Imagine a dystopian future where genetically engineered babies give rise to a superior strain of humans who eventually dominate the world. Naturally conceived children are perceived as substandard and pushed to the fringes of civilized society.
It’s what we imagine when we watch science fiction films. But with the mapping of the human genome, and greater identification of specific genes that give rise to a medical predisposition, it’s a reality that some are taking very seriously.
In 2008, the U.S. introduced the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), legislation intended to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on a genetic profile and prohibit the use of such information in making hiring, promotion or firing decisions.
Give me your tired, your poor.
These words have served to welcome generations of immigrants to the U.S. Increasingly though, Canada is becoming the destination of choice. But the numbers it has welcomed in the past will pale in contrast to those we can expect to hear knocking on our door in years to come.
Natural disasters, food and water shortages, and desertification linked to climate change – to which the wealthiest countries are the greatest contributors – often manifest as civil instability. Widespread domestic conflict will push people out of their homes just to live. This shift can best be described as “survival migration.”
Together these factors will ensure that Canada, a nation built by immigrants, will be asked to receive an unprecedented number of immigrants and refugees in the next 100 years. Unfortunately many of our immigration laws, settlement policies – not to mention public opinion – are just not prepared for these changes.
Starting with my first day in kindergarten, my classmates and I stood every morning to sing the national anthem. It became part of my routine, our ritual, but one which I never actually reflected upon until now.
In June, The House of Commons passed Bill C-210, which changes the second line of the English anthem from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command,” to make it more gender-neutral.
The English version was written in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir, a Montreal lawyer, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Quebec City. And he did not write it in stone – Weir himself changed the words of his anthem, adding “in all thy sons command” in 1914. Weir’s changes were made against the backdrop of World War I, but potentially also in opposition to women’s suffrage. In other words, “in all thy sons command” was deliberately added to exclude women from Canadian notions of nationalism.
The Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling in RWDSU v Dolphin Delivery suggests that the Charter may extend beyond the administrative decisions made by universities, reaching into lecture halls and affecting the intellectual activities of students and professors.
This is especially true where educational policies intertwine with government mandates.
Given the increasingly close relationship between government and post-secondary institutions, this constitutional connection is even tighter. In the absence of clear statutes or definitive court decisions, however, the only clear guidelines for academic communities are the policies of the institutions themselves.
Alberta courts, for instance, have decided against universities in the regulation of anti-abortion student groups. In Ontario and B.C., though, courts held that restrictions on anti-abortion imagery fell outside the ambit of governmental policies or programs, and could be properly constrained. The lack of consensus on what is appropriate and what is not gives rise to its own problems.
A presumption of competence is necessary to maintain confidence in the judicial system. But when that confidence is undermined, it may prompt a closer look into who we select as judges, and why.
Those concerns were brought to the fore late last year when an Alberta judge made several controversial remarks to a complainant in a sexual assault case. The Canadian Judicial Council announced a review of his conduct after a complaint from four law professors.
The Alberta Court of Appeal ordered a new trial in the sexual assault case. The judge in question had already been appointed to the Federal Court, so he was not likely to sit on any sexual assault cases in the near future. But the fact that a judge appeared to be unaware of the rape shield provisions in the Criminal Code, and perpetuated myths and stereotypes about sexual assault, attracted national attention.
Errol Mendes, professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, says this case, “clearly shows there is something fundamentally dysfunctional in our judicial appointment process.”
Omar Ha-Redeye practices out of Fleet Street Law in Toronto. He is a Professor at Ryerson University and Centennial College. He sits on the board of directors of the OBA and co-chairs its Young Lawyers Division.