’ in establishing the guilt of the accused man was routinely painted as a misogynist and a villain. While bringing to book any men who are actual wrongdoers against women (and anyone else, for that matter) is an important goal, especially in cases of sexual violence, that cannot be done via short-circuiting a fair process. But for politicians and others seeking quick popularity, this was irrelevant. Then the politicians took it up a notch by re-framing their slogan to “Believe all victims”. In strictly legal terms, the accusing woman can be called a ‘victim’ only if the accused man could be proved to have carried out the alleged violence against her. As is common, the media played along with the politicians instead of providing a sane voice, likely because the clicks were worth more than the principle.

Perhaps the most well-known case resulting from this confusion was that of the Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and his (now former) wife Amber Heard. In the wake of her accusation that he had abused her many times during their relationship, a court in London, UK held that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence actually occurred, while a court in Virginia, USA concluded that Ms. Heard had defamed Mr. Depp with an article (in the Washington Post) in which she claimed that she was victim of domestic abuse. It is noteworthy here that even in the UK verdict, 2 of the accusations against Mr. Depp weren’t proved in a court, and therefore ‘Believe all women’ becomes problematic in those instances – and ‘Believe all victims’ is even more problematic.

All that is in the past, though; as far as politics is concerned, it has moved on to more fertile territory. The MeToo movement is passe, and the trans movement is the new ‘in’ thing. Therefore, if a woman objects to the presence of a transwoman in certain places (such as washrooms) or in certain situations (e.g., where the latter is in the nude and possibly in a state of sexual arousal), it is not a case of ‘Believe all women’, but rather one of ‘transphobia’. All the citizens arguing about this – and disagreeing vehemently – with each other need to remember that the people setting the agenda have absolutely zero interest in contributing to a resolution of these public disputes, because their careers thrive on situations where there is discord among the public.

At this point, it is worth remembering the controversy around Bill C-16 some years ago. My view, in brief, is that the desire for compromise between competing concerns was notable by its absence on the government’s part. I found this curious, because while our Charter Rights do exist, there is the wiggle room of ‘reasonable limits’ available to the government in the same Charter that acknowledges these rights – and to boot, in the very first section of the Charter. While this provision of ‘reasonable limits’ is a cause for concern for many, in that they fear (often with reason) that this makes our rights into privileges at the mercy of the government of the day, one wonders why the government did not use the ‘reasonable limits’ facility to fashion a compromise between the two (frankly) antagonist constituencies in Bill C-16.


Speaking of the Charter, the current flare-up between the Pride movement on one hand and the religious Canadians on the other (with hijab-wearing Muslim women occupying a prominent role) is a classic case of a clash between competing rights arising because a reasonable compromise had not been hashed out beforehand. A lot of people were saying, for years, that this clash was coming, and that it was just a matter of time before it would be on the streets in Canada. But in politics, the priorities are different. Whether out of indifference, ineptitude or malicious intent, the problem was allowed to brew.

If it is a given that Charter Rights are absolute (unless ‘reasonably limited’), then a clash between the Charter Rights of two opposing groups can only be resolved by ‘reasonably limiting’ both the groups (ideally – or it would seem unfair to one of the groups) from some part of their Charter Right. In the Pride v/s religion clash, the pertinent inquiry should be whether participation in Pride events can be made optional. To be clear, I am not offering a view here as to whether it should be made optional or not – all I am saying is that this should be a point of discussion that would (hopefully) lead to a compromise. Sadly, but typically, no appetite exists in government for such a compromise. Not just government but also the media, activists and a significant portion of the laity (if that is not a horribly inapt term to use here) have jumped on the bandwagon to deride and lampoon religion and the religious for being ‘hateful’.


Coming back to religion, what is most interesting to note is that the dominance of the non-religious in such matters is at odds with the prevalence of religious beliefs or inclinations in the Canadian society. A recent study by Cardus found that the two categories of ‘Religiously committed’ and ‘Privately faithful’ accounted for 50% of foreign-born Canadians and 32% of the native-born Canadians. Therefore, if religious institutions are going to be pushed out of healthcare and education (or to be forced to act against the tenets of their religions), then that needs to be done with something much more substantial than a dismissive shrug of “We are not that much into you anymore”. We wouldn’t do it for any other group in a democracy like ours, and there is all the more reason not to do it to the entities that founded healthcare and public education in Canada.

Then there is the issue of exemptions that are available to individual healthcare workers – they cannot be forced to perform a MAiD procedure, for example, if it goes against their conscience. In light of that, it appears to me to be inconsistent that we would exempt individuals from performing certain services (for which they are otherwise qualified) but not the institutions where they work. To be clear, Charter Rights are available to individuals only, so I am not talking about the institutions’ rights here. Which means that this is a grey area. It is now over 40 years since the Charter was brought into existence, and I think that is enough time to have had this grey area sorted out. The fact that it hasn’t been sorted out so far points to a fundamental defect in the functioning of our society. With some hesitation, I offer that it is due to over-politicization of not just the issues involved but rather of the Canadian society itself that this fundamental defect has been allowed to not only exist and persist but also to get exacerbated. If we want a peaceful, prosperous and (above all) a harmonious society to exist in the Canada of the future, it is of urgent importance that we remove this fundamental defect.


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