Caleb Snider, Congress 2016 student blogger
Referencing the famous statue “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” by Indigenous artist Bill Reid, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada) addressed the issue of accommodation in her Big Thinking lecture The Rule of Law in a Multicultural Society, hosted by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences on May 30th.
The Chief Justice argued that accommodation is not a state to be achieved or a destination to be reached; it is an ongoing process, an ideal for which we must ever strive.
She spoke passionately about how to deal with diversity in modern society, how to deal with the “other,” which she sees as the most challenging issue facing the world today. She argued that Canada was founded as a nation that constitutionally recognized diversity (of various indigenous and European peoples under an umbrella of federalism that recognized differences in language, ethnicity, and region), and that though we have made mistakes along the way, we continue to live up to that legacy.
For all that we have done to foster bridge building between disparate communities, however, we still have more to do. The Chief Justice called on all of us to inculcate inclusion by fostering a culture where everyone sees each other as Canadians and as the subjects of mutual respect. We need to educate our children and new Canadians in a culture of inclusivity, and we need to enact inclusive laws and build and foster inclusive public institutions. She called on Parliament to pass laws that rectify past mistakes and that ensure all people are treated equally regardless of ethnicity.
Perhaps her most interesting comment, however, came during question period. When asked about what role alternative systems of law might play in the future of Canadian common law, the Chief Justice spoke of law as a living, changing body, and said that there is lots of room for inclusivity as long as there is compatibility: we cannot assume that our norms are absolute and we must cultivate openness to combat xenophobia, hatred, isolationism and extremism.