Rights and Responsibilities: Is it time for one to be subordinate to the other ?

Once a week, the Lethbridge Herald publishes a column written by a superintendent of one of five school jurisdictions in the Lethbridge area. This week’s column is authored by Wilco Tymensen, Superintendent for Horizon School Division No. 67 and was published online on January 6, 2015. CASS thanks the Lethbridge Herald for permission to post this article on our website.

It seems as if newspapers are continually reporting on incidents that involve people vigorously defending their rights; stories that include estranged adults demanding access to their children and bringing familial disputes into the school context, measles outbreaks and parents vigorously defending their decision not to vaccinate their children, and parents insisting that their child’s school accommodate their child’s allergy by making the school allergy free, whether that allergy is peanuts, milk, eggs, perfume or something else. Other stories take on a more ominous tone such as the argument about our right to free speech as is the case with the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France.

Why for instance should we be surprised that when people act on their rights, free speech for example, and cruelly and relentlessly ridicule, harass, and bully others or their beliefs that these people, or the people who hold the people or subjects dear become angry or act out?

As Canadians, we have democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights, equality rights, and minority language educational rights. These come to us from our history, reflect our shared traditions, identity, and values, and are secured by the Constitution of Canada which entrenches the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter attempts to summarize fundamental freedoms while also setting out additional rights including Multiculturalism, fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity.

As a society, I would contend that the focus has shifted too much onto our rights. I would posit that with rights there should be responsibilities? Responsibilities we often fail to recognize or act on. Responsibilities that include: obeying the law, taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family, helping others in the community, volunteering, helping people in need, assisting at your child’s school, encouraging and welcoming newcomers to our country, and the responsibility to respect the rights and freedoms of others. Since 1991 this includes the rights of children, and especially the right to an education, as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.

Perhaps it is time for rights to be subordinate to responsibility. For citizens to step up and act in a unified voice in order to serve and improve society and our children’s future rather than the more individualized and misdirected efforts related to pursuing one’s rights.