You know how sometimes in law, the interpretation of one little word can make all the difference about how a case ends up turning out?
For instance, in my beef with Canada’s unaccountability-perpetuating electoral process, I started examining a very basic and seemingly straightforward word – “in“. But, do you know how many definitions there are for the word “in”? There are a lot. And there aren’t just a lot of definitions. There are subcategories within each definition.
So, turning to usage of the word “in” in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that relates to elections. Section 3 states that every citizen has the right to vote “in” an election. There are two definitions of the word “in” that could apply here. One signifies inclusion, and the other signifies circumstance.
For example, the phrase “I am a pianist in a band” signifies inclusion. It means that as a person, I am included as a member in a group, right now, sort of like “the right to vote in an election” could be construed to mean a citizen has that right, right now, like all the other rights in the Charter. An example of circumstance, on the other hand, would be “my band plays in a festival”. The festival is the circumstance. While my band (in which I always have the right to some degree of direct input on decisions) gets to play in it for a few days, none of us have the right to partake in all the organizational and financial decisions of running the festival.
It is common for people to assume that section 3 of the Charter is using the definition of “in” that signifies a circumstance, the circumstance being that an election is arranged and the Charter requirement being that every citizen have the right to vote during the arranged circumstance/time. The result of this is that the representative that you chose at that moment (if also chosen by enough other people) can make decisions without having any regard for your wishes, until the next time you are given the opportunity to exercise your right.
With the other definition of the word “in”, the same section could be interpreted to mean that every citizen has the right to be included as a voter to choose a representative for their constituency. However, within the current electoral system, clearly the right provided by that second definition may only be exercised on one day, and then several years pass during which there is no way to exercise this right. In other words, a right that is guaranteed by law is not available to be exercised for a period of time. It is denied.
Fostering freedom and democracy
Charter rights are of course not ever supposed to be denied, as they are supposed to form the foundation of Canada’s justice. Of course charter (or constitutional) matters are not always perfectly black and white, so there is a sort of “exception clause”: section 1 of the Charter states that reasonable limits can be placed upon the rights and freedoms in the Charter, if those limits “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.
It might seem like a safe assumption that there is no way to provide the right to vote at all without denying it for periods of time. This is commonly thought of as a reasonable limit, and assumed to be implicitly justifiable, leaving no need to demonstrate any justification for denial of this lawful right. Is it possible that this assumption is wrong?
The Interactive Sovereign Society (ISS) uses an interactive electoral system to choose its Prime Representative. Every member has one vote, which can be cast at any time and changed at any time after that. The Prime Representative is responsible, according to the ISS Constitution, for seeking agreement from the society’s members about what laws they are all required to follow. In this case, the right to be included as a voter in electing the prime decision maker is available to be exercised at any time. The right to vote is never denied. (In fact, the decision making model used by the ISS is collective and completely transparent and limits officials’ authority in another fundamental way that I won’t go into here, but ask us about the ISS public record, if you are curious.)
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not specify which definition of the word “in” applies in section 3. It does, however, show in section 1 that fostering freedom and democracy is the primary purpose of the Charter. The word “democracy” is commonly thought to be the same as “elections”, but in fact, the word itself, literally translated from Greek, means “the power of the people”. Periodic elections have previously seemed to be the best tool created so far to let the power of the people prevail in a society. However, that does not mean that there isn’t a better way, and certainly if a better way is found, then according to section 1 of the Charter, this improved way should be put into law.
In several years of usage of the interactive electoral system, no justification has been demonstrated as to how denying the right to vote for periods of time can be seen as a reasonable limit that helps maintain freedom and democracy. It often leaves us stuck with politicians who become unaccountable once elected and may push through legislation that benefits corporate cronies or take it upon themselves to gut agencies that voters believe are important (such as Elections Canada or Veteran Affairs Offices).
If a citizen of Canada were responsible only to ISS law, and not Crown law, then the denial of that citizen’s section 3 rights is remedied. If “the right to vote in an election” can be made constantly available, instead of only occasionally, then can you think of any way to demonstrate how to justify not making this right constantly available in the interest of freedom and democracy? If not, You’re not alone. Joining the ISS would be a sensible choice in that case.
Time for democratic evolution
However, there are people who refuse to admit that there is a need to discuss interpretation of “in” in this fundamentally crucial Charter section as they cannot, or aren’t willing to, see that this right is being denied. Perhaps they do not understand that they would be required to demonstrate any justification for denying the right to vote for periods of time. Maybe what they think of as demonstrating this justification is actually just making uninformed assumptions, usually having to do with the notion that an unrestricted opportunity to vote would cause systemic “instability”. (We are planning a future post that will clearly refute that notion, so stay tuned.)
Perhaps for some it is too frightening to admit that this fundamental democratic right, which so many sacrifices have been made to provide, is ever denied. Or is it possible that they just don’t care if they are not being treated fairly by their elected officials? Is that an appropriate way of showing respect for the sacrifices that have been made to keep freedom and democracy alive? Do they think it is beyond us (or perhaps hopelessly impossible) to work towards evolving our political system into something more equitable and ethically sound?
If you can justify clinging to a solely periodic way of participating in “democracy” then why not just acknowledge that the right to do so is denied for periods of time and then demonstrate why that is justifiable? If not, then why would you want anyone denied that right for any period of time?
Or perhaps you believe that Her Majesty the Queen and her advisors did a bad job of drafting and enacting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Dura lex, sed lex.