Editor, The News:
Recently, a woman demanded that she take the oath of Canadian citizenship while wearing a niqab, a symbol of the subjugation of women as mandated by Islamic theology.
There was an immediate reaction, both pro and con.
To his credit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper voiced his alarm at this prospect. Alarm is warranted. The difficulties many European countries are experiencing today are a result of the inclusion of cultures holding values inimical to those of the host society.
What can we do to better state our values and protect them, and perhaps avoid the problems we see in Europe?
Well, there is a precedent to the south of us.
Two and a half centuries ago, the United States of America got it right. They established the first secular republic. They were able to do this because The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were forged in a perfect storm of European enlightenment, philosophical and political progress, with the influence of such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and John Locke.
Carefully they crafted documents which allowed no influence by religion on any level.
The preamble to the Constitution identifies the power driving the new society as, “We the People.”
The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Just in case you didn’t get the point by now, Article 6 of the Constitution states that: “ … no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”
It was, is, a remarkable document.
Fast forward two centuries, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes no such brilliance.
To be remarkable, a document must go where others have not. It must advance the cause of human rights beyond what exists at the time. The Magna Carta did that. It was remarkable. The Constitution of the United States was a document like no other. It extended and refined the surge of enlightenment values and left monarchy and religion behind. It remains remarkable.
The Canadian Charter, not so much. The problem starts with the preamble. It states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
Two centuries after the first amendment to the constitution, we include superstition in our charter. And why did we do that? Because some aggressive religious types demanded it, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau gave in to them to gain their agreement to the document, in general. To his credit, Trudeau was heard to grumble that, “ I don’t think that God gives a damn whether he is in the constitution or not”.
The rest of the Charter is basically a copy of what others have done before. It is OK. It advances nothing, and , with respect to the preamble, it is retrogressive.
It is time to clean it up. We can make a statement to the world and pay belated homage to those who carried the heavy loads before us by removing a couple of words from the preamble.