Compassionate Canadians

Compassionate Canadians: Civic Leaders Discuss Human Rights

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442673182
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    Compassionate Canadians
    Book Description:

    Do Canadians, as a group, possess a strong ethical code when thinking about human rights issues? They do, according to Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann who has analyzed the responses of 78 civic leaders from Hamilton, Ontario whom she interviewed over several months in 1996 and 1997. Their responses to questions about hate speech, hate crimes, gay and lesbian rights, multiculturalism, employment equity, aboriginal rights, the rights of the poor, and an individual's obligation to 'strangers' ? defined as immigrants, refugees, and people living outside Canada's borders ? revealed deep and complex reasoning about ethical concerns, and exhibited a strong unified sense of what it means to be Canadian.

    The civic leaders interviewed represented many diverse groups: members of gay and lesbian groups, feminist organizations, aboriginal groups, and leaders of service organizations, private clubs, and patriotic organizations. Slightly more than half were women, and slightly fewer than half were immigrants to Canada.

    In their responses, these individuals stressed the importance of both belonging to and having obligations to the Canadian community. They highlighted the values of equality, non-discrimination, and multiculturalism, as well as the need to respect everyone living in Canada. For them, there were noabsoluteindividual rights: all rights must be balanced with concern for vulnerable groups in Canada.

    Understanding the moral reasoning of these civic leaders helps to illuminate the moral consensus among ordinary Canadian citizens around the formal human rights laws that govern Canada. It also illustrates the sort of human rights policies that Canadians are likely to support.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7318-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter One Hamiltonʹs Civic Leaders
    (pp. 3-32)

    Michael Ignatieff has stressed the need for the intellectual elites of the world to listen to the voices of ordinary men and women.¹ Ordinary men and women constitute the everyday moral universe. If they do not accept the principles of human rights, law alone cannot enforce those principles.

    This book reveals how some Canadian citizens grapple with questions about human rights. I discuss their moral reasoning by analysing the opinions of seventy-eight civic leaders in Hamilton, Ontario, and its surrounding region, whom I interviewed in 1996 and 1997. These citizens considered themselves part of the Canadian community and believed their...

  5. Chapter Two Being Canadian
    (pp. 33-52)

    The attitudes of the Hamilton civic leaders to the questions I posed were intimately bound up with their own sense of being Canadian. They felt themselves to be active members of the Canadian social and political milieu, capable of influencing events, mobilizing resources, and achieving policy reform. Even those who had arrived fairly recently in Canada insisted on their full membership in the local and national society as loyal Canadians citizens. They claimed, and they acted upon, their right to citizenship, no matter where they came from, or how recently they had arrived in Canada.

    One section of the interviews...

  6. Chapter Three Moral Circumspection and Freedom of Speech
    (pp. 53-74)

    As active citizens in their community, the Hamilton civic leaders were used to discussing question about justice and human rights that were reported in the media. One such recurring question in late-20th century Canada was what, if any, limits should be put on freedom of speech. This question especially addressed whether citizens should curb their tongues to avoid offending vulnerable groups. Discussion of freedom of speech in Canada often focuses on a few key legal cases, which have come to public attention because of legislation limiting hate speech. Many of the Hamilton civic leaders were aware of these cases, and...

  7. Chapter Four A Note on Hate Crimes
    (pp. 75-90)

    Just as there is an international debate about hate speech, so there is an international debate about hate crimes, especially whether they should be punished more harshly than ʹordinaryʹ crimes.¹ The assumption behind the proposition that hate crimes should be punished more harshly is that they are crimes not merely against individual victims, but rather against entire groups of people, particularly religious and ethnic minorities, and homosexuals. An assault on one member of such a group is assumed to be a threat against all members. In this respect, it is argued, hate crimes differ from, and have far more serious...

