Be careful when you challenge the law

While all of us have the right to challenge the law, we should choose carefully when and how we decide to do so.

It is our duty as a general rule to obey the law but it is also our duty to challenge laws and court rulings that we deem offensive to the letter or the spirit of our Constitution. There are times when we feel strongly about a threat to our understanding of the concept of justice and our understanding of our Constitution and its specific provisions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the context of that line of thinking, there are three issues on which the majority of Canadian citizens and residents may agree with the core principles of the ruling of the highest court of the land, our Supreme Court:

The unanimous ruling that overturned the existing laws banning doctor-assisted suicide; the ruling that deemed existing anti-prostitution laws unconstitutional; and the ruling that recognized the woman’s right to abortion.

It is, however, important and responsible to point out that in respect of doctor-assisted suicide and prostitution, the court’s rulings explicitly also recognized the need to  have alternative laws carefully crafted in order to achieve most of the positive objectives which the discredited laws were intended to achieve. Whatever our doubts as to which legal measures can best achieve these positive objectives, most of us may tend to agree with those three substantive rulings of the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, we are somewhat uncomfortable with the attempts in Canada and worldwide to impose administrative and legally approved limits on the use of some of the head and face coverings worn by women with Oriental and Middle-Eastern ancestries.

Whether these garments are based on purely cultural customs or staunchly religious faiths is, in our view, irrelevant. Our first consideration is that women, like men, should be free to wear whatever they wish, as long as they do not run afoul of laws akin to indecent exposure.

We also argue that the veil, the hijab and the chador do not pose any security risks and are just other versions of clothing that we have always accepted, such as the Catholic nuns’ garments of the past and present.

Our third criterion is the availability of a simple solution to the concerns which may arise when women wearing the niqab or the burqa find themselves in circumstances where identity requirements, the safety of others and other national security issues arise: the women thus clad may be taken to a private room where they can show their full faces to female security personnel.

Accordingly, we reject the scandalous attempts to infringe the individual, cultural and religious rights of women to work, to play sports, to appear in public and especially to take the oath of citizenship in the clothing of their choice, subject to the indecent exposure laws.

Moreover, we also have an equally important responsibility to highlight, where appropriate, our enthusiastic acceptance or strenuous reservations when the provincial, federal or Supreme Courts hand down rulings affecting the rights and needs of our First Nations peoples.

This editorial is not meant to encourage people to take extreme and illegal action to challenge laws they deem unfair, unconstitutional or both. It is rather an effort to alert one and all to some important ethical and legal issues which the Caribbean Camera considers relevant to our society’s values and to our individual and collective need for public education.