Once again we’re hearing a lot about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most recently, it’s about a dip-stick teenager who refused to stand for O Canada. Even a severely brain damaged 16 year old ought be able to show a modicum of respect. The reply that he has the right to freedom of expression doesn’t wash. If freedom of expression is so important to him – he should be showing some respect for the organization that grants him that freedom. If he doesn’t respect it – he shouldn’t claim it. If he really does want to show disrespect, he should be willing to accept the consequences.
My objection to the situation is this; the charter of rights and freedoms grants all Canadian citizens rights for simply breathing. We’re talking all kinds of rights, rights out the wazoo. This creates a real problem. The rights come at no cost to most of the population, thus they tend to be exploited too often. This is essentially a common pool resource problem. We currently have some "groups" of people that have been granted the right to go to the well a lot more than others.
I think we need to break the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into two distinct parts. One part we intend everybody to have just for breathing. This would include things like life, opportunity for improvement, etc. We should take a number of the other “rights” and couple them to responsibilities. You can only have these rights if you can demonstrate that you’ve met your responsibilities as outline in the charter. These rights would include things like freedom of expression. You only get to voice an obnoxious opinion if you’ve earned it. This used to be the way academic freedom worked. You had to prove you were a thinking responsible individual before you were accepted into the academic club and granted the right of academic freedom. It worked pretty well that way. Now with the expansion of the academy to border line academic disciplines, we’ve got a lot of half-wits hiding behind academic freedom in order to be offensive to no real propose. This makes it really hard for profs to use academic freedom when they've really got something useful to say, but that for another time.
What sort of things would be in the Charter of Responsibilities and Obligations? This is wear things are likely to get tricky. I want the document to be as short and simply worded as possible. The basic idea is that anybody can satisfy the Responsibilities and Obligations contained herein, with a minimal level of effort.
Some Examples I would include;
1. All citizens past the age of majority are responsible for contributing 10 hours of volunteer work per year.
This would be easy to meet. It would be up to the courts do decide what volunteer work was. Basically, this amounts to - "Get off the couch!"
2. All citizens must cast a ballot in municipal, provincial, and federal elections in that year.
If you don’t vote that year – no cookie for you. Spoiling your ballot would be promoted as a legitimate protest.
3. All citizens make an effort to pay the appropriate level of taxes.
I’m not talking about the honest I forgot to check that box stuff. I’m talking about out and out fraud. Not only should there be a financial penalty (which there is) but you should lose some of the rights afforded to you if you don’t pay the appropriate taxes.
4. All citizens must make an effort not to be a burden on the social support system.
This is a mirror of number 3. If you’re on EI and you’re not trying to get off – you’re not meeting your responsibilities as a citizen. If you’re on welfare and you’re trying to get off, the same thing applies. We’d have to fix the welfare system to get rid of the welfare trap. This would be dropped if we went to a guaranteed annual income scheme.
There are a few others that we might want to add (I'm open to suggestions), but I think its best to keep it short and simple. I think these few identify the ideas I’m trying to get across. 1 and 2 amount to being involved in the governance process, it is a democracy after all. 3 and 4 amount to, well, not being a total jerk with respect to the services provided by government.
I guess the best way to describe the sentiment is, you must make a contribution to the system to get more than the minimal benefits from the system.