"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

When pro-environment means anti-human

I am happy to report that the following piece has just been published in the BC Catholic newspaper.

By Terry O'Neill

It was less than a quarter of a century ago that then-Pope John Paul II first warned about the multiplicity of societal trends in human attitudes and practices that were producing a “culture of death.” One can only wonder what he would make of today’s even more terminal view of humanity.

Writing in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, now-Saint Pope John Paul II shone a harsh and revealing light on the “veritable structure of sin” that has led to modern society’s embrace of such destructive, behaviours as artificial contraception, abortion and euthanasia.

Today, however, that’s not even the half of it. Indeed, in an increasingly alarmed and virtually pro-suicidal response to mankind’s impact on the natural environment, some thought leaders are disseminating profoundly anti-human, anti-human-life sentiments.

Take Samantha Kelly, a professor of history at Rutgers University. When asked this month by The Atlantic (a pre-eminent American publication) what “one thing” she would change if she could go back in time, she answered, “The invention of agriculture. Imagine: far less environmental degradation and income inequality…”

That may be, but researchers have found that the Earth could support only about 100 million people living the sort of hunter-gatherer lifestyle that immediately preceded mankind’s invention of agriculture. They also found that only 57 percent those 100 million would reach the age of 15 and that the life expectancy of all hunter-gatherers would be between 21 and 37 years.

In other words, Professor Kelly’s ideal, pre-agriculture world would not only see the elimination of 7.5 billion men, women and children from the Earth, but also the consignment of the “lucky” survivors to short, nasty and brutish lives.

And, oh yes, there would also be no more Professor Kellys to pontificate about the problems of world, for it was the adoption of the very invention that she decries that gave birth to modern civilization and, with it, the sort of educational institutions from which she has the leisure to conjure her opinions. Or maybe she would rather be a gatherer of berries and a bearer of multiple babies, most of whom die in infancy.

But one should not be too harsh with Prof. Kelly. After all, she is an out-and-out moderate when it comes to this sort of stuff. For example, in recent months, media outlets have published stories on the “Conceivable Future” movement which encourages participants to consider whether, given the “realties” of the “climate crisis,” they should forego having children.

More extreme are the “voluntary human extinction” and “anti-natalist” movements, the latter of which argues that all human life causes nothing but harm. “Their notion, that having children may be a bad idea, seems to be gaining mainstream popularity,” observes The Guardian.

Such profoundly misanthropic views used to be held only by radical environmentalists such as Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalogue, who penned these immortal words: “We have wished, we eco-freaks, for a disaster to come and bomb us into the stone age.'

 Not to be outdone, B.C.’s own Paul Watson, he of the Sea Shepherd Society, once declared, “Humans are the AIDS of the earth.”

More appalling yet is this from David Graber, a research biologist with the American National Parks Service: “We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the earth...until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

A notorious 1992 Time magazine cover story signalled how such anti-human ideas could be conceived. Entitled, “The Last Eden,” the story described a remote part of an African jungle that was untouched by humanity. This “Eden,” the magazine wrote, would be destroyed by any sort of human activity.

But, surely, this concept turns the Christian ideal of Eden on its head. Where the Bible paints a pre-fall picture of Eden as a paradise where humans and the natural world lived in perfect harmony, Time sees Eden as devoid of men and women. No Adam, no Eve, no anybody.

Most of us hold to some sort of middle-ground, an approach that neither supports an irresponsible exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources nor an irresponsible attack on humanity. Good Christians, after all, know that humans were created in the image of God, and that we are charged to be wise stewards of the Earth.

Nevertheless, one senses that, as concern over climate change grows, the anti-human view is gaining ground, infecting especially the worldview of our young people, and, in so doing encouraging a profoundly pessimistic even nihilistic personal philosophy.

As a life-long pro-life advocate, I see this as a new and threatening front in an ongoing war – a war whose shape Saint Pope John Paul II first described with ominous precision in Evangelium Vitae.

