THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nicole Osborne
Current protests, just like the so-called “freedom convoy,” have denounced authorities motion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by claiming that authorities mandates like masks and vaccine mandates infringe on their rights and freedoms.
However utilizing the rights discourse in protests will not be new.
Many slogans regarding rights and freedoms utilized by protestors are decontextualized from the historical past and concept of rights and freedoms, which sadly oversimplifies what rights and freedoms actually are. As a PhD scholar in philosophy, with a robust background in ethics and rights concept, I argue that whereas rights and freedoms language is politically and socially highly effective, most individuals don’t perceive what they’re, which of them they’re entitled to and the morally binding duties they require of others.
As April 17, 2022, marks the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Constitution of Rights and Freedoms, it is necessary individuals study what it means to have a proper.
The historical past of human rights
After the Second World Conflict, world leaders got here collectively to develop the Common Declaration of Human Rights with the objective of stopping future human struggling and atrocities of struggle.
Within the improvement of the declaration, varied moral theories have been used to articulate the sorts of rights that each particular person must be afforded. On the coronary heart of this doc is the appropriate to human equality — “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The Common Declaration knowledgeable the rights laws in lots of international locations — together with the Canadian Constitution of Rights and Freedoms.
And though formal human rights developments have helped governments and organizations perceive what qualifies as primary human rights, the separation of rights from its roots in moral concept has led to many misconceptions about rights and freedoms and, consequently, its misappropriation by protesters for his or her actions.
Limits to freedoms
Current protesters declare that COVID-19 mandates limit their freedom as a result of the federal government is forcing them to behave in opposition to their will. They assume that, as a result of we reside in a free society, anybody can act nevertheless they need.
However this declare assumes that somebody’s freedom to behave trumps everybody else’s.
Just by being a member of a society, our rights and freedoms are restricted. When somebody’s actions have the potential to hurt different individuals, as said in Part 1 of the Constitution, these actions are prohibited or punished.
For instance, freedom of expression is protected in Canada, however this basic freedom is proscribed as quickly as individuals’s speech and expression turns into hateful and dangerous to particular teams or people.
When an motion — like hate speech or refusing to observe COVID-19 mandates — is deemed dangerous to others, the federal government can restrict one particular person’s freedom to guard the rights and freedoms of others.
The federal government declared public well being orders for COVID-19 as a result of refusing to observe these suggestions places others susceptible to contracting the virus.
Obligations to guard the rights of others
In some protests, arguing that one has a declare to a sure proper obscures how these rights could infringe on another person’s. If we expect that we’ve a proper to one thing, we have to ensure that it appears believable that everybody has that proper and that the appropriate doesn’t impede the rights of others.
That is additional sophisticated by the query who’s accountable for defending these rights? As a result of, briefly, the reply is all of us. And this universality makes it troublesome to find out which rights somebody can have within the first place.
A key drawback in rights concept is the right way to steadiness the totally different sorts of rights all of us maintain and the way these rights require us to behave in the direction of others.
Typically, protesters go away obligations out of the image — together with the obligations they need to different individuals.
(AP Photograph/Ted Shaffrey)
Though the rights and freedoms discourse utilized in protest is impactful, the failure to debate these nuances will increase polarization on controversial points. For instance, one protest could give attention to one or two rights and freedoms and the will to guard these, whereas one other stakes a declare to totally different rights and freedoms.
When each declare their rights and freedoms are being violated, it turns into troublesome to judge which aspect’s rights are price defending. And when this occurs we frequently align with the aspect that the majority carefully resembles our personal beliefs.
Rights will not be self-exceptional
As an alternative of discussing who must be defending individuals’s rights and freedoms and the way they may battle with the rights and freedoms of others, protest slogans find yourself perpetuating attitudes of self-exceptionalism and selfishness.
Rights and freedoms have been formally established below the belief that everybody in society issues and that as a society, we have to guarantee vital protections of everybody’s rights. The language utilized in protests oversimplifies what rights and freedoms are and the way everybody has ethical obligations to guard the rights and freedoms of everybody of their neighborhood.
On the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, it is very important replicate on the rights Canadians share and, extra importantly, perceive that these rights entail obligations to one another.
Maybe if misunderstandings about rights and freedoms have been clarified, there could be a larger sense of unity. And in the event that they matter as a lot as protesters imagine, then we have to consider how the help for some rights and freedoms may infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.
Clarisse Paron receives funding from the Nova Scotian authorities.