Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Saskatchewan's Human Rights Under Fire

No sources today, as I will be mostly talking about the issues rather than referencing and surmising them.

Since the election of the Wall Government in 2007, our province has seen some troubling things. We've seen plans of the NDP Government cut, such as Station 20 West, to have money earmarked for them transferred elsewhere. We've seen programs like the Children's Hospital stalled and delayed, while the Saskatchewan Party has the audacity to blame the NDP for it being in limbo.

We've seen our province's profits go down, with billion-dollar-boondoggles in our potash industry. We've seen our Crown Corporations losing 100% of their profits to the government, simply because they needed more money to falsely balance their budgets, and appear not to be running a deficit.

We've seen environmentally protected land fall under threat of being sold off to the highest bidder. We've seen constant attacks on workers and their rights, with bills 5, 6, and 80; and we've seen record level incompetence from this government.

But all of that pales, in my humble opinion, to what we are seeing from the Wall Government now. Which is pure, and simply, a fundamental attack on basic human rights within our province.

As many of you are aware, the Wall Government has done two things on this front.

First, and foremost, they are moving to dismantle Saskatchewan's Human Rights Tribunals. I've mentioned this before on the blog, and I feel that it needs to be mentioned again.

The Wall Government is going to restrict the ways individuals can report rights violations, and furthermore, limit the ability of those who have had their rights violated to see that justice is served and the violators punished.

This will be done if the Tribunal's cases are forced into Saskatchewan's court system. The backlog of cases already exists, and adding more weight to this stressed system will only ensure that human rights violators can act with impunity because the case will take years to come before the bench.

And yet, there has been little outrage over this issue.

Saskatchewan cannot afford to be set back in regards to human rights; the world only spins forward, rightfully so, and we cannot sit back and watch as our so-called government attempts to spin the clock backward. We must stand up, and we must demand that these tribunals be protected, and that they are allowed to continue to protect the rights of the minority in our province.

Secondly, and perhaps more publicly, we come to the current legal case on Brad Wall's legislation to allow marriage commissioners to opt out of performing weddings based on their personal religious beliefs.

I would like, if I may, to talk about human rights for a moment.

Is it true that religious freedom is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms? Yes, it is.

Is it not also true that the same document prevents discrimination of any individual, while at the same time directly stating that all individuals will be treated equally with recognition of the law? Yes, it does.

The Saskatchewan Party would have people believe that is legislation is a fundamental human rights question. That there are two protected rights; the right to religious freedom and the right to equality for all under the law, in direct conflict with one another.

However, this is clearly not the case.

Religious freedom allows a person to practice their religion openly, without fear of reprisal. To me, practice of religion refers to the ability to attend religious services, have access to religious objects and buildings, and be able to openly speak about one's religious beliefs.

It does not, however, allow a person in a civil service position to cloud their legal obligation with their own beliefs.

Marriage has existed in Canada in two forms for a long time; religious and civil marriage. Religious marriage is not under attack, as there is no law that forces the clergy to marry a couple which goes against their religious beliefs. Similarly, civil marriage is protected in that marriage commissioners are government appointed civil servants who are in place to uphold the laws of Saskatchewan.

And of course, same-sex marriage is a law of Saskatchewan. As many of you may remember, Saskatchewan was among the provinces who legalized same-sex marriage before the Federal Government passed a law enshrining same-sex marriage throughout Canada.

So, now we have another question: If a marriage commissioner refuses to marry a couple, while citing their own religious beliefs, have they broken the law?

In my humble, non-law learned opinion, they have.

This is not a question of one right vs another. If a person objects to a same-sex marriage religiously, then they probably shouldn't be a marriage commissioner in a province where same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

There is always a perception that religion and the state are supposed to co-exist with one another, but not interfere with one another. That they can exist together, but must remain separate.

If this legislation is approved by the court, this separation will cease to exist and open a floodgate for numerous religious vs other right cases.

How long until we have a haematologist who refuses to do blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs? How long until we have an OBGYN who refuses to prescribe birth control based on their religious beliefs?

You can see the problems this could potentially create by having a court decide that it is within the power of a civil servant to refuse to uphold Saskatchewan, and Canadian, law simply because they're religious beliefs do not match.

Once again, Saskatchewan cannot afford to turn the clock back on human rights in our province. Today, it's the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community that is under attack. Tomorrow, it could be women or people who have immigrated to Saskatchewan. An attack against one group, which is constantly marginalized and assaulted, is a strike against us all.

And if we don't stand up now against this fundamental attack on basic human rights, there's no telling who will find themselves in the Wall Government's sights next.