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On this Earth Day April 22nd let us celebrate Canada’s spectacular natural beauty, where we in Vancouver live and across this great land, and together promote dialogue and actions to create a truly sustainable society. “The Holy Land is everywhere” Nicholas Black Elk
Conservation of healthy land, water, air and atmosphere is our sacred responsibility. “We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.” Stephen Jay Gould
We who care about well being and opportunities for our children and the generations to follow recognize we must at times sacrifice short term consumption for long term benefit. “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” US President Theodore Roosevelt
This moral imperative―and equally importantly this survival imperative―compels us to support those who call for conservation of the resources humanity depends upon. “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” US President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Today we collectively risk doing irreversible damage to the balance of the earth systems that sustain us: productive soils and forests, abundant clean water to drink, healthy oceans, stable climate, and nature’s diversity. “Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.” Dalai Lama XIV
Earth Day reminds us of the great task before us to rise to this urgent challenge and reverse harmful trends. We know well how to compete to find advantage; let us harness human intelligence and cooperate to find solutions. As individuals, and as humanity, let us not betray the children. “Saving the world requires saving democracy. That requires well-informed citizens. Conservation, environment, poverty, community, education, family, health, economy- these combine to make one quest: liberty and justice for all. Whether one’s special emphasis is global warming or child welfare, the cause is the same cause. And justice comes from the same place being human comes from: compassion.” Carl Safina
It’s no secret that military life can be hard on families. The stress of having to run a household alone while a spouse is deployed, worrying about the safety of a loved one on a mission, having to sacrifice careers opportunities because of frequent moves, and the disruptions of regularly relocating around country are but a few of the challenges. So it’s only fair that government does everything it can to support military families by reducing these stresses whenever possible. Unfortunately, the government is failing to offer military families the support and services they need.
Recently, Maj. Marcus Brauer has gone public with his struggle to get the government to compensate him for the full cost of his 2010 move from Bon Accord, Alberta to Halifax, N.S. At issue is something called the Home Equity Assistance Program, which is designed to protect a Forces member from losing money when they have to sell their home to relocate. The program normally covers 80 per cent of all losses to a maximum of $15,000. However, it will cover 100 per cent of losses if the home is located in a “depressed” market—i.e. communities where housing prices drop more than 20 per cent.
The problem is that the government determines on its own whether a market is “depressed” by looking at broad data from across greater metropolitan areas—not the prices in local communities. So while housing prices in Bon Accord plummeted, prices in Edmonton stayed high enough to offset the drop. In Maj. Brauer’s case, that means that his family lost $88,000 on the sale of his house, but the government will only reimburse him $15,000 of that amount. Today, Maj. Brauer carries $73,000 of debt and has resorted to selling furniture and picking bottles to make ends meet. He is also crowdsourcing to raise $20,000 for his legal fees so he can continue his lawsuit against the government.
Of the 146 families that have applied for full compensation so far, not a single one has been approved. Apparently the government doesn’t consider any market in Canada to be “depressed.” Clearly, the government’s approach isn’t working. It only makes sense to find different ways to assess smaller markets within larger regions, so why don’t they?
Sadly, this is not the only way the Conservative government has been neglecting the needs of our military families. As Pierre Daigle, the National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman, pointed out last year, housing for military families on bases is in dismal shape. His recent special report on Cold Lake revealed that only 2.1 per cent of houses were in “good” condition. Most of the rest don’t even meet provincial or federal building codes, and have a host of problems like mould, asbestos, leaky pipes, ungrounded electrical outlets, and single pane windows that don’t keep out the cold.
On top of all the other stresses, can you imagine trying to raise a family in a dilapidated house that is falling apart around you? No wonder so many military families try to purchase their own homes. But when posted elsewhere they must sell and move, even if market conditions are poor. They “feel they have had to scratch and claw to obtain the benefits for which they are entitled.”
Perhaps the clearest voices on the Conservative government’s failure to deliver for our Forces members come directly from the families themselves. As Ms. Heather Allison—mother of a Canadian Armed Forces medic who served two tours in Afghanistan—noted when she testified before the Standing Committee on National Defence this past June: “[w]e are proud, and we’re proud of what she does. But we’re not proud of how she’s being treated, or of how the ones like her are being treated. They’re falling between the cracks. I hear it every time I’m talking to parents.”
