Ottawa Citizen
Monday, March 31, 2003

Rights and responsibilities

The Ottawa Citizen

Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon startled members of Parliament and many Canadians last week when he blurted out to the Commons justice committee that "Parents have responsibilities, they don't have rights." The fact has long been clear to many people with bitter experience of divorce courts. But acknowledgement of it, from the justice minister no less, is something new.

It's also an admission that there are unintended and unwelcome consequences of the push over the past 40 years to give people ever more rights while relieving them of responsibilities. You have the right to money, but no obligation to work if you can. You have the right to be treated civilly by others, but can cuss them out. The law protects you, but you can break it when you protest. But by a social equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics, no right can be respected unless someone is responsible for respecting it.

So, necessarily, in a world where rights come without responsibilities at least to some people, responsibilities must come without rights, at least to some people. For everyone who spends without earning, someone must earn without spending. The rights revolutionaries stressed the seductive appeal of rights without responsibilities and minimized or denied the corollary.

But getting back to the reason Mr. Cauchon was before that parliamentary committee, while he's correct that some people have responsibilities without any rights, he's wrong to say that parents are among those people. Our society gives certain rights to parents. Those rights don't end just because a marriage does.

© Copyright  2003 The Ottawa Citizen