more recent sufferings of natives, though, show that we have
yet to achieve that goal. Basic principles of justice
dictate that individuals who suffered through residential
school tragedies deserve to be compensated for their
suffering by the individuals who carried out, supported,
sanctioned or ignored their abuse. And let's be clear: any
child forcibly removed from his or her home has suffered,
whether physically abused or not. The process of
compensating these human beings has begun, but it is decades
late, and while this should spur the government to effect a
rapid resolution, the justice system just plods along as
lazily as ever.
It can similarly be
argued that members of communities who were forcibly
relocated onto flood plains four or five decades ago have
also been harmed by government, and deserve some kind of
restitution. Counting on governments to make everything
better has some serious drawbacks, though, which can lead to
a culture of entitlement and victimhood taking hold, whereby
all problems become someone else's fault. This is an easy
trap for any of us to fall into, given the right incentives.
We begin to feel like we have a claim on other people, and
to expect their help not only in an emergency, but in
perpetuity, because of our status as victims. Our focus
shifts from finding solutions to assigning blame. Robbed of
our own initiative, we start to feel helpless and
despondent. Even if originally motivated by a desire to
correct past injustices, depending on other people to
provide for our every need leads to inactivity and
depression, and then often to a different kind of
dependency, which is evidenced by the alcoholism that has
long plagued many native reserves.
While questions of justice are important, clearly a much broader
perspective is required. Natives need to reclaim their individual human
rights from the encroachment of government. In fact, while the basic
problem may be more acute on native reserves, it is not unique to them.
All Canadians need to reclaim the right to see to our children's
education as we see fit; the right to decide for ourselves whether to
live on a flood plain; the right to decide in what language we will
conduct our affairs; the right to spend our own money as we will. Native
leaders do repeatedly call for self-government, but they too often also
call for more funds from Ottawa. These two demands are contradictory
because government funds always come with strings attached.
In order to reclaim our
individual human rights, we need to forego those ersatz "rights" which
statists of all stripes clamour for in a (largely successful) attempt to
confuse the very notion of rights. There can be no such thing as a
"right" to housing, food, health care, or education, because these are
products and services that must be produced by someone. Even clean
drinking water must be produced, in the sense that it must be cleaned
and distributed. Any claim to a "right" to the product of someone else's
efforts is a claim to enslave someone else. This is the very height of
injustice. Everyone has the right to the product of his own efforts, and
the right to engage in voluntary exchange with others. No one has the
right to take the product of someone else's effort.
The first step in
rehabilitating the notion of rights is a big one: We must acknowledge
that the mere presence of poverty is not by itself evidence of
injustice. Though there is much to bemoan about a man who continually
chooses vice over virtue and ends up poor, there is nothing particularly
unjust in such a scenario. And, in the end, there is nothing
particularly compassionate about subsidizing someone's vices and
hastening their early death.
The limited, properly targeted pursuit of reparations for specific,
recent injustices is not misguided. It is proper, and even prudent, to
pursue justice, even if the immediate costs of doing so outweigh the
immediate benefits to be gained. Raising the cost of committing a crime
by punishing the perpetrators helps to minimize the future reoccurrence
of similar injustice.
Relying on governments to
solve all of our problems, though, is ill-advised for the three reasons
outlined above: it is unjust to other taxpayers who are forced to foot
the bill; it is depressing and disempowering for the recipients of
unearned benefits; and it leaves us in thrall to the redistributive
powers that be and their repeatedly documented incompetence. More
specifically, it leaves us with housing that is inadequate, drinking
water that is unsafe, or hospitals that are overrun with mould.
Not all native reserves
resemble Third World settlements. Julius Strauss, in the November 12th
edition of The Globe and Mail, writes about Peawanuck, another
northern Ontario settlement that seems much better off than Kashechewan.
There is far less crime, alcoholism and suicide in Peawanuck, and homes
are generally well-maintained. Its tiny population of only 240 may have
something to do with that, but as important is the fact that welfare
dependence is almost non-existent. The people of Peawanuck actually do
maintain traditional practices of hunting, fishing and trapping, and
doing so helps them maintain a greater degree of autonomy than other
governments have a vested interest in meddling as much as possible in
our lives, with results that are unjust, depressing, and sub-standard.
In a familiar pattern, problems are either caused or exacerbated by
governments, and yet many believe that the solution is even more
government. Canadians all Canadians need to extricate themselves
from the trap of entitlement and the allure of getting something for
nothing. Governments are perfectly happy to keep growing and growing
despite the overwhelmingly negative consequences of that growth, so the
impetus for change has to come from us. If we want to be freer and more
prosperous, we must choose to rely less on the blunt instruments of
government, and more on our ability to shape our own lives.