Friday, October 25, 2013

Are Human Rights the Rights of Social Justice?

We've been having an ongoing debate in class about the transformative potential of human rights.  On one level, documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms represent some universal values that almost anyone can endorse.  The Charter's protection of equality, fundamental freedoms, and life liberty and security of persons is certainly worth defending. The growth in human rights struggles is arguably grown out of three parallel movements: the civil rights revolutions that grew out of the 18th century revolutions (freedom of speech, religion etc), political rights revolutions that grew out of the 19th and early 20th century democratic revolutions, and the social rights demands that arose after World War II and arguably ended in the 1970s.

C.B. Macpherson argues in his powerful essay "The Problems of Human Rights in the Late Twentieth Century" that human rights, while certainly an object of transformation when tied to political struggle, are also limited by two opposing forces: the right to property and the primacy of individual rights. For Macpherson, human rights struggles are limited in liberal societies because they remove the individual from larger collective societies.  As liberal societies also value property over all other rights, there is a permanent struggle between civil, political and social rights and the economic structures that sustain the current economic system.  Given these tensions, Macpherson asks, can human rights be transformative?      

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Miscarriage of Justice

There has been some debate about the legitimacy of Canada's system of "security certificates."  Under the security certificate program, the federal government can detain individuals without any formal charges.  In a current secret case before the Supreme Court of Canada, one man was detained for over three and a half years without formal charges.  There are many problems with this program, but the fact that the Supreme Court legitimizes the government's actions by holding this hearing in secret seems to be a serious miscarriage of justice. Is there any justification for a "security certificate" program?  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Supreme Court of Canada

Yesterday, the Prime Minister made his newest appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.  By all accounts, the appointment of Marc Nadon is controversial. By not addressing the gender balance, Mr. Harper has signalled that he will not seek to make Canadian institutions more equitable by adequately reflecting the makeup of the population. The problem, of course, goes deeper than just the makeup of the judiciary.  By not appointing a more balanced court, it is impossible to imagine how structural inequality can be addressed through Canadian political institutions.  Moreover, as the Global and Mail suggested today, this appointment signals an ideological shift to the right. That observation seems to derive (according to the National Post) from Nadaon's dissent in the Omar Khadr repatriation case.  Is it legitimate for a government to appoint supreme court justices for ideological reasons?  What would a just appointment look like?