The New “R”
What do we need to know about Canadian citizenship?
More than we might think, according to Judge David Arnot, Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
To the traditional two R’s of Canadian citizenship, rights and responsibilities, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is adding a third R: respect.
Respect for human dignity.
Respect for yourself, for your own culture and ways of being, and respect for the rights of others.
Last night I attended a presentation by the Chief Commissioner to local religious and spiritual leaders. Judge Arnot told us how the commission has changed its way of working, moving from an emphasis on litigation to early mediation, systemic advocacy and education.
Litigation is still a valuable tool, even though it is used less often. Unitarians might be interested to know that Judge Arnot described the Whatcott hate speech decision as among the most important work the commission has done (the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon and the Canadian Unitarian Council were intervenors in this case.) The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court makes it clear to all Canadians that hate is not an acceptable way to make an argument, and clearly describe how hate can be identified.
But it is the success that the commission has been having with mediation, advocacy and education that has the most potential.
The Commission is in the midst of field-testing new citizenship materials for Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12.
The vast majority of complaints to the Human Rights Commission come from what they call “non-understanding” rather than from maliciousness. Respect comes from understanding, which comes from education, says Judge Arnot. Change the schools, and you change the culture.
The curriculum has two goals:
- Know your rights, so you don’t transgress others, and
- Given what we have as Canadians, we have a responsibility to work to make the world a better place.
In the words of the commission’s annual report,
“The outcome will be Grade 12 graduates, 18-year-old voting citizens, who have functional knowledge and understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship, with a respect for the rights of others, and a fundamental commitment to the duty to make the world a better place.”
Litigation generates press releases and media coverage, but this project has the potential to transform our society, to pass on our hard-won values and to enshrine respect for human dignity and an awareness of our responsibility to others as fundamental to being Canadian.
This seems like something that Unitarians can get behind. After all, our first principle is respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
For a complete list of Unitarian principles, see our website:
For more on the work of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, check out their website,