Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Tyranny of the majority

It is hardly fair when one lamb and ten wolves sit down to decide what will be for dinner.

The greatest flaw in Democracy is the risk of tyranny of the majority over minority rights. Just because a numeric majority voted for something does not make it morally right. It simply makes their will enforceable.

We see this being enacted all the time, particularly in religious debates exercising political pressure over the rights of others who are not of that religion or any religion and whose followers will never be affected by the legislation. It happens in many countries. Such public debates have included issues of birth control, abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment, racial equality, First Nations' treaty rights, etc.

In Canada, the First Nations were systematically suppressed, culturally disenfranchised and their children sent to Residential Schools where they endured incredible abuse, enforced by the white majority. In the U.S.A., the white majority were able to enforce the enslavement of the black and aboriginal minorities, and they currently permit their leaders to wage a pre-emptive war in Iraq. That has placed one of my children in harm's way. The majority in Germany chose Adolf Hitler and supported the deaths of millions of Jews and others in World War II. It doesn't make it moral or right. It simply makes it enforceable. Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called it "Might is right".?

Personally, I really like a minority government. It forces moderation and compromise that consider all the people, not just the political ideology of the current party in power. Ideology is replaced by the need to politically survive. I may vote for a particular party, but it doesn't mean I trust them. It simply means I see them as the lesser of a bunch of evils. I don't trust anyone who seeks power.

I certainly see the tyranny of the majority over the minority in dealing with disability issues. Those with major disabilities, visible and invisible, are kept at a subsistence existence below the poverty level. Many are imprisoned or homeless. There is little political will by the majority to care for our most vulnerable. As a result, we lack diagnostic and treatment facilities, rehab facilities, special education funding, proper social service supports and a humane justice system.

"I did not speak up
The Nazis came for the Communists, and I did not speak up because I was not Communist.
They came for the Jews and I didn't speak up for I was not a Jew.
They came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist.
They came for the Catholics and I was Protestant so I didn't speak up.
Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Pastor Martin Niemoller (d.1984)

One of the greatest achievements in Canadian history has been the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the supreme law of the land.
“(Human rights legislation) is often the final refuge of the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised.” - Supreme Court of Canada in Zurich Insurance Co. v. Ontario Human Rights Commission, infra note 46, at para. 18.

Politicians of the moment can enact legislation, most of it being part of the ideological platform of the majority party in power. Fortunately, the legislation must be measured against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure the rights of all, including minorities, are respected. The Charter acts as a check and balance over the tyranny of the majority.