Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Commentary: We need to stop tolerance and accept one another


 -  a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion,nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.

I was pleased to hear Chief Justice Ivor Archie say on Saturday at the launch of the national consultation on constitutional reform that the team writing the new draft might want to tinker with the national watchwords - discipline, production and tolerance.

"It should be a complete rewrite of the social contract that is to govern the way we and our institutions function. Maybe we should even revisit our watchwords. Are we to be content with mere tolerance?" Archie asked.

"After all, we can bring ourselves to tolerate that which we don't like. Maybe we need language that better expresses the idea of better embracing each other. We must decide whether we have a nation of many co-existing or one people with a diversity of cultural and historical linkages," he added.

It's a point I have made over and over again and something for which I fought in Canada at the level of a school board where my son was the only non-white student. 

The members were content to have the other kids "tolerate" my son and saw nothing unusual about the word "tolerate". However, I argued for two days that I didn't want anyone to "tolerate" him; I needed them to appreciate and embrace him as an equal although he didn't look like them. Equality demands much more than "tolerance", I insisted. In the end the all-white members agreed and the word was taken out and replaced with acceptance.

Basdeo Panday raised the same issue during a political speech in the 2000 general election campaign and the then opposition leader Patrick Manning derided the prime minister for taking issue with the word tolerance.

The very definition of the word suggests that tolerance does not necessarily mean acceptance. The suggestion is that we don't necessarily accept or embrace one another but for convenience we tolerate others. That is wrong and perhaps is one reason why we see so much hate and anger in our society today.

Archie also spoke about hate when he addressed guests at the launch on Saturday. "If we have to build one people, then what do we do about hate speech? I shudder sometimes about what we hear over the airways.

"Is it that freedom of expression is too precious to make hate speech unconstitutional?" he asked. 

For too long we have accepted hate under the pretence of free speech. As the CJ stated, all you have to do is turn on the radio. And it's not just people ranting and raving about politicians and public officials. Some religious leaders have the same attitude to other religions.

Perhaps the commission should look to the Canada for guidance, where people have been prosecuted and jailed for expressing hate publicly.

In Canada anyone who "exposes, or tends to expose, persons or groups to hatred" is liable to face criminal charges based on the country's hate laws. Indeed, many people have been charged and some jailed for the offence. 

The Criminal Code of Canada says a hate crime is committed "to intimidate, harm or terrify not only a person, but an entire group of people to which the victim belongs." It applies when the victims are targeted for who they are, not because of anything they have done, and "can involve intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force against a person, a group or a property".

Section 318 of the Criminal Code points out that it is also a crime to incite hatred. It states that t is a criminal act to "advocate or promote genocide" — to call for, support, encourage or argue for the killing of members of a group based on colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

Free speech is protected under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

However, Canada has recognised the need to put limitations on that right when people abuse the privilege of free speech to spread hate and incite hatred against others.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects free speech. However, the right is not absolute. Section 1 of the Charter states: "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

That is a critically important component of the Canadian Constitution and I would encourage the team studying constitutional reform to look closely at how they might incorporate such protection in our own.

Being civilised means much more than social, cultural and moral development. It means being polite and considerate; it means a recognition of the fundamental rights of others while defending one's own and means embracing everyone, not just tolerating them.

If we as a people refuse to be "civilised" in this context, perhaps the time has come for us to write it in our constitution so that we and future generations would have a guide to help us conduct our daily affairs and our relationship with one another.

Jai Parasram

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai