We here in Canada have passed some very bad laws of late, sadly during what should be an otherwise celebratory 150th anniversary year. There was the June 2016 legalization of euthanasia, making what once would have been fevered analogies to the early Nazi era now a bit too apt. Once you get used to death, murder, and suicide, they’re a hard habit to break.
And speaking of Nazis, the government has not stopped at undermining our physical well-being, but strives to warp and ruin our minds and souls as well, which is in some ways more deleterious. “Fear not him who can kill the body…”.
A Quartet of Bad Legislation
We may first consider the recent “motion” (M103, not quite a law, but propaedeutic thereto), which declared that the government needs to
recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination … and the issues raised by it; and … request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making.
Then there is the transgender-homosexual law (Bill 89), officially termed the “Supporting Youth, Children and Families Act,” which prescribed the need
[t]o recognize that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that respects regional differences wherever possible and takes into account physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons; a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.
In close connection with this is the recent Bill C-16, “An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code,” which, in summary states:
This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
The enactment also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.
This is the basis of the so-called “pronoun wars,” with the use of gender-neutral terms such as “ze,” and “zir” now enforced by law, something resisted eloquently, persuasively, and adamantly by such figures as Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a self-professed agnostic, but one who sees the truth more than most believers. Dr. Peterson has publicly refused to use such pronouns, arguing, amongst other things, that this infringes upon his right to freedom of speech, a case made eloquently also in this recent article by law professor Bruce Pardy.
And finally, we have Bill 28 in Ontario, the ominously titled “All Families are Equal Act,” which removed the terms “mother” and “father” from government documents, as well making the relation of “parents” (now up to four allowed) to their “children” a purely contractual agreement, no longer founded on the mother-father-child relation, based on biology and natural law. I will allow one of the main proponents of the law, the Ontario Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, to summarize its contents and purpose:
Passing the All Families are Equal Act updates our laws so that all kids are treated equally by recognizing the legal status of their parents no matter if their parents are LGBTQ2+ or straight, and no matter if they were conceived with the help of assisted reproduction. As a province that values diversity and inclusion, it’s important that our laws reflect these important beliefs. I am proud of the progress this bill represents. I am grateful to the many people and organizations that were able to work together and create a bill that puts what’s best for kids first—having a loving family
Each of these pieces of legislation is in its own way obviously “wrong,” insofar as what they are trying to legislate is at some level “false.” But there is something even more ominous going on, if we take a closer look at what the government is trying to accomplish with such mind-and-speech control.
A Brief Primer on Law
To do that, a brief discussion on law itself may be requisite, for it is not enough to have a gut reaction against a law. One should know why such laws are bad in theory, and why the other side feels so passionate about these issues.
Saint Thomas defines law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good promulgated by him who has charge of the community” (ST, I-II, q. 90, a. 4), a definition that has been adopted by the Catechism (CCC, 1976), and, hence, now forms the basis for the universal Magisterium’s take on law.
There are therefore four key elements in what make a good law: It must accord with reason, it must be for the common good of that specific society; it must be promulgated and known; and finally it must be legislated by the proper authority over that society.
It is on this definition that Saint Thomas builds his treatise on law, natural, human, and divine. Our focus here is on human law, also termed positive law, since it is posited by men with authority, to be obeyed by other men under that authority.
The Limits of Human Law
Saint Thomas asks whether human law should proscribe, or forbid, all vices (I-II, q.96, a.2). Some students, when faced with this question, respond with an “of course!” A few moments thought will lead one to realize, however, that the laws of men must be far more limited in scope than that. Laws work in two ways: pedagogically, by teaching us the right thing to do, and coercively, by forcing us to do it. It is the latter element in law that limits it. For an authority to forbid some action, he must know of it, and be able to intervene in some way, applying some kind of “force and fear.” As Thomas concludes, human law can only forbid those vices that are “to the harm of others,” without which the society in question could not function. The State’s role is to ensure public order, a stable currency, the protection of private property and such, not to meddle in the private lives of its citizens.
