This book is an outstanding and unique contribution to the reflection that needs to be done, especially by Christians. This is not merely another lament for our nation. Most importantly, the author’s call for wisdom and Christian humility is inspired by a strong faith in God who judges, but who in his mercy seeks to save the lost and redeem the guilty. That is the most hopeful message in this age of immense spiritual confusion and moral dullness that lies at the root of the contemporary Canadian legislative and judicial wasteland.
Ian Hunter is a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario, and the biographer of Malcolm Muggeridge. It is wonderful to see a law professor upholding the views on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the legal decisions arising from it, which Catholic Insight and The Interim have stressed again and again in recent years. His convictions are expressed with clarity and elegance, and the result is just what Antonides might have called it–a real contribution to the culture of life.
Charter represents a break
As Hunter shows, the Charter represented a break with the long and honoured tradition in which the common law was guided by respect for the dignity and freedom of persons, as well as recognition that man’s law is subject to God’s.
A radical secularization of Canadian life is taking place; in fact, the Chief Justice has declared that Canada is a secular nation. Religion and morality are looked on as private matters. That leaves what Richard John Neuhaus calls “the naked public square,” where the demons of power, greed and nihilism are eager to rush in.
In his first chapter, “Law and Justice,” Hunter quotes a saying of Heraclitus: “All law is nourished by one law, which is divine. ” Yet the Greeks, in Hunter’s view, possessed a concept of justice as only that which fits us for proper social organizations, whereas for Jerusalem justice is what we are born to as creatures of a loving God. It is the Greek view which has triumphed in Canada; the author is “critical of a parliament which, in passing legislation, has scorned our history and abrogated our Christian heritage; critical of law schools which by and large have abandoned their responsibility to educate lawyers, settling, at best, merely for training, at worst, for ideology and self-indulgence; and most critical of all of Canadian courts which … have substituted amorality and relativism for right and wrong….”
In his second chapter, “Law and Liberty,” Hunter says it is a good thing that this lecture was being given in a church (Dominion-Chalmers in Ottawa), since it would have been unwelcome in a university. The old labels “liberal” and “conservative” have lost their meanings. It is the “conservative” today who is deeply disturbed by the status quo and proposes drastic changes. The so-called liberals stand for freedom of speech for those who agree with them, not for those who oppose them, and defend politically correct views on sexual and racial policies which are enforced by official “straighteners.”
Abandoning parliament for judges
With the adoption of the new Constitution and Charter in 1982, we turned our backs on the British tradition of protecting rights in favour of the American system of constitutional supremacy. Issues which once would have been the prerogative of parliament–abortion, euthanasia, mandatory retirement–now are settled by the courts. Many Supreme Court judgements have become a random collection of the judges’ personal predilections. Citing several recent examples, Hunter shows clearly that our highest court cannot be regarded as a guardian of our liberties. The Charter of Rights, he concludes, has brought about a judicially enforced servitude to secular notions of liberty. The challenge to the Christian, as voiced by St. Paul, is to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free…”. Nevertheless, we are called to hope, not fear; from Pope John Paul’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he quotes a magnificent passage about Someone holding in His hands the destiny of this passing world, and this Someone is Love.
The third chapter, “Law and Life,” begins and ends with a speech Malcolm Muggeridge gave to the Ottawa Festival for Life in May 1977. He had absolutely no doubt that once society had legalized abortion it would go on to legalize euthanasia. The temptation to get rid of “useless” people would be irresistible–and of course it would dress it up in humanitarian terms as an act of compassion.
Hunter traces the development of abortion on demand in Canada, Henry Morgentaler as the man of the moment, and the January 1988 decision in his favour: “The majority judgement in the Supreme Court conferred unchecked authority on some (women) to the exclusion, indeed elimination, of others (the unborn). It affirmed the liberty (if the word liberty, in this context, does not lose all meaning) of women by ignoring the life of their offspring. At the stroke of a judicial pen, suddenly Canada had no abortion law.” It dealt very differently with Joe Borowski’s scientific evidence about the humanity of the unborn: “In Morgentaler, the Supreme Court resembled a magician who, by sleight-of-hand, pulls the rabbit from a hat; in Borowski the magician sulks off stage and refuses to perform because the hat is now empty.” Hunter is scathing as well in his discussion of the “unprecedented emergency hearing” in the case of Chantal Daigle. Where was the “emergency,” he asks, when a healthy woman was carrying a healthy baby nearing the third trimester?
Canada a secular state?
His chief illustration of the fact that we are now in a secular wasteland comes from the words of the current Chief Justice, Antonio Lamer, concerning the case of Sue Rodriguez:
Can the right to choose at issue here, that is the right to choose suicide, be described as an advantage of which the appellant is being deprived? In my opinion, the Court should answer this question without reference to the philosophical and theological considerations fuelling the debate on the morality of suicide or euthanasia. It should consider the question before it from a legal perspective … while keeping in mind that the Charter has established the essentially secular nature of Canadian society.
Where did the Charter do this? Hunter points out that the Charter’s Preamble acknowledges “the supremacy of God” in our country. But the Charter’s first “fundamental freedom,” freedom of religion, is now being interpreted by the Supreme Court as freedom from religion. In addition the Chief Justice’s promise to consider life and death “without regard to philosophical or theological considerations” means that the ultimate questions of human existence are being discussed with no religious and spiritual insight.
Hunter concludes this chapter where he began, with a long passage from Malcolm Muggeridge’s 1977 address, a very moving meditation of an old man nearing death on being a participant in God’s creation even at the fag-end of life, on how we shut ourselves off from the wonderful light that awaits us, on the folly of hubris and the need for abandonment to God’s purpose for men. This page by itself would be worth the price of the book. The book itself is an excellent discussion of the downfall of our legal system.
Let us hope that it will awaken some people to the extent of the damage the Charter has done.