Since I’m in the business of human rights and helping people “behave” for lack of another word, I sometimes think items jump out at me from the newspapers that others wouldn’t notice. Hence I tend to see that human rights, whether workplace based or just plain life based are pretty big in our world. But then there are times, I think, “come on, it’s not just me” as seems to be the case of ringing in the new year of 2012.
We were greeted early this new year with banner headlines about whether same-sex couples married in Canada, but living outside Canada, were in fact still married. It caused such a stir that our Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson had to make a pronouncement that the laws would be changed. Even though his department’s lawyers had taken the opposite stance, he was going to ensure that all gay or lesbian couples who got married in Canada would have their marriage protected. This way, even if they couldn’t get married in their state or country, they would be considered married and if they wanted to get divorced, they would be able to do that, without the normal residency requirements.
Don’t you find this odd? I don’t mean the whole same-sex stuff and the legal wranglings. I mean that the world economy is still on the brink of collapse, we have whole industries that are in big, big trouble, our unemployment rate is going up and our country is on the verge of huge cut-backs in government spending to deal with our growing deficit. Yet gay marriage gets centre stage.
If our Prime Minister had his way, all the headlines would have been about him flying from one end of the country to the other, praising the $33 billion we’re about to spend on military ship building. You might have missed it even though he actually held a press conference in Halifax last Thursday, flew 4,500 kms and on that same day held another press conference in North Vancouver.
There were a lot of people quite upset that the same-sex news item, which possibly only affects perhaps 5,000 “foreigners”, trumped the news about a big, big expenditure that will certainly have a boost in some economies. In fact, when a reporter asked the Prime Minister at the Halifax event about the same-sex foofarah, the proud ship building workers in the photo-op booed the reporter. There was nary a mention of what the PM was doing in Halifax in the first place.
Whether we like it or not, our hearts will often win-out over our heads. The issues of human rights will continue to get massive coverage in our country and they will often greatly over-shadow other more cerebral issues of the day. Over the holidays and into the New Year, these were just a few of the items that got people’s attention:
• Dutch Queen Beatrix spoke out after being criticised for wearing a head scarf in a mosque on a visit to the United Arab Emirates. This queen, like others, rarely comments openly especially when it comes from a Dutch politician, but she said his criticism of her was “nonsense”.
• A poll found that while most Canadians trust RCMP officers, they have misgivings about the leadership of the force. This on the tail of months of headlines about allegations of sexual harassment and abuse at work.
• A federal government worker won a ground breaking court case that expands human rights protection of “family status” to ensure that when she’s on maternity leave, she doesn’t miss out on job opportunities.
• The head of Canada’s Human Rights Commission, Shirish Chotalia, was found to have harassed some of her staff and other complaints are proceeding. It was also revealed that in the short time Ms. Chotalia has been on the job, more than half her staff left, took sick leave or retired.
• A judge in the States released a letter that had been sent to Hewlett Packard which led to the firing of its former CEO Mark Hurd in 2010. The letter from a lawyer made all kinds of allegations of sexual harassment by Hurd. The company’s stock is down $20 from where it had been before the scandal and it doesn’t seem the issue is going away.
If you want some predictions for 2012, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll see...
• The integration, or lack thereof, of Muslims in Canada and world-wide will get lots of attention. Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in Western countries and these countries are struggling at work and in their communities to see them as real citizens (unless you lose the scarf);
• Despite all the education and seminars, sexual harassment will bring down or greatly affect a number of prominent men in Canada and around the world. Many of their humiliated wives will stand next to them as they claim their innocence or explain they had a brain tumour (which miraculously has just been cured);
• The Supreme Court of Canada will address a number of issues related to human rights. I could do my homework and check the roster of cases likely to be heard or decided in 2012, but I’m not even going to do that. Take my word for it – the Supremes will be doing some of the work that politicians aren’t willing to do (and then get blamed for making the tough decisions).
So folks, it’s not just me. As a species, we’re struggling with differences. So in countries where the rule of law doesn’t exist or is tenuous, these struggles will be resolved with deadly conflict. In those countries where the rule of law works a bit better, these struggles will be resolved in the courts, the media, the government and in the coffee-shops. Watch for them.
Winner of last skill testing question: Penni Kiss from Lethbridge gave the correct answer that it was Linus Van Pelt who said, "That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown." Penni won a copy of both of my books.
Today's skill testing question: On January 18, 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a second degree murder conviction and ordered the sentence of at least 10 years in prison. This decision was controversial, with some seeing the act of killing as compassionate for the suffering of a daughter while others saw it as plain murder against a defenseless person with severe disabilities. The first person to tell me the name of the man convicted of murder will win a copy of my book, Managing Human Rights at Work.
This blog: http://www.humanrightseachday.com/
My website: http://www.stephenhammond.ca
My Podcast: Type in “HumanRightsaDay” to the iTunes store and listen to each day's event from my book, Steps in the Rights Direction (the easiest way is to go to the homepage of www.StephenHammond.ca )
My Twitter: http://twitter.com/Rightstoday (each day has historical human rights info)
Stephen Hammond, B.A., LL.B., CSP, is a lawyer-turned professional speaker. He’s written two books, Managing Human Rights at Work: 101 practical tips to prevent human rights disasters and Steps in the Rights Direction: 365 human rights celebrations and tragedies that inspired Canada and the world. Both can be purchased on his website www.StephenHammond.ca
copyright - Stephen Hammond - Sex, Religion, Abuse - The Usual Media Frenzy