Hence, the law cannot possibly forbid all vices, for the authority behind it would have to control every aspect of the lives of its subjects, their very words and even thoughts, as in fictional dystopias, like Orwell’s 1984, and real ones, like Soviet Russia under Stalin and North Korea under Kim Jong Un and, um, Canada? As Thomas puts it, men under such an oppressive regime would eventually break out into even greater evils, like a man, in his apt and vivid analogy, who blows his nose too violently, bringing forth blood, a point to which we shall soon return.
Let us presume for the sake of argument the best interpretation of the intentions of the “other side,” which in Canada, means the governing Liberal party at both the federal and provincial level, in accord with what Saint Thomas does in his “objections” in the Summa, formulating the most benign interpretation of his opponents. Perhaps they really think there are legions of gun totin’, bible-thumpin’, knuckle-draggin’ semi-literate, mostly Christian barbarians ready to heckle, abuse, assault, even murder every homosexual, transgender and Islamic person they see, and that such laws truly seek to protect such vulnerable minorities, in a faintly analogous way to how Christians were protected by Constantinian decrees at the dawn of the fourth century.
In other words, turn the question around and ask, would such laws be good if they were formulated to protect us Christians and our “values”? Should, to take the prime example, “Christianophobia” be against the law? Might the law decree that every priest be referred to as “Father,” with enforced Sunday Mass attendance, and public acquiescence to every revealed doctrine?
The analogy is limited, for the State does have a special obligation to the true religion (cf., Dignitatis Humanae, 1) and must found its laws on Christian revelation (at least in terms of the natural law), but, beyond this, the short answer to the question is no, for the reason Thomas gives in discussing the limits of human law. Such laws would violate the “ordinance of reason” and the proper scope of human freedom. The terms in these laws are vague and amorphous, so that anything, really, can be enforced or proscribed at the whim of the State. How can discrimination be outlawed? We discriminate all the time, between good and evil, better and worse, what we like and don’t like. Even if such discrimination be “unjust” (by what and whose criteria, one wonders), the State is just too big, clumsy, and intrusive to intervene.
And what of that bogey term phobia? Is the law able to abolish “fear”? What they really mean, we may presume, is hatred, something like “miso-transgenderism,” analogous to misogyny. Even so, how does the State mean to proscribe “hatred,” a feeling deep within the soul, well outside the scope of human law?
What the law can do is prevent and punish outright attacks on individuals, those things that are, as Thomas puts it, to the “grave harm of others,” but that is already against the Criminal Code, and we need no new laws to cover assault, battery and the most serious crime of murder.
Second, such laws violate the “proper authority” principle, for the State has no such authority over what we say and write, to say nothing of what we may think and feel. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right in any free society. Even if someone says something ridiculous, false or even evil, prescinding from outright personal and directly “harmful” slander and calumny, let the truth win out on its own merit. Dialogue, discussion, even heated debate, are necessary to the sharpening of reason, to winning others over, and to the furtherance of society.
We should be free therefore to heartily debate whether homosexuality is deleterious at a physical, psychological and spiritual level; whether transgenderism is a psychiatric disorder, a form of sexual dysphoria and loss of identity often with roots deep in a privational childhood which, if it leads to such abominations as a “sex change,” is a type of radical mutilation, a violation against the very will of one’s Creator, and that to support such with fake pronouns makes us all aiders and abetters in such lunacy; finally, we should be able to debate whether or not Islam is a religion based on the false and non-divine revelations of Muhammad, however truly he may have perceived them.
Unintended Consequences, Good and Bad
The State may try to label such discussions, even opinions, “phobic,” beyond the pale, even illegal. They may also try to enforce the use of “proper” thought and speech, and in the process form and indoctrinate the minds of many, especially if they have near-total control over the educational system, as they do here in Canada, embedding such “anti-phobias” deep within the minds of our children. Such is the power of a totalitarian regime, with the government using its broad coercive power to crack down, and crack the very foundations of truth itself.