“This situation, with its lights and shadows,” he wrote, “ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only ‘faced with’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”

Monday, July 8, 2019

Nelly Shin's 'vocation' to serve

A few days ago, I wrote on this blog about why I've chosen to support Nelly Shin, the Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Port Moody-Coquitlam in the October general election. From our first meeting, Ms. Shin struck me as an intelligent, sincere, and compassionate person who is motivated by a genuine desire to do good through public service.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel (l) and Shin
Nelly delivered a similar positive message when she was campaigning for a Conservative nomination in Richmond Hill last year*, according to a blog post about her that was published in June, 2018 by Ontarian Emily Wright.

Headlined, "Vocation as a Career," the post opens with a quote from Leo Tolstoy which reads, "The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.”

The post then continues, "Where Nelly is today is the outcome of a series of small yet pivotal journeys that shaped the direction of her life's work. Her career spans several different job spheres, all connected by the common thread that is her hunger for purpose, and her aspiration to better society."

The next section of the article describes her journey as an educator, skips her stint as a composer and recording artist, and then picks up with her work as a counselor with Christian missions. The piece closes with the following summation:

"For Nelly, running for office is about trying to do the life work she's been doing in terms of restoring peoples' lives and bettering society from a position where she has the authority to make the changes that would most benefit those that need it."

That's certainly the conclusion I have reached and I hope others will too.

*Nelly stepped aside to allow a former Conservative MP, Costa Menegakis, to have an unimpeded path to the nomination.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Nelly Shin's resolute road to the Conservative Party's Port Moody-Coquitlam nomination

Canadians have a big decision to make on October 21 -- electing a new federal government. Residents of the Port Moody-Coquitlam riding have an important role to play in that historic moment, as their longtime MP is retiring, a move that opens the door to the election of a a brand-new person to represent them in Ottawa.
Shin and St. Germain: Endorsement
One of the leading contenders must certainly be Nelly Shin, a bright, engaging and compassionate educator, artist and community worker who is representing the Conservative Party of Canada. Here is a link to her website.
Nelly's backstory is a compelling one. She had originally intended to seek a nomination in the Ontario riding of Richmond Hill but graciously and without complaint stepped aside to clear the way for a former Conservative MP to seek the nomination.
Still wanting to serve the country, and reflecting on a rewarding stage in her life when she had lived in B.C., she--like so many other thousands of people every year-- decided to move to the province to start fresh.
A talented singer, pianist and composer, Nelly says she chose Port Moody because it's the self-proclaimed "City of the Arts." Contrary to some allegations made by political opponents, Nelly does not fit the definition of a "parachute candidate": she decided on her own to move to B.C.; the Conservative party paid none of her expenses; the party made no official decisions or decrees to support her nomination. Importantly, she has now made a home for herself in Port Moody.
This is in clear contrast to the path taken by the NDP leader, for example, who ran (successfully, as it turned out) in a recent Burnaby by-election, even though he doesn't live in the province. Interestingly, the party's support is plummeting in B.C. 
Another unfair charge emerged when the Conservative party disqualified the only other candidate seeking the nomination, a young man who worked for the better part of a year attempting to secure that nomination.
It was said that the disqualified candidate, Matthew Sebastiani, was "blocked," a word that connotes unfairness. It's understandable that the disqualification upset some people, but it's always difficult to explain the justification for disqualifications because the party never makes public its reasons for such decisions. Nevertheless, I have a good understanding of the process, and I trust that the decision was not taken lightly, and was reached only after a fair and just review of the facts.
And so, here we are, less than four months to go until the general election. I, like several others (including former candidate Tim Laidler, leading Tri-Cities Conservative Dave Bassett, and legendary former Conservative senator, MP and party president Gerry St. Germain), have decided to publicly endorse Nelly. Moreover, I have decided to take a role on her campaign team.
I didn't do this lightly, but only after getting to know Nelly Shin; she is intelligent, compassionate, talented and, most of all, committed to public service. I think she will make an exceptional Member of Parliament.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Judicial activism is still an issue

I received an interesting email today from a professor of law who reminded me of an article, about judicial activism, that I had written for The Western Standard in 2006, and asked if he could place the article's text on one of his professional pages. The article, he said, is no less relevant and important today than it was 13 years ago.
I assented, of course, because I completely agree with him about the importance of the issue. Indeed, it's worth noting that, as part of the current SNC scandal that has so roiled the Liberal Party of Canada, it was charged that PM Justin Trudeau rejected a recommendation, from then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, for an appointee to the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds that the judge expressed some concern about the high court's judicial activism. Trudeau was said to be aghast at the suggestion of his appointment, exclaiming that it would have been highly unsuitable because the Liberal Party of Canada was, after all, the "Charter party." Here's a link to that story.
And here is the complete text (as submitted to my editor at that time) of my March 2006 article:

