I've just finished reading former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's wonderful memoir, "Truth Be Told". www.amazon.ca/Truth-Be-T
She is a brilliant person -- with a Master's in Philosophy before she became a lawyer and then a judge -- and was at the Supreme Court from 1989 through 2017, a period during which many significant decisions of first instance relating to the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were written.
However, her memoir is by no means stuffy or impenetrable in style . . .she's always interested first and foremost in human beings. And one focus she considers is the need for courts to determine the limit between individual freedom and community responsibility -- a legal requirement which is in fact entrenched in the first section of our Charter. We don't have absolute individual rights in Canada; there's always a balanced and reciprocal responsibility to uphold the rights of others. It's part of our "peace, order and good government" stance.
This morning I've also seen the news that US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 87, had been dealing privately with chemotherapy relating to the resurgence of her cancer for four months. A Dem appointee, she does not want to step off the court in an election year, while another appointment would be made to replace her, and so she is valiantly doing all she can to keep on top of her onerous work load. US Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.
In Canada Supreme Court justices are not political appointees and they must retire at age 75 . . . McLachlin, who is still very much at the top of her game, says frankly she felt some reluctance to retire in 2017. But she says she's absolutely loving retirement! Since that time she's written two very successful books (a legal mystery was top of the charts for many months, her autobiography has been shortlisted for a prestigious prize) -- and in addition accepted a "part time" position on the Hong Kong Court of Appeal.
So much is now happening in Hong Kong: legally and politically!! So that should be a very demanding role for her!
When we think about individual liberty in a time of pandemic, there's quite a spectrum between Western and Eastern societies. The most individualistic Western societies attach fundamental priority to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", often interpreted through a capitalistic lens of wealth accumulation. The most authoritarian eastern regimes -- such as China -- can order individuals to comply with masking, distancing and sanitizing protocols (and with rigid controls on media, may not be accurately reporting their infection and death rates anyhow).
But: other eastern countries -- such as Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam -- reliably report significantly lower infection and death rates than countries which focus more on individual liberty. Long before COVID-19 outbreaks, there'd been a long Asian tradition of voluntary compliance with mask wearing on public transit and in crowded public spaces. I can remember in the 70s working in a Toronto hospital with many Asian-immigrant hospital workers where it was routine for those with mild colds or sniffles to come to work wearing masks: just part of their tradition. A sign of respect for the health and safety of others. Confucian traditions emphasize harmony, discipline, and the subordination of individual rights to communal responsibilities.
An article in this morning's Globe speaks to this tradition:
In Canada? We're a middle size country, a middle-size power (if that) and our traditions are somewhere in the middle too. There were Canadians who objected to Muslim women wearing full hijab, with their faces covered in public as contrary to our values of individual facial recognition: but not so much any more. There have also been Canadians who objected to wearing pandemic masks as an infringement upon their personal liberties. Some weeks ago, a 73 year old man in Haliburton cottage country got into an argument with a grocery store clerk, vehemently refused to wear a mask, displayed some violence, was followed home by police and in the ensuing stand-off when he took out a rifle, was shot and killed. Quite horrifying. But also quite unusual here. And yes: pretty well every where I go, I now see people wearing masks. Our COVID infection and death rates? Somewhere in the middle.
What today's Globe article suggests is that there's an evolution in social attitudes towards increasing collectivism (communal values rising in importance) when societies have experienced a pandemic.
A change in consciousness. From that place behind individual history and culture, from that place where we are all "humans" first and foremost.
What do you think? Does this pandemic have the power to propel such an evolution? And if so, would that be a desirable outcome?