When collective rights take precedence over individual freedoms we cannot claim to live freely
The illiberal democracy of collective rights
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Montreal lawyer Stéphane Handfield represents a U.S. citizen who is Cuban-born and who applied in English for immigrant status in July after arriving here from the United States. In December, he hired Handfield as his lawyer.
Handfield insists that despite his client’s comprehension being better in English and speaking only a “dash” of French, the federal Immigration and Refugee Board in Montreal should conduct the hearing in French because it is taking place in Quebec. His client will be provided with a translator.
The Montreal lawyer says it is unacceptable for an immigration hearing in Quebec to proceed in English. He said his request to change the language of the proceedings is a matter of principle. Federal Immigration authorities say that, while an interpreter will be present, common sense dictates that the hearing be conducted in English because the person seeking to become a Canadian needs to understand what is being said.
In this case, they said, the client understands English better than he does either French or Spanish.“The client never asked us for a Spanish interpreter, and what is more, he is a U.S. citizen. There is nothing to suggest he needs an interpreter,” Yves Dumoulin, interim director of the Eastern region of the refugee board, informed Handfield in a letter.Handfield says that’s beside the point. Because the hearing is in Quebec, he insists it must be conducted officially in French.
“Mr. Handfield can address the tribunal in any of the official languages he chooses,” said Stéphane Malépart, the refugee board’s senior communications adviser.“Of course he can speak French. There will be an interpreter at the hearings who speaks French, Spanish and English. But out of fairness to the client, from what we know of the case, he’s been speaking English all the way.”
At last report, the IRB has stayed proceedings. As Kafkaesque as this story is so far it gets worse. We are still in a bilingual country. The issue at hand is federal jurisdiction. The person involved speaks English above all other languages. No individual rights should ever be perverted or prejudiced, particularly in the snare of the judicial system, to any political dispute over language wars. So what caused the stay? Protests from the SSJB among other nationalist groups. One particualr comment from SSJB president Mario Beaulieu underlines much of what is so troublesome about the Quebec mindset and its erosion of individual liberties.
Beaulieu said collective rather than individual rights take precedence. And herein lies the problem. Every time the issue of “collective” rights rears its head some minority or individual is compromised. When will we ever learn that every society that debased individual human rights to the collective ended in tyranny. Fascist, communist or theocratic. Rights belong only to an individual. They are inalienable to a person. Not to some theoretical “collective”. For its faults, the American system understood this since 1776. We’re still playing catch-up.
Pierre Trudeau’s purpose with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was to enshrine the supremacy of individual rights against any forms of discrimination by the state or demands of particularity by a collective. Too often this purpose has been twisted by “progressives” who insist that it created new classes of group rights. It was never meant to do that.
Very few historical truths have stood the test of time and crises. But one of the few has been that those societies that entrenched, as “foundational principles”, respect for the sanctity of the individual, ipso facto protected the rights of collectivities. The reverse has never been true. One man’s “collective rights” is another’s “right to kill”.
As Trudeau said so often “It is no small matter to know whether we are going to live in a society in which personal rights, individual rights, take precedence over collective rights. When collective rights take precedence over individual freedoms we cannot claim to live freely.”
It is time for Quebec to start developing our society based on constitutional liberty and stop the spread if what Fareed Zakaria has called “illiberal democracy” with the state intruding into every corner of our lives. It is time to be truly free.