Friday, July 18, 2008

What is a human right in today's British Columbia?

Compare and Contrast:

A program to remove panhandlers and homeless people from streets and parks amounts to "systemic discrimination," says a complaint filed Thursday with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The complaint, put forward by the Pivot Legal Society, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users Society (Vandu) and the United Native Nations Society, takes aim at the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association's Downtown Ambassadors Program.

The program employs ambassadors to patrol parts of downtown, dispensing information to tourists and trying to deter petty crime, vandalism and aggressive panhandling.

The complaint says the ambassadors order people who are sitting or sleeping on the street to move along, prevent persons from searching for recyclables in garbage cans, identify people as undesirables, take pictures of them and tell them they are not allowed in certain areas of the downtown.

That amounts to harassment and discrimination against the homeless and the poor in Vancouver, it says.

The complainants ask for $20 in damages for every person affected by the Ambassadors' conduct, to a maximum of 1,000 people.
The city's police department has unveiled a safety program for restaurants in the hope it will deter gangsters from frequenting their establishments.

Modelled after the successful Bar Watch program, Restaurant Watch encourages staff to call police if they spot someone who fits the criteria of a gangster, gang associate, drug trafficker or violent person.

Police officers then take on the responsibility of deciding if the suspicious person should be removed from the restaurant.
Police said uniform and plainclothes officers will also do periodic walk-throughs of the 40 restaurants.

"We're not going to tolerate violence from these criminals," VPD superintendent Warren Lemcke said in a news release. "They're not welcome in our city."
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association dismissed the program as "bloody odd," with the easy potential to threaten the rights of restaurant patrons. Micheal Vonn, BCCLA policy director, wondered how restaurant staff will be able to tell people with gang-like appearances are actual gangsters with violent tendencies.

"It certainly raises a very serious question about what these people look like. On the basis of what possible criteria do you determine someone has a 'propensity for violence'?

"This is a very different thing than saying someone is causing a disturbance, which is always a justification for seeking police involvement," Ms. Vonn said.

"It is completely bizarre to assume there is some kind of behavioural or appearance profile that is going to effectively make this work. The slippery-slope notion would be how long before we say, 'We're going to scan your ID before you come into a restaurant.' "

Supt. Lemcke said that he is mindful of civil-liberties issues and that he and his officers would act within the law.

Restaurants have always been free to call police, but Restaurant Watch is being touted as a more visible and organized alliance between police and restaurants.

Ian Tostenson, president of the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the effort will take the guesswork out of calling police on gang issues.

"If the restaurant is somewhat uncertain and not quite sure and detect something but they are not feeling good about it, it puts the onus on the Vancouver Police Department to make that determination. That's really key to this program," Mr. Tostenson said.
So... if you use drugs, and generally look pathetic, are you more likely to be seen as having your "human rights" violated than if you are a gang member making good money from dealing drugs?

It might seem so. This would suggest that "human rights" have become in good part a question of our capacity to feel guilt for those being claimed as victims.

Guilt is an irrational, potentially delusional, form of "thought" because even where guilt may be appropriate, we are not able to reflect rationally on our feelings of guilt when we are feeling guilty. We have to snap out of the feeling first to truly judge our feeling of guilt and, when necessary, to decide on any appropriate course to redeem our guilt.

But in today's society, we are more and more encouraged to dwell in and use our feelings of guilt as a true guide to reality. Pathetic looking dumpster diver, or barely cogent addict panhandling and making tourists feel guilty and scared? at what point along the way were his human rights violated? Expensively-dressed and obnoxious young men with an expensive sports cars eating steaks? when are we going to stop them and let the rest of us live in peace?

Resentment, you see, is the flip side of guilt and equally delusional: you can't think rationally about whatever you resent, at the time when you are feeling resentful.

Because guilt and resentment are delusional states of being we should always struggle against thinking about "human rights" claims when under their influence. We can't avoid seeing the scenes that make (some of) us feel guilty or resentful. But we must attempt to view and judge them from within the framework of a larger discipline of real thinking that does not allow our so-called "emotions" to rule.

Because if we reduce "human rights" to mean whatever makes a successful claim on victim status, whatever makes us feel guilty, we likely make victim status more and more desirable and create a positive need for it. Then, on the one hand, we may well become cynical towards any victim claim because we have become aware that it's a way to game the system (are we now to think people who look like gangsters have a right to eat in restaurants???) and are less able to identify genuine human rights victims. Or, on the other hand, we may become so enamored of victimary thinking that we fall in love with the heavy hand of the state (I'm taking you to the Human Rights Tribunal, you nasty business owner, you) as part of some Utopian dream of overcoming "victimization". This, of course, only has the unintended effect of creating a whole new kind of victim of the heavy-handed state. In Vancouver, it seems the povertarians and workplace victimologists are always looking for ways to use moral blackmail, a kind of extortion, on the business owners and taxpayers.

"Human Rights" needs to mean guaranteeing the freedom of any and all to access and play out their lives on our various public stages, when they agree to play by the rules that maximize freedom for all. To do this, we need to avoid giving some the power to manipulate the scenes that we "play" out (the more they are manipulated, the less free we are to play them out), by giving them the power to appeal to our guilt and resentment, which is ultimately an appeal to enforce a form of closure on our freedom. Those who think of human rights in terms of equality of outcome and not equal rights and opportunities under law, are people who will restrict all freedoms, because any freedom when exercised will have the effect of making differences among people. And social differences even when part of a rational economy that attempts to maximize wealth and exchange can make us feel guilty and resentful.

We should only care about keeping these differences in constant circulation and exchange, that people may have the chance to work their or their family's way out of a bad situation. We should not try to eliminate differences in some Utopia where no scene will make us feel guilty or resentful. Utopia can't be done, and the attempt only makes things worse. It creates a dependent class, people willing to play their part in "guilting" and blackmailing the successful. And no system can do that for long and remain free and successful.

Of course, for all I know, maybe the Downtown Ambassadors are doing something wrong in respect to the homeless and the addicts. It would be nice to have a real court of law with real rules of evidence where such claims could be played out. But in our victimary culture, I'm not likely to take the word of povertarians or the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal for it. And that's the problem. Civil suits with respect for our legacy of Common Law and torts don't seem to be in fashion among lawyers for "victims".

Nor can we be sure that the police understand "human rights" either.


Findalis said...

You actually have a Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users Society? What do they do all day?

Sometime I think that Canada has become a part of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland.

truepeers said...

No joke, findalis, but marijuana cultivation is our second largest industry in BC. And if the forest industry keeps declining, maybe one day it will be number one. No one knows for sure how big, but one sees estimates well on the way from five to ten billion in annual revenues. And there is very little talk of how that money affects us. It must corrupt us in all kinds of ways. I think the government probably doesn't want to work too hard at eliminating it.

And any big industry has to have its lobby...