They may be somewhat successful, in the short term at least. Already, legions of young people in Canada are well and truly indoctrinated in the orthodoxy of the new left: Abortion and “reproductive freedom” are fundamental rights and perfectly legal, while anti-choicers are anti-women, wanting to drag them back to the patriarchal dark ages. Homosexuality is good, “heternormativity” is bad. Trans-genderism and gender-fluidity are healthy and normal; gender rigidity, especially of the male-female variety, psychologically bad. Islam is good, gentle and peaceful. Christianity is angry, guilt-ridden and the cause of most of the wars of history, including the Crusades.
We should not discount the pedagogical power of law, especially if it is backed up, however subtly, by the coercive. As someone once wrote, and I paraphrase, great indeed is the power of strong and steady misrepresentation, the method by which most ideologies win over the minds of the masses. Tell a lie often enough, and to enough people, especially when young and impressionable, and it will be believed. Such is indoctrination, however well intended.
But the State and its apparatchiks must beware, for there is also the law of unintended consequences. Without free speech, and the free exchange of opinions and ideas, the only thing left is action, often of a rather forceful variety, with the free exchange of fists, and worse. To return to Thomas, when people feel over-repressed, constrained by ever-more restrictive laws, they often break forth into “greater evils,” and blood flows.
Jeff Goldblum’s eccentric scientist character in the first Jurassic Park declared that nature always finds a way. Well, so does truth, through the cobwebs of obfuscation and falsehoods, even if they be enforced by unjust laws in what Pope John Paul II would term a “thinly disguised totalitarianism.” Such is always a danger in any “democracy without values,” which is what Canada has become, regardless of all the blather about “inclusivity” and “tolerance.”
Bruce Pardy, in the article to which we alluded at the beginning, quotes the federal Justice Minister, Judy Wilson-Raybould, as saying that her legislation would not “compel language,” but she seems either ignorant or disingenuous, for the Liberals specifically rejected an amendment that would explicitly forbid such compulsion on the government or court’s part. As Professor Pardy puts it:
In other words, failure to use a person’s pronoun of choice—“ze,” “zir,” “they” or any one of a multitude of other potential non-words—will land you in hot water with the commission. That, in turn, can lead to orders for correction, apology, Soviet-like “re-education,” fines and, in cases of continued non-compliance, incarceration for contempt of court. This peril is exactly what [Jordan] Peterson warned of in his video, for which he was mocked for scaremongering.
The professor intuits why Saint Thomas taught that human law must be limited, and cannot enforce such things as polite speech, good manners or protecting people’s feelings (even if such were the case here), for behind such laws are real police officers with guns (or in Thomas’ day, kings’ men with swords and gibbets) well prepared to back up the law, especially in cases of continued non-compliance and recalcitrance. Sure you can keep your head down and your mouth closed, but for how long? Just one disgruntled and strident student in any of these victim groups now protected by law can lose a teacher his job or, potentially, land him in jail. That is, unless he complies.
The Liberals seem to know what they are about. Behind Prime Minister Trudeau’s grins and hugs, and Premier Wynne’s strident calls for an end to all forms of discrimination, we see the not-so-benign dictatorship of the new left, unwilling to tolerate any heresy from what they see to be the “truth” and their post-modern orthodoxy. If you thought the old Inquisition was bad, wait until you see the full effects of the new one, with shadowy “Human Rights Commissions,” unhinged from any notion of common law, habeas corpus, presumed innocence, Christian “values” or mercy.
Of course, even if blood must flow, perhaps because it must, the truth will win out in the end, for the greatest witness to the truth is martyrdom, in all its various forms. We too will have to witness to the truth in all its beauty and splendor, hold fast to it, so that this victory may come about sooner than later, and in as many minds and souls as we can reach in our own sphere of authority and influence, which will require courage and a clear head. For lies and falsity are the worst forms of slavery, and only the truth will set us free.