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Might not always right: size often does matter when it comes to securing rights, but little voices can shout too, and sometimes they're heard.

Minority groups don't necessarily role over and play dead when they feel their rights are infringed. Here are just a few of the battles being fought: they include forced retirement, children's rights, and religious disputes.

OLD BUT NOT OUT

In 2002, Ontario's Human Rights Commissioner said the government should ban forced retirement because it discriminates against people who are capable of working and who often need the money.

And the commissioner, Keith Norton, said he believes governments will come under increasing political pressure to protect those who want to continue working.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) thinks so too. It says, with 35 percent of those over 65 living in poverty, they often need to work to pay for daily living expenses. There are a few other good reasons to hang on to older employees, and even encourage them to stay beyond 65: the labour force is shrinking and they could help meet looming labour shortages; keeping "seniors" on staff would ease the growing financial pressures on our public pension and old age assistance plans; and, some experts say there's no evidence that age affects job performance. In fact, a case could be made that older workers are a valuable resource. And, fear that the old folks will be taking jobs from younger workers appears unfounded: a very small number of people actually do decide to delay retirement beyond age 65 and those who do stay on for only a short period of time. According to the Urban Futures Institute in British Columbia, between 1976 and 2000, the tendency for males in the 55 to 64 age group to retire increased by 66% and for females in the age group by 87%. Put another way, the average