The right to create new rights

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin defends the Supreme Court’s ultimate power to make law


Parliament made history this past Feb. 27 [2006] when a special ad-hoc, all-party committee of the House of Commons gathered in front of reporters and television cameras to query Supreme Court of Canada nominee Marshall Rothstein. It turned out to be a rather gentle affair: more a friendly meet-and-greet with Rothstein, a 65-year-old Manitoba legal scholar and federal court judge, than a rough-and-tumble American-style grilling. But it was precedent-setting, nevertheless.

Never before had a nominee to the country’s highest court been compelled to face politicians in a public forum as a requirement to obtain his appointment. In fact, it was the first time a nominee’s name had even been made public before his appointment. Equally precedent-setting was the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who led his Conservative Party to victory in the general election only a month before, had selected Rothstein from a list of three candidates nominated, again publicly, by a committee established by the former Liberal government.

Still, it was a cautious and eminently polite step towards the sort of judicial accountability practiced in most other modern democracies. The MPs did not have the power to stop Rothstein’s appointment, which Harper made official the following day. Nor did they have the authority to ask questions relating to specific legal matters. Nevertheless, Justice Minister Vic Toews, who once studied under Rothstein, had ample justification in describing his former professor’s three-hour conversation with politicians as “historic proceedings in the life of our country.”

Of course, Toews was referring to the novel public hearing itself, not to its content, which was quickly forgotten. But Rothstein’s answers to MPs’ questions, about the role of the judiciary in general and about the live-wire issue of judicial activism and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically, were significant in any regard. “The important thing,” he said at one point, “is that judges, when applying the Charter, have to have recognition that the statute that they’re dealing with was passed by a democratically elected legislature…and therefore, they have to approach the matter with some restraint.”

Rothstein’s invocation of “restraint” might strike some Canadians as nothing more than an expression of good, old common sense. But at a time when the Supreme Court of Canada is under steady fire from traditionalists for its lack of said restraint, his avowed adherence to prudence is noteworthy. Especially so when compared to the recent public utterances of the woman under whom he is now directly working, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. Indeed, in several speeches and interviews of late, McLachlin has not only defended the court’s liberal interpretations of the Charter, but has also arguably imagined new ways in which the court’s de facto law-making powers might expand.

This certainly appeared to be the case in an eyebrow-raising address she delivered to a legal conference in New Zealand on Dec. 1 of last year. And it would seem to be equally true for the unapologetic position she took in an exclusive interview with the Western Standard on March 25 in Ottawa. An edited transcript of the interview can be seen on page xx. Her message, in a nutshell, is this: that, when necessary, the Court has every right—nay, every responsibility—to invoke “unwritten values” when ruling on matters not explicitly enunciated in either the Charter or the country’s laws.

Critics such as Rory Leishman, author of the upcoming book Against Judicial Activism, believe that, when the Court finds itself in uncharted Charter waters, it is far more appropriate for the judges simply to turn the matter back to Parliament. He says it’s what the judges should have done in Parliament’s 1998 request that the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of Quebec separation; no law existed in this area, Leishman points out, so the court should simply have thrown the matter back to the government. Instead, Leishman says the court concocted new law and regulations covering the secession of provinces from Confederation. Parliament is, after all, supposed to be the one that makes the law; the courts, on the other hand, are supposed only to interpret the law.

But Leishman, a columnist for the London, Ontario Free Press, and a host of other critics believe the Supreme Court has muddied the distinction. “They’re violating, essentially, the separation of powers,” he said in an interview. “And it will have disastrous consequences for respect of the independence of the judiciary, which is vital to democratic, constitutional government.”

That remains to be seen, but Leishman’s book, selected chapters of which were made available to the Western Standard in March in advance of its publication, reaches much the same conclusion as did the book, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party, published in 2000 by University of Calgary academics F.L. (Ted) Morton (now an Conservative MLA in Alberta) and Rainer Knoff. And that is that, in myriad ways, the Supreme Court has used the Charter to change government policy on, according to the Calgarians, “an ever-expanding list of controversial issues—abortion, aboriginal rights, gay rights, bilingualism, criminal law enforcement and prisoner-voting.”