Canadians expect their government to take care of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, who dedicate their careers to serve our country. As Ms. Allison so eloquently put it, “It shouldn’t be that hard. It shouldn’t be my job. It should be the military’s and the government’s job—and the people of Canada—to ensure that our kids are well looked after when they come home.” I could not agree more.
In the rush to end its string of seven consecutive deficits and balance the federal budget before the next election, the Conservative government has been making big cuts to the Department of National Defence and Canada’s Armed Forces—without thinking about how these cuts affect military families. This nickel-and-diming of our women and men in uniform must end.
On the Charter’s 32nd birthday, let’s celebrate our ‘revolution in law’
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 17 2014, 8:38 AM EDT
Today, April 17, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms celebrates its 32nd birthday. This great addition to Canada’s Constitution is worth celebrating given its transformative impact not only on our laws, but on our lives – not only on how we litigate, but on how we live.
Indeed, Canadians now enjoy a panoply of rights and remedies that were almost inconceivable prior to the advent of the Charter. Beyond merely marking the day, one should pause to reflect upon the significance of this text, its history, and the proud legacy it has provided Canada.
On the 10th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then chief justice Antonio Lamer spoke of it being a “revolution in law comparable to the discovery of Pasteur in science.” Madame justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, after just five years of the Charter being in effect, said in 1987 that Canada had “stretched the cords of liberty” more in five years – in some instances – than the United States had done in 200 years. And even if one wants to say that some of that was enthusiastic rhetoric, it is clear that the Charter was indeed revolutionary.
Under the Charter, Canada moved from being a parliamentary democracy to being a constitutional democracy. Courts moved from being the arbiters of legal federalism – whether the matter is federal or provincial – to being guardians of our constitutional rights, not because the courts usurped Parliament’s authority but because we, Parliament, on behalf of the Canadian people, gave them that power. Individuals moved from being the objects of rights to being subjects of rights, with the full panoply of fundamental rights and remedies that were unavailable in pre-Charter law.
Indeed, pre-Charter life and law is often a disturbing narrative of discrimination against, and marginalization, of vulnerable groups, including discrimination against aboriginal people, against racial and religious minorities, against women, against the disabled, against gays and lesbians, against immigrants and refugees, and the like. But, if you go about the country – as I did while minister of justice – and ask Canadians if their rights are better protected now than they were 30 years ago, the answer is invariably yes. This also finds expression in the public opinion polls themselves, where the Charter has emerged as an icon of the Canadian political culture.
Interestingly enough, the Charter earned respect and recognition beyond our borders. In an interview with Egyptian television several years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg urged Egyptians in their nascent state of democratic reform to look beyond the U.S. Constitution to the constitutions of Canada and South Africa, whose constitution was informed by our very own Charter; while South African courts have been influenced by our Charter, and have cited it more than the constitution of any other jurisdiction.
Simply put, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is promotive and protective of what the pursuit of justice is all about. It is promotive and protective not only of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, but the equal dignity and worth of all human beings – where one can aspire to a society which celebrates both equality and human dignity – a society which not only speaks to us in terms of who we are – that recognizes the dignity of difference – but also in terms of what we as Canadians, both collectively and individually, can aspire to be.
Whether we look at equality advanced by the Charter – such as in the Court’s determination that same-sex marriage flows from it – or the rights protection it accords, we must also pause to reflect upon its drafting. In particular, it is important to recognize the singular role of the women’s movement in the enactment of the Charter, advocacy which resulted in the present wording of sections 15 and 28, the equality provisions of which we are all beneficiaries.
Section 15 – the equality clause – provided only for the principle “equality before the law” in its original draft form. Women’s groups, mindful of the limited protection this afforded under the predecessor Canadian Bill of Rights – and apprehensive that the courts might continue this line of narrow jurisprudence – fought for and secured the enhancement of this provision to read that all persons are “equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.”
Similarly, the women’s movement was also responsible for the inclusion of section 28, that “notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.” Again, the women’s movement simply did not trust that even the equality rights protection in section 15, standing alone, would suffice, and sought to guarantee the equality of women and men could not be diminished through any other interpretation of the Charter.
On this Charter anniversary, let us reflect upon all that Canada has gained from the Charter in its short existence, and appreciate the contributions the document has made alongside the role of women and minorities in its crafting. All Canadians should be proud of this monumental constitutional moment, and look forward to having an inspiring reason to celebrate April 17 in years to come.
Irwin Cotler is a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. He is a professor of law (emeritus) at McGill University.
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