If everyone is given the right to everything then eventually, no one will have the right to anything.
Civil rights (or civil liberties as they are sometimes called) have an important purpose in a democracy: to prevent the majority from using their votes to create the ‘tyranny of the majority’ over minorities. That is why, in 1982, Canada constitutionalized minority protection in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This was followed by federal and provincial human rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex and other important characteristics of minorities.
The theory is that the majority does not need legislated rights because their votes determine who is in government and what that government legislates, but minorities need to have certain basic rights recognized and protected. But as unpopular as it may be to say it: granting more new rights has its limits.
The rights granted to one group will sometimes collide with the rights granted to another group. We see this today quite dramatically with trans activists’ assertion that trans women are women and some feminists’ assertions that they are not, and should be excluded from women’s sports, women’s shelters, women’s public washrooms and women‘s prisons. The trans activists have won. Whether trans women are women is no longer a matter of opinion. It is now the law.
Since the adoption of the Charter, claims for more rights have continued to proliferate, and new rights continue to be granted. We only increase the number of rights, we never reduce them. We can’t keep granting increased rights in perpetuity. At some point the proliferation of conflicting rights will generate social conflict and increasing polarization between various rights holders. With what is called “cancel culture,” some Western democracies have now reached that point.
Rights, like money, are the currency of comfort. But just as printing too much money inflates and devalues the dollar, printing too many rights makes them increasingly difficult to enforce. I have written about this here in the context of the Nova Scotia lobster fishery, as but one example. If every group is given the right to everything then eventually no one will have the right to anything.Continue reading “In a conflict of rights, who wins?”