Campaigns loom large right now in Canada. Elections are coming locally and nationally. It’s a good time to touch on how we came to this democracy and the stability our citizens enjoy, relative to many other parts of the world. It’s time to speak also of our responsibility as a collective to meet the challenge of keeping such a system working on our behalf – through active participation.
We are foolish to think we can move forward and progress securely without looking into the lessons of history. What we find is that after the fight to get freedoms and rights, comes the defense of our system from corruption. I hope you’ll hear me out because it affects everyone, most especially our vulnerable new Canadians.
Whether a voting year or not, we shouldn’t fear to make our society better by building and by adhering to democratic principles.
This boldness and the democracy it led to came to us in a key historic lesson from 800 years ago. It was a reaction to a king that laid the foundation for democracy. It was a necessary response – an action that came if not from the bottom, from the people of the day, then from that middle group that stood between a king and served him and were overlords of the commoners.
The anniversary of this critical footstep towards the freedom to participate collectively in steering our lives as full citizens was celebrated just this past summer.
It marked: July 27, 1214, when The Battle of Bouvines took place and made way for the Magna Carta. This document became the foundation for English democracy. Most have heard of the Magna Carta, but not so many of Bouvines. The British lost the battle against the French so it didn’t carry much interest then and now in the English speaking world.
Still, the historic struggle that was Bouvines was a key step towards the Magna Carta. And, from this critical point in modern European history, flowed all the British and American law as we now know it.
These feudal barons moved to protect their rights by limiting their king’s powers, by law. In this action, they also strove to limit the abuse of power by this and future kings. It would go far to prevent the citizens from suffering.
You see, King John had neglected to consult the barons on major decisions. These included military campaigns, most of which he began to mismanage and then he demanded more money in the form of taxes. Under the terms of the feudal system, the barons had to collect taxes from the people serving them.
Like our agreements between citizens and leaders today, this early Great Charter held a series of written promises designed to bind King John to govern England. And to dictate that he behaves towards his people, according to the customs of feudal law.
The barons used money, power and propriety as leverage to bend even royal authority and to make the discussion that arose in the year between Bouvines and the signing of Magna Carta happen.
In this way, the charter is generally accepted in the English speaking world as the series of steps that led to dialogue and compromise. This process resulted in the powerful rule of constitutional law in England and far beyond.
Almost a year later, on June 15, 1215, Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede, near Windsor Castle. It became the first document imposed by a group of subjects onto their king, in this case King John of England.
In its early form, this Great Charter outlined:
Basic human rights that held that no one was above the law, including the king.
It called for the right to a fair trial, and limited taxation without representation.
Its spirit as well as letter of its laws inspired other significant documents such as the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to name only two.
Today, only three clauses are still fully valid. The guarantee of liberties of the English Church; the confirmation of privileges of the city of London and other towns; and the one that may feel closest to the daily life of a citizen – that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgment of his equals.
Canada’s earliest democracy
In Canada’s pre-European contact history, the first democracies in North America were initiated by the Iroquois Confederacy in Canada. Set in motion in the mid-1300s, it led to the greater modern democratic society model. It was on the path to the great confederation in the 1800s.
La Confédération Canadienne or the Canadian Confederation created the great Federal Dominion of Canada. It was formed on July 1, 1867 with leaders who envisioned
Their goal was to preserve peace and equal opportunity to benefit all the citizens of the new commonwealth of Canada. It was an effort to empower the collective into an alliance, or a true partnership that would work for this common purpose.
So, it’s been 150 years since our national milestone – a step up into a strong democracy and our place among the great nations of the world.
Our social and economic freedom was championed by individuals with courage and commitment. We know from this that it takes leadership to promote political, social and economic growth.
We’ve seen this from the Magna Carta that impacted the British influenced governments and then to our home grown Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which forms the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. It tells us that we have every right to believe that together we can overcome future challenges and look ahead to 2050 with confidence.
We have protections written into our charters. We are guaranteed freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly. Our responsibility is also a right – to participate in political activities and the right to a democratic government.
If we choose to live here, to enjoy the right to life, liberty and security, to equality rights and to language rights to name just a few legal and common rights. we should participate.
Our lives have sped up and many of us have dropped out of what feels like more complex time. Inundated by the web’s news, opinion, reaction and change for socio-political situations cross the globe in seconds and make us spin.
