Now that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become firmly entrenched in our Constitution, and its benefits loudly proclaimed, it might be a good idea to make things even better. Certainly the citizens of any country stand to gain when they receive the protection of a charter such as ours. But does the legislation go far enough?
By focusing solely on rights, only the aspect of getting from society is emphasized, not giving to. No mention is made that citizens might owe something to society. Therefore, the Charter creates an imbalance in terms: it speaks all about rights but nothing about responsibilities. Unless people are made much more aware that they must act in a responsible manner, the rights of others will continue to be trampled on.
A way of correcting this would be for Parliament to enact supplementary legislation to stand side-by-side with the Charter of Rights, both complementing it and strengthening it. It could, quite aptly, be called the Charter of Responsibilities.
A sample of its contents might be as follows:
- Everyone has the responsibility to respect the lives and persons of others.
- Everyone has the responsibility to respect the property of others.
- Everyone has the responsibility to respect the religious and moral sensibilities of others by not,
– mocking or belittling others because of their beliefs;
– publicly displaying pornographic material.
- Everyone has the responsibility to respect the difficulties experienced by the physically and mentally disabled and to make reasonable allowances for those difficulties.
- Everyone has the responsibility to respect the differences in race, colour and creed of others by not,
– producing and distributing hate literature against them;
– causing them economic and social harm in the work place or otherwise, solely because of those differences..
- Everyone in a position of authority over others, such as in the home, school or workplace, has the responsibility to respect the sexuality of others by not using their authority to gain sexual favours or to make sexual innuendos.
And so on . . . and so on . . .
One might argue that our need for responsible behaviour is already covered in the Criminal Code and other persuasive legislation. This is true. But so are our rights covered I various bills and documents, yet it was deemed expedient to catalogue and produce a charter of those rights. The point is that by making concentrated lists or charters of both rights and responsibilities, we are highlighting the very essence of what it takes to make a free society work.
Of course, there would be a somewhat different approach to a Charter of Responsibilities. Under our Charter of Rights, everyone including babies and small children enjoys the protection it offers. Obviously, under a charter dedicated to responsible behaviour those under the age of reason could hardly be expected to act with the same degree of responsibility as mature adults. It would be a growing process.
For that very reason it would be an invaluable aid in properly forming young minds. Both Charters would, in an enlightened society, be studied and emphasized throughout the school life of every child. From the early grades children would be taught that if they expect to enjoy rights they should be prepared to do their part by acting in a responsible manner. Rights and responsibilities would thus be tied together. Peer pressure would likely come into play eventually to make irresponsible behaviour more unacceptable than it is today. Those who displayed a lack of respect for others (for example, driving while drunk) would be made to feel outside the group.
For respect, after all, is the keyword. A mugger has no respect for the person he or she mugs. The rights not to be mugged is infringed upon whenever an act of mugging takes place. The same holds true for other criminal acts; trampled-on rights and a lack of respect go together.
For too long now the “gimmie” generation has inflicted its philosophy on society. Standing by itself, the Charter of Rights in a way propagates that philosophy. It is all about what society can do for me without asking me to do anything for it. Balanced off by a Charter of Responsibilities, our present Charter of Rights and Freedoms would become truly meaningful.