Friday, April 13, 2007

Charter propaganda in the schools?

As the legal profession gears up for celebrating 25 years of the Charter of Rights,* the Chief Justice has called for teaching constitutional law as a mandatory subject in the "schools and high schools":

[Chief Justice McLachlin] told a Toronto Charter conference that polls and surveys have revealed a disturbing ignorance about how judges make decisions, and the extent to which they can override Parliament and provincial legislatures.

"Canadians don't understand the Charter," Chief Justice McLachlin said. "If we want the Charter to retain the relatively high rate of approval it has been enjoying, we should worry that Canadians know so little about the details.

The Chief is a very intelligent woman, but she fails to consider the obvious inference from the surveys she refers to. Canadians like the Charter and know very little about it. It may be that these facts are correlated. Basically, Charter critics in English Canada consist solely of evangelical Protestants, the odd conservative Catholic, and constitutional experts. Reading a lot of constitutional decisions and thnking about the counter-majoritarian difficulty tends to promote a certain skepticism. Normal people, on the other hand, just think rights are a good thing and we should have more of them. Individual decisions -- especially in criminal law -- are very occasionally controversial, but if there is a real populist groundswell, it is against lenient sentencing, not the Charter.

But more realistically, McLachlin has little to fear from the kind of indoctrination the public schools will doubtless engage in on the subject. It will doubtless create a mild hostility towards something so boring -- rather similar to what most products of the Canadian school system bear towards Margaret Laurence -- but when pollsters come around, most people will recall that the Charter is one of those things they are supposed to be in favour of. The numerically larger categories of dissidents will doubtless be home schooled anyway.

*The actual birthday is next Tuesday, and I'll have a celebratory post, I promise.

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