In all this, however, it is clear that exercising the right to participate in democracy was never easier or more accessible, to anyone.
The flood of economic prosperity
As citizens we now want to be reached at a faster pace than the land travels of traditional societies.
Money flows faster but we should be mindful that it is not only about money.
It’s still about the people.
Of our citizens many are vulnerable to be lost in the rush and the deluge of information. Our new immigrants and would be Canadians are vulnerable. We are challenged to ensure that immigrants who make up different ethnicities – and different cultural approaches to money and to participation in power and law, need to be educated and included.
Laws need to be made clear to everyone so that everyone knows their responsibility. In balance, they must also be fairly and consistently enforced.
New immigrants don’t have the equivalent of feudal barons standing between then and a governing king. New comers to society and the working and middle class are all vulnerable to falling through the cracks of commerce.
Economic prosperity brings happiness, and lays a foundation for the future and room to both grow and develop and to retire, securely.
Our common responsibilities
What drives immigration here? No doubt our economic opportunities in Canada.
This dream is in the minds of all immigrants and it stays with them as they develop a better and more prosperous future, and as they join as citizens. It’s what has driven our development since the earliest years of European arrival here.
We can only hope that those smart enough to not delay becoming Canadian citizens or choosing to live in this great nation also choose to take the next important step in joining our society. They choose also to commit and to be responsible and to match personally what our charters have grown to offer us.
We work hard for a common goal. This is what we undertake when we join society, or arrive as immigrants to this new land.
Individuals and governments are regulated by laws and not by arbitrary actions. No person or group is above the law. This was the Magna Carta’s promise and in Canada today, the rule of law continues to protect the state and its citizens.
Our part calls on us all to take responsibility for our self and our family. Citizens get a job; take care of their family and working within their abilities to build our society and to maintain values.
We see that work contributes to our personal dignity and add to our self-respect while it builds the country we have in common and Canada’s prosperity.
These guiding values strengthen our fair and democratic system. They add to our economic prosperity.
It is with some sadness then that I note that the flaunting of the ‘right thing’ by a king so long ago is now an act that can be easily copied by an average citizen.
Incidence of corruption in our society
There are those individual citizens who break the law and take advantage of the most vulnerable immigrants and citizens. They build their own wealth and ignore the consequence for anyone caught in their path. They do not care about the larger fallout to our system of their negative and destructive behavior.
Our investigations through observation of communities and from interviews leads us to understand that 9/10 immigrants refugees or established citizens will in some form face corruption, intimidation and discrimination within their first 10 years in the workplace.
Corruption is one of the most carefully used words use in our modern society. At the same time it is the most dangerous as it is like a moral virus to our social and economic future. I fear it will add to the collapse of our system by 2020 if nothing is done to combat it.
And while we struggle to preserve our hard won rights and safeties, it is becoming more and more sophisticated in how it takes root.
Its bad behavior in any form and it leads its practitioners to steal from the poor and to rob our future generations as well as the current wave of baby boomers slipping into retirement. It affects every honest, hard working Canadian who dreams of not only their own prosperity but also of respect for the individual in our society and for the law and the charter of rights and obligation that binds us.
Corruption is, I assure you, taking hold and grabbing larger chunks in our society. It victimizes the weak, the vulnerable, the refugees and the immigrants as well as the established in our society.
Governments and future leaders must reinforce our laws and uphold our constitution Federally, Provincially, Territorial. A policy of zero tolerance should be adopted to send clear messages to all citizens. It should be part of a regular conversation so that we have the vocabulary at the ready to denounce corruption in all forms. To build a better and a prosperous and healthy future for Canada, so that it can continue to be an example and inspiration to other countries and to our next generations.
Nobody wants to be attached to the negativity of a corrupt situation, or even its discussion, but the best good we can achieve is to name it. To deal with it. To call out this criminal behavior. To report it and root it out of our experience so we can all live a better future.
Economic prosperity and from it, personal happiness and security, is always going to be a driving force. While it moves us forward it should not be built on the option of someone else to corrupt our dreams and aspirations for security, peace and growth. It is all our responsibility to uphold our rights and to ensure that all are protected, treated fairly and benefit from our fundamental rights.
Think of this not only when going to the polls, but also in your every day dealings with citizens who aspire to the same growth and fair approach as you do.
By Honore M. Gbedze