Why Have Rights?

There is a line close to the end of a movie called Rory O’Shea Was Here that I have adopted for my own use.  “A right must exist independently of its exercise“.   I love this movie and I believe this line is very powerful.  I have referenced this line in past posts however in light of the current political situation in Ottawa I believe it is worth a revisit.  Regardless of the guilt floating around the Senate every Canadian in entitled to the protection of the law and Charter.  Between the apparent level of corruption appearing in Ottawa (yet again) and some closer to home issues I am increasingly concerned over what I see as erosion of rights through inactivity or blind complacency.

A right must exist independently of its exercise.  What do you think that means?  As a person with a disability I have benefited directly due to the Charter.  It gave me rights and protections that many others took for granted.  It was also suppose to provide an even playing field for many marginalized Canadians.  Unfortunately that level playing field, like any field, will only be level based on how well we take care of it.  Do you wait until your yard is so full of weeds that your neighbours are laying complaints with city by-law officers?  Probably not if you are the homeowner.  This same is true about the protection and maintenance of rights.

This, to me, is very apparent on an institutional level as well.  If it wasn’t true we wouldn’t even be having this discussion over the suspension of the Senators including taking away their pay cheques.  Now I am not making a judgement on the guilt or innocents of the three Senators in question.  That’s not my job and that is why we have a judicial process.  The government of the day appears to believe we can do away with “process”, take away rights and think they can do so unimpeded.

At the same time the average Canadian is, understandably, very upset over the misuse of tax dollars.  And that outrage is getting louder.  However I do not see that same level of outrage over the fact that due process is being thrown out for what appears to be nothing but partisan reasons.  I say it appears to be partisan reasons as I do not see these same standards being applied to Dean Del Maestro who has been charged.  This is the same MP who was this governments point man when it came to defending a transparent and accountable government.  Now pluck me like a chicken if that doesn’t look suspicious.

This same type of complacency surrounds me and yet people get upset with me for “always picking fights”.  Well if protecting rights and pushing for accountability is considered picking fights then I will continue to pick fights.

On Tuesday I stopped to gas up my car before taking my mother shopping.  Finding a full service gas station these days is becoming increasingly harder however self-service stations are expected to supply “full service” to drivers with disabilities.  This is recognized as “reasonable accommodation”.  The idea is that the attendant comes out when he sees the disabled parking placard on the car.  Many stations actually have an intercom system by the pumps to call the attendant.  That’s all fine and dandy if you can get out of your car and reach the intercom buzzer.

Two things on that.  One, I have friends who drive but could not left their arm high enough to push that buzzer.  Many also don’t have the finger extension ability to actually push the button.  Two, for myself, by the time I get my wheelchair out of my car (no simple task but one I won’t give up…my car allows me a level of independence) I can manage the gas.  That whole scenario changes when my mother is in the car.  When I have a passenger I dismantle my wheelchair and stack it all up in the back seat.  I have to do this before my mother can get into the car because I need to put the passengers seat as far forward as possible in order to load my chair that way.

With my mom while I am loading my chair she is loading her walker into my trunk.  She is a little unsteady on her feet so I am a little concerned every time she does this.  So here I am at the service station (this was 2pm) trying to get the attendants attention in the kiosk.  Finally my mother, much to my chagrin, decides to amble into the little store and ask the service station attendant to come out for service.  Now there isn’t a soul in the store, the sun is shining and we have a complete view of everything in the store but he declines saying he can’t leave the cash registered unattended.  I can, in part, understand that but it still isn’t my responsibility to accommodate PetroCan.

I am not saying it was the fault of the attendant.  He looked like a 20 year old kid who was doing what he has been directed to do.  So, do I make an issue of this and pick, yet again, another fight.  Do I stand up to PetroCan and remind them of their responsibilities?  Every time we let something like this slide we get further away from the purpose of the Charter.  If we don’t remind those in authority that there is a Charter and their are certain rights associated with that Charter it becomes easier for them to ignore (or completely forget) the rules.  And this is what we are seeing in Ottawa.  I realize that this service station is a franchise but I will send an e-mail to PetroCan anyway.

People have forgotten that every Canadian in entitled to due process regardless of their stature in life.  I do not care if it is someone like Angela Coates in Mapleridge or Senators Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin in Ottawa, we are all entitled to due process.  We all have our rights protected for a reason beyond the whims of one person.  So must I “exercise” every one of my rights visibly before they are recognized?  Ask our politicians, they set the example and based on what I am seeing happen in Ottawa I believe we have moved to ideology rather than governance.  So make sure you exercise your rights before they completely disappear!

Just one man’s opinion!



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