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.