To many traditionalists, especially social conservatives, the most notorious of the Court’s infringements on Parliament’s territory took place with its 1995 Egan decision, in which it added homosexual rights to the list of protected persons named in section 15 of the Charter. It did this in spite of the fact Parliament had explicitly omitted homosexuals from the section prior to the Charter’s adoption in 1982.

It was in her New Zealand speech last year that McLachlin delivered perhaps the clearest and most complete enunciation of the reasoning behind such judicial activism. And she also opened the door to yet further court adventures into what, for all intents and purposes, can be seen by most Canadians only as law-making.

To McLachlin, “there exists fundamental norms of justice so basic that they form part of the legal structure of governance and must be upheld by the courts, whether or not they find expression in constitutional texts.” She recognized that critics contend that “the invocation of unwritten norms cloaks unelected and unaccountable judges with illegitimate power and runs afoul of the theory of parliamentary supremacy.” Yet, she countered that “the idea of unwritten constitutional principles is not new and should not be seen as a rejection of the constitutional heritage” shared by countries such as Canada and New Zealand.

She pointed to the idea of natural law, which is the age-old understanding that unchanging moral principles exist which are common to all human beings, and explained that the unwritten norms or laws to which she was now referring are like a “new natural law,” one “which goes by the name human rights.” Whether explicitly expressed in a written form or not, McLachlin contended these laws are of paramount importance to a civilized country: “…the legitimacy of the modern democratic state arguably depends on its adhesion to fundamental norms that transcend the law and executive action.”

McLachlin recognized that the identification of such transcendent unwritten constitutional principles—principles so powerful that a judge has the duty to ensure that they prevail over “laws and executive action”—cannot be achieved without difficulty. But she argued that “three sources of unwritten constitutional principles can be identified: customary usage; inferences from written constitutional principles; and the norms set out or implied in international” treaties. It is a court’s duty to recognize these unwritten fundamental principles or norms, she argued. “This is not law-making in the legislative sense,” she declared, “but legitimate judicial work.”

Toronto lawyer Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada (a conservative research and lobby group), concludes McLachlin’s speech was an announcement of a not-so-veiled grab for more power. “The Chief Justice is of the belief that judges, upon their appointment to the bench, acquire such wisdom and knowledge that they are able to determine with certainty what is best of all Canadians,” Landolt wrote in a January analysis. In a more recent interview, Landolt elaborates, “What she’s trying to do, I think, is say, ‘We judges are impeccable. We have the authority. We the judges know best. We are qualified. We can make these decisions, because we swear an oath to be impartial,’ which is bunk.” The truth, Landolt asserts, is that judges are political appointees, and they often act it. In her speeches and interviews, “All McLachlin is really doing is being a propaganda machine, saying ‘how noble we are and that we’re not activists,’” Landolt says. “But every time she opens her mouth she just shows exactly what she’s doing.”

And, anyway, McLachlin is far from consistent in applying her logic. For example, in the judge’s interview with this magazine (a transcript of which was shared with Landolt), McLachlin defends the extension of same-sex rights to homosexuals as “a proper legal interpretation” based on the “open ended” language of section 15 of the Charter. However, the REAL Women spokesman notes that McLachlin could just as easily have applied to the same logic to property rights, which were also left out of the Charter. Instead, the Chief Justice told this magazine that such an issue would be best left to government. “That would be a decision for the provinces and federal government to make if and when they want to make it,” she said. Concludes Landolt: “She’s not being consistent.” It is difficult to escape the conclusion that such inconsistency may be due to a political bias: the advancement of homosexual rights is a liberal cause; property rights are generally championed by conservatives (see story, page xx).

Morton sees the same inconsistency. “It just shows her underlying ideological bias in favour of the sort of left-wing socialist causes,” he says. The academic-turned-politician does not see an easy fix to the problem of one-sided judicial activism. Even if Prime Minister Harper were to institute a more rigorous parliamentary review of Supreme Court candidates, nothing would change for many years because no new appointments are foreseen until about 2013; that’s because Supreme Court judges serve until they are 75 years old. McLachlin, for example, has served on the court since 1988 and has been Chief Justice since January 2000, but she is only 62. He points out that, in most European countries, judges typically serve for just nine years, and their appointments are staggered. On the other hand, as in stands in Canada now, “Harper could govern for the next two years, get re-elected to a majority government and govern from 2008 to 2012 and never make and appointment.”