  8. Chapter Five The Gay Cousin: Learning to Accept Gay Rights
    (pp. 91-113)

    As the new century begins, it is useful to reflect on whether any social groups are still unprotected by international human rights law. Obvious candidates are gays and lesbians.¹ If ʹEveryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this [Universal] Declaration [of Human Rights], without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birthor other status,ʹ² then it is incumbent upon those interested in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians to show that they occupy a status analogous to that of other...

  9. Chapter Six Limits to Multiculturalism: Gay Rights, Womenʹs Rights, and Minoritiesʹ Rights
    (pp. 114-133)

    One question that arises in a multicultural country like Canada is whether minority religious or ethnic groups should be expected to adhere to human rights values that might not be part of their own belief system. In chapter 5, I discussed the opinions of the Hamilton civic leaders about gay and lesbian rights. Separate from their own opinions on such rights, however, is their opinion on whether members of such minority groups should agree with them. This is an issue to do with the thorny debate about cultural relativism, especially in the era of globalization.¹ As the world becomes more...

  10. Chapter Seven The Sins of the Fathers: Employment Equity
    (pp. 134-155)

    Several of the preceding chapters have addressed Canadaʹs policy of multiculturalism, both indirectly through discussion of hate speech and hate crimes, and directly through discussion of human rights-based limits to multiculturalism. Employment equity can be viewed as another aspect of the policy of multiculturalism, in so far as it is designed to ensure that all groups in Canadian society have a fair chance for employment and promotion. As such, one might expect that the Hamilton civic leadersʹ opinions about employment equity would reveal the same high degree of consensus as the previous chapters demonstrated, or at least that disagreements would...

  11. Chapter Eight The Duty to Respect: Aboriginal Rights
    (pp. 156-177)

    Previous chapters dealt in part with the conflicts between individual and group rights. For the purpose of analysing conflicts of rights, there is no satisfactory definition of a group. When an aggregation of individual human beings becomes a group for the purpose of the assignment of rights, or whether such group assignment should ever be made, is deeply debated.¹ So also, as preceding chapters have shown, is the issue of whether any individual rights should ever be sacrificed for the sake of the group.

    With regard to Aboriginal peoples, however, the situation is slightly different. In law and philosophy, they...

  12. Chapter Nine Short Bootstraps: Poverty and Social Responsibility
    (pp. 178-199)

    In a book about human rights, it might seem odd to include a chapter about poverty. Yet one could argue that in Canada, poverty is the greatest human rights violation of all. It also presents a dilemma, namely, how to resolve the problem of poverty in the midst of great wealth.

    Even in a wealthy country, to live in poverty is to suffer violations of oneʹs economic rights. The international law of human rights includes a Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among the economic rights are those such as the rights to food, clothing, housing, social security, education,...

  13. Chapter Ten A Comfortable Consensus: Responsibility to Strangers
    (pp. 200-214)

    The issues discussed in the preceding chapters had all been part of the Canadian public agenda for several years. They were familiar to the Hamilton civic leaders, even when they did not have a good sense of how to resolve them. This short chapter deals with a different kind of problem, which was evolving as an important international issue at the end of the twentieth century. The issue is, What is our responsibility to strangers outside the borders of Canada? Are Canadians, along with other Westerners, practising a form of apartheid in the international arena, by disregarding the needs of...

  14. Chapter Eleven Compassionate Canadians
    (pp. 215-234)

    This book has shown how some Canadians think through questions of individual and group rights, social obligation, and community. It demonstrates the importance of citizensʹ use of philosophical agency to develop empathic attitudes to people often different from themselves, and to support their claims for human rights. The Hamilton civic leadersʹ support for human rights was grounded in their ability to empathize with others, not only with people who might be considered their ʹown kind,ʹ but also with people ostensibly very different from themselves.

    Overall, the Hamilton civic leaders were a very compassionate group. Martha Nussbaum defines compassion as ʹa...

  15. Appendix: Interview Schedule
    (pp. 235-242)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 243-280)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-304)
  18. Index
    (pp. 305-322)