Friday, 8 August 2014

The Colon [ : ] and the Charter. The most important punctuation mark in Canada

A colon is a punctuation mark used to identify a major division in a sentence; to indicate that what follows is an elaboration, summation, implication, etc., of that which precedes it.
There is a single introductory clause at the very beginning Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It reads, Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:
It is of the most critical significance that this controversial clause ends with a colon [ : ].  What this punctuation mark means is that this is not a completed sentence that ends at this point; rather this clause is the contextual introduction to the list which follows.  Everything that follows these two small, vertically aligned dots must be read, evaluated, understood and acted upon in light of the words that precede them.  Without the words that precede the colon the articles listed in the Charter have no context, e.g. one cannot enforce a section of the Charter without the recognition of the rule of law.

The introductory clause is often referred to as the preamble but this is to dilute the essence of what is written. This clause is the very heart of the Charter.  The heading that precedes the the introductory clause reads, "CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982 (80) PART I CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS".

A charter is the grant of authority or rights, stating that the granter formally recognizes the prerogative of the recipient to exercise the rights specified. It is implicit that the granter retains superiority (or sovereignty), and that the recipient admits a limited (or inferior) status within the relationship, and it is within that sense that charters were historically granted, and that sense is retained in modern usage of the term. (ref: Wikipedia)
The controversy surrounding the introductory clause, with its all-important colon, almost exclusively appears in relation to recognizing the supremacy of God and [apart from anarchists] not to the rule of law.  Here is the dilemma though, however controversial it might be, recognizing the supremacy of God is the most important and fundamental aspect of the Charter.  God’s supremacy cannot simply be ignored because it is controversial.  It simply is.  If these three words are ignored the Charter is invalidated in exactly the same way as if one removed recognition of the rule of law.  It is God’s supremacy that gives the rights listed within the Charter their context and it is the rule of law which upholds these same rights.
The supremacy of God is an indelible statement in the original document signed on behalf of all Canadians by the then prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau.  The removal of God’s supremacy from the Charter would require cutting a physical hole in the document to remove it.  Likewise, an amendment, even sanctioned by all the provinces and territories, would not erase it.  It’s there in indelible printers’ ink.  As long as there is a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, God’s supremacy in its interpretation must remain.  In 1999 NDP MP, Svend Robinson, proposed in the House of Commons that the mention of God be struck from the preamble and he was relegated to the backbenches for his efforts.
Some have suggested that recognizing the supremacy of God actually contradicts Section 2 of the Charter (which it does not) where it upholds freedom of thought, conscience, opinion and religion. The Charter specifically says that one has the right to freedom of religion – not freedom from religion.  In the same vein, one is free to have the opinion that the Charter may be poorly constructed but not have the lawful right to ignore it.  At the Alberta Court of Appeal, Justice Belzil, wrote "...the preamble to the Charter indicated Canada had a Christian heritage and thus courts should not use the Section 2 right to freedom of religion to eliminate the traditions of this heritage."  
The Supreme Court of Canada considered the preamble's mention of the rule of law in reference to the case re Manitoba Language Rights (1985) and thus confirmed the Charter's preamble's importance by writing that "The constitutional status of the rule of law is beyond question."  One cannot simply negate one half of the preamble while endorsing the other.
Theologian Douglas Farrow noted: “The word ‘Whereas’, moreover, indicates all sections of the Charter should be read in light of the principle recognizing the supremacy of God. This includes the ‘rule of law’, which comes after the ‘supremacy of God’ in the preamble, and that the rule of law is hard to account for, to interpret, or to sustain without reference to the supremacy of God, as the rule of law developed from the religious backgrounds of Canada.”  In other words, one cannot have a consistent moral law (or right) without a Moral Law Giver.
The Canadian Secular Alliance asks on their website, “If Canada officially recognizes the supremacy of one particular God, in what sense are Canadians free to choose their own religion and follow their own conscience?”  In asking this question the Alliance misses the point that one is free to exercise and follow one’s religion [or lack thereof] and conscience within the confines of the Charter, e.g. one is free to practice witchcraft or Satanism but not to offer child sacrifices as an expression of it.  The law recognizes the Biblical principal ‘You shall not kill [murder]’, Exodus 20:13, which obviously and reasonably places limitations on the rights of those who practice such cults.
Section 7 of the Charter states that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” And Section 15 states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
Unfortunately, the Government of Canada still fails to recognize and include the unborn child in the ‘Everyone’ protected by the Charter; that they be given right to "life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof…”  Unborn children are hugely discriminated by age (their rights are only recognized [typically] at the age of nine-months), sex (gender selective abortion) and by mental and physical disability (in Canada ninety percent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are killed in the womb).  And no, before you go looking, is there anywhere in the Charter that explicitly gives anyone the right to kill that which has been conceived in a woman.
God, who is supreme, says of the unborn child, “Before you were in the womb I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5.  
We would be a much more virtuous country if we took the Charter’s colon seriously (no pun intended).