Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stephen Harper's tyranny of the minority and U.S. war resisters

Almost 200 years ago a Frenchman decided to visit the United States, with an eye to learning about the experiment taking place with democratic government in America. Alexis de Tocqueville later penned a book entitled 'Democracy in America'. In this work the French scholar expressed concern that majority rule could lead to tyranny, that those more numerous could use their political clout to persecute those in the minority.

In Canada we have no need for such concerns, it is tyranny of the minority that should worry us.

The Toronto Sun recently published a point counterpoint column debating the issue of deporting U.S. war resisters, versus letting them remain here in Canada. It sparked a lively debate as evidenced by the letters to the editor the paper received.

Obviously this is an issue which stirs a lot of passion, and that's good. But in the end a decision must be made. In a democratic society, with elected representatives responsible to their constituents, decisions should be based on the principle of majority rule. Some might try to argue that some decisions are too complex to be left to the whim of the electorate, or their duly chosen agents in government. But obviously anyone taking that tack does not believe in a democracy.

Which brings me back to the issue of U.S. Iraq war resisters and their efforts to seek asylum in Canada. Proponents of deporting these individuals back to the U.S. make some valid points, as do those who advocate for letting them stay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but in the final analysis any decision should be based on democratic principles and practices.

That's not what is happening in Canada.

Its not my wish to rehash the debate here, its been going on for a long time and both sides are pretty entrenched in their views. But whether you're for or against granting these people refuge in Canada, I think that we can all agree on the virtues of upholding democratic principles.

Just last year our House of Commons was presented with a motion which called upon the government to:

“...immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada.”

Individuals are free to agree or disagree, but the simple fact is that this motion passed with majority support. The same majority support in our House of Commons that allowed Harper's Conservatives to go back on promises about fixed election dates and taxation of income-trusts. Majority rule, don't have to like every decision, but we should cherish these ideals.

There's a lot of things I don't like about Stephen Harper, that's par for the course with any politician. Some people will like certain members of parliament, while other will not. But at the end of the day our democratic institutions are more important than any single individual, regardless of the office he or she holds.

Even those who agree with Mr. Harper on the issue of U.S. war resisters, they should be concerned about our PM giving the finger to democracy. Isn't that one of the reasons we're fighting in Afghanistan?

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