Reading through the Ontario Human Rights Commission report for 2008-2009, I’m struck by Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall’s paragraph on page two of the report:
The question of “what are human rights” continues to be debated. This year, more voices called for social and economic status and gender identity to be treated as essential human rights. Some of those debates are ongoing and, made more concrete by the current economic slowdown, will grow louder. New concerns will be raised and will need to be carefully considered. Human rights, it is clear, are not static – they change as our society changes and the faces in our communities change.
Anyone who has followed Canada’s human rights scandal knows that the government’s definition of “human rights” is not static. Nor is Commissioner Hall’s answer to her own question either “human” or “right” in my opinion. It’s not human because it favors certain communities over the individual. And it’s not a matter of rights because it favors government powers (and state intervention) over individual liberty.
So again, we’re left with the question: What are human rights?
Conservative philosopher and essayist Russell Kirk provides the best answer I have come across. In fact he devotes an entire essay to the topic, under the title The Illusion of “Human Rights”, in his book Redeeming the Time. This is a work with which every lover of human liberty and critic of Canada’s abusive human rights industry should be familiar.
Here are some of the more pithy quotations:
From the first, the odor of demagoguery has clung to the political use of ‘human rights’ language. For all rights are human rights. Does anyone suggest a code of inhuman rights? Dogs and cats do not enjoy rights. States have no rights (despite constitutional arguments); states enjoy powers. God is above rights, and humankind can claim no rights against God.
And property has no rights, being inanimate and non-human. Human beings, rather, have rights to their lawful property. The right to retain one’s real and personal property is among the most important of civil rights; the critic Paul Elmer More declared that so far as civilization is concerned, the right to property is more important that the right to life. President [Woodrow] Wilson, well acquainted with political theory and history, must have been aware that he was disingenuous when he opposed “property rights” to “human rights.” President Franklin Roosevelt might have pleaded ignorance, had he been accused of this abuse of terms.
I am suggesting, you will perceive, that so vague a term as ‘human rights’ is easily warped to politicians’ advantage; and that it may be perilous to employ.
It may have been a suggestion in Russell Kirk’s time, but the Canadian experience has borne out Kirk’s suspicions. Commissioner Hall’s asserts in her report that “human rights” are evolutionary, community-based and non-static in nature. Which is why, as Kirk prophesied, the term would be easily warped to the government’s advantage, and thus perilous to the average citizen.