Parliament does have the power to reconstitute the Supreme Court; after all, the court was created by an act of Parliament in 1875. Parliament might also establish a special committee to examine Supreme Court rulings that overturn laws and report to Parliament on possible remedies; former Reform Party leader Preston Manning once suggested the establishment of such a committee. Regardless, nothing this far-reaching currently on the agenda of any major party.

Moreover, making major changes to the Court, specifically as it relates to the Court’s power to interpret the Charter, would be a dicey move, politically. An Environics Research Group poll, conducted to mark the Charter’s 20th anniversary in 2002, found that seven of 10 Canadians believed that the Supreme Court of Canada, and not Parliament, “should have the final say when the Court declares a law unconstitutional on the grounds that it conflicts with the Charter.”

Significantly, however, the poll did not ask about the Court’s expanding power to create new law. And at a time when social activists are publicly musing about enshrining the right to state-funded medicare or the right to welfare, these are significant issues indeed. The ultimate question, then, is this: who do Canadians trust to decide what’s best for the country: 308 elected parliamentarians or nine unelected judges?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Unconventional glamour, conventional excellence

It is, of course, a terrible shame that Squamish resident Mike Racicot died last summer after jumping off a mountain in Switzerland. Terrible that either his wingsuit or parachute failed him. Terrible that the calamity occurred when Racicot, at age 37, was still in the prime of his life. Terrible that he left so many saddened friends and relatives.
As we learn from a feature story, which comprised three-quarters of a page in a recent edition of the Vancouver Sun, Racicot was something of a thrill-seeking non-conformist who, while growing up, helped form a “graffiti collective” that “left their marks” on (i.e., vandalized) buildings throughout Ottawa.
Later, after riding a scooter across Canada, he settled (or, more precisely, squatted) in Whistler. Finding rents too high, he built a rudimentary treehouse with materials he stole from construction sites. He then lived at this secret, off-the-grid hideout, reportedly surviving on food he could obtain from local hotels, again by theft.
Despite his illicit eccentricities, he became something of a “legend” within the thrill-seeking “community” because of the enthusiasm with which he embraced the sport of jumping off natural and man-made structures.
The lengthy Sun story also makes much of the unconventional way in which the ashes of Racicot’s cremated body were dispersed. It seems that his fellow thrill-seekers scattered them from atop peaks and cliffs throughout the world. It’s what Mike
wanted, they said.
At which point I must now pause and disclose that I am writing this during the late afternoon of January 3, a day which began with my reading of the story described above and then continued with my driving, along with my wife, to a cemetery where we met other family members and a priest.
We assembled under a dark-blue tarp, which did little to protect us from the day’s unmerciful wind and icy rain. And then we prayerfully interred the remains of my brother Steve, who also died last summer and who also left behind many grieving friends and family, including his wife, four children and one grandchild (with one more soon to be born).
Steve, who succumbed to cancer at age 61, left a legacy of excellence and integrity. A gifted construction engineer and project manager, Steve was widely respected and admired in his industry. He was equally accomplished and renowned as a volunteer, one who donated his time and talent to everything from the administrations of track-and-field meets to the construction of a parish school in North Vancouver.
He was what we used to call “a solid sort of a guy,” “a good family man,” and “a good provider.” Steve was justifiably proud of what he accomplished, and his family is justifiably proud of him. 
But, as we stood around Steve’s grave, saying our final farewells, I could not help but reflect on the nature of this particular age in which we live – an age that celebrates the renegade, even the felonious one, while paying scant attention to those, like Steve, who lived a life of quiet, conventional excellence.
Is a good and outstanding person just too mundane for the news media to care about? Is a charming and unconventional miscreant just too thrilling to ignore?
What I do know is that a 1,200-word story about the death of an adrenaline junkie is, essentially, a celebration and glamorization of a lifestyle and, as such, it is also an encouragement of it. And I think we should aim higher.