Fighting for Freedom and Our Human Rights – What’s It All For?

In light of the recent events surrounding the G20 protests, I’d like to review a tiny bit of history and then share some commentary.

June 26, 1945 was a historic moment for the world – the United Nations (UN) was created. After suffering through two world wars, the UN was created for the purpose of preventing the possibility of a third world war. Then, on December 10, 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In Canada, in 1982 under the leadership of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a legacy was given to all of Canada – the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF). The CCRF was written in the same spirit as the UN UDHR and provides for essentially the same human rights.

I would like to direct attention to the “fundamental freedoms” given in section 2 of the CCRF (I also note the correlating Articles from the UDHR in brackets). Section 2 reads:

“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion [Article 18];
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication [Articles 18 and 19];
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly [Article 20]; and
(d) freedom of association. [Article 20]”

I note here that Section 2 applies to “everyone”, not just to Canadians. Also, since these same rights are found in the UDHR and Canada is a party state to the UN and thereby, also the UDHR, Canada must apply these rights to everyone regardless of citizenship or nationality.

I particularly note this because of the very nasty sentiment some people have expressed over the weekend – that is, simply because some protesters over the weekend may not have been Canadians or from Toronto, they did not have the right to come to Toronto to protest the G20. I find that kind of sentiment repulsive, offensive, and not very humanitarian. It is quite contrary to the spirit of the UDHR and the CCRF, which contain ideals many Canadians are proud of. These same Canadians who express this nasty sentiment of “it isn’t your streets, go home” (as if it was even a smart comeback to “Whose streets? Our streets!”; and I feel I should point out that the peaceful protesters were chanting that, not the vandals – just responding to someone’s remark that “They’re my streets too, stop destroying them!”, never mind that the damage is not as bad as people imagined) are also the very same Canadians who don’t wish to lose their rights and freedoms. Oh, I am quite aware that many Canadians here were scared over the weekend and stayed home, well away from the protests (and as it turned out, it wasn’t the protesters you had to be afraid of, it was the police – the vandals as far as we can tell did not hurt anyone as other civilians weren’t their targets), but simply because these people chose to NOT exercise their rights and freedoms as given in the CCRF, does not mean their rights were taken away. Rather, they enjoyed the privilege of staying home watching other people have their rights trampled upon by the police all the meanwhile exercising their rights to freedom of expression by complaining online about the protests (if you don’t want human rights for everyone, then go live in China) and how badly it ruined their weekend and so on. For the record, it ruined my weekend too. I was hoping nothing bad would happen because of the G20, and was hoping to relax by playing Final Fantasy 7 and maybe going running, but I do not blame the protesters for exercising their fundamental rights and their human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The few who weren’t peaceful should not outweigh the efforts of 25,000 peaceful protesters. It was the police broke the law this past weekend (see the section on “legal rights” in the CCRF, many of which are also covered in the UDHR) and instigated (and engaged in) a lot of the violence that occurred. What the police did was unconstitutional and is a human rights violation. It is also morally reprehensible considering thousands of civilians put their trust in the police to protect the people, not the rich, elite behind the big fence having their outrageously extravagant big party (oh, sorry… G20 Summit). But getting back to to Section 2 of the CCRF, it applies to everyone regardless of citizenship or nationality.

Furthermore, citizenship and nationality is a disputable topic to some. In this day, when we have instant communication to anywhere around the world due to the internet and computer technology, nationality to me seems to be a dying concept. Arguably, it is a useless concept and can contribute to sentiments like those noted above. It is also interesting to note that some of those sentiments come from people who may not have been born in Canada. Now, if I thought like these people and wanted to be as unenlightened as them (and being upset about your weekend being spoiled is no excuse because like I said my weekend was disrupted too, but what went on this past weekend was much more important than my weekend being spoiled), I might say to them “bug off, you go home, you weren’t born here, I was” (because I was born here), but of course I don’t because I just don’t feel as territorial as others (Mother Earth, Gaia, is for everyone). Recently, I have started to consider that nationality often separates one group from all others. Nationality is often used to develop a cohesive bond amongst a group of people so that together they can get a sense of who and what they are – it gives them a sense of community, and often it creates patriotism. However, at the same time, this sense of nationality and also patriotism contributes to the “us versus them” mentality – a mentality that needs to disappear for the sake of all humanity if we are ever to achieve world peace. Yes, world peace. That is what these protesters ultimately want, but unfortunately we have to fight for that because there are others (*cough* “Adolf Harper” *cough*) who just want power and authority to bully everyone else around, to exert their will over others, to dominate and control, to take away the rights and freedoms that others have worked so hard for that we, this generation, have inherited.

Let’s get back to this troubling notion of nationality and citizenship. I personally know and have known many people who migrated to Canada and ultimately wanted to stay here. To do so, they go through the process of “naturalization” and become “naturalized citizens”. (Read a bit about “naturalized citizen” versus “born citizen”.) These people come here to Canada because they want the protection of the CCRF (whether they know much about it, but because of the process of naturalization, I’m sure they must know at least the basic fundamental freedoms and rights they are being granted by becoming Canadian citizens) or they want to be here because “Hey, Canada is a great country!” (Well, for now it is, let’s hope this weekend isn’t a bad turning point for human rights in Canada; it’s bad, but I, like others, are worried it may get worse and are willing to fight to prevent that from happening.) Now, what’s irked me is that some of the people who fight to stay in Canada aren’t willing to stand up for the rights and freedoms that they were granted by becoming naturalized citizens. It is astounding to me because I would think that the mere fact that they wanted so desperately to stay here should mean that they should also want desperately to fight for the very same rights and freedoms that allowed them to come here in the first place. On the flip side, we also have some Canadians who were born here who just won’t stand up for these rights. It’s disheartening.

I shake my head and fists at these people in frustration (not anger). Don’t they get it yet? They have inherited a remarkable legacy, the CCRF and the UDHR, yet through their complacency they may lose the rights and freedoms granted to us by these laws all the meanwhile looking down on those willing to fight for these rights. The people fighting for these rights aren’t fighting for just theirs, but yours as well. They fight for my rights, as I will fight for theirs. We must, like so many others before us, fight for them. No, “we won’t shut the f*ck up!”

Reading Jessica Yee’s “20th anniversary of Oka and the continuation of unearthing human rights at the G8/G20”, I share her sentiments:

Now I owe who I am today because of activists and communities of people who wouldn’t shut the f#$! up no matter what the consequence for the last few hundred years.

However it’s not as if the struggle has ever really stopped. It hasn’t. The actions that have taken place around the G8/G20 from Indigenous people, women, people of colour, the poor, the working class, queer and trans people and disabled people have decades, if not centuries, of baggage that lead up to this point of where we are at with zero accountability from governments for the continuation of oppression.

I will not allow your work to be obliterated now or ever. Please know that I stand with you for speaking the truth from your heart which no government, police, or jail can silence.

I may not be a descendant of a First Nations group, but I am part of a “visible minority” in Canada, as I am a first generation Chinese-Canadian (my parents originally moved here around 1950). I grew up in the Trudeau era, and I am aware of the how hard it was to even get the CCRF entrenched in our constitution. I am aware of the history of the United Nations and the UDHR and why it was formed. I have lived in Canada my whole life feeling safe and secure knowing that we have these rights and freedoms. There is “No Security without Human Rights”. I grew up with these rights and freedoms thanks to the people who fought for them. Without that, where would I be today? For that, I have always been proud to live in Canada, and it was very sad to see those rights and freedoms suspended and trampled upon over the past weekend (the first arrest was on Friday). I hope that I can continue to say that I’m proud to live in Canada, even though right now all I can think is “Shame on the government!”, “Shame on the police!”.

I’ve also come across sentiments expressed by detractors that protesters and human rights activists are overly idealistic, they aren’t realistic and that things can’t be changed. To them, I say that even if the end, the outcome, is the same, it does not matter. What matters is the possibility of making the changes because we never know what can be possible. To give up like that is self-defeating. Where would we be today if others thought like that throughout history? I quote (from the TV show and comic “Angel”), “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do” Because if that’s all there is to life, then I’d rather “fight the good fight” than be complacent and watch it all go to hell. Someone on Twitter shared this quote from Samuel Adams, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds…”

My heart goes out to all the protesters this weekend and also those who rallied at the police headquarters on Monday night. I only wish that I was there with you in person instead of in spirit. For me, it was hard to not be there helping. I did the only thing that I could, and that was to write about what was happening, express my support for our right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and continue to hope that others will read, listen, and consider my words carefully.

With love and compassion in the hopes of lasting world peace,
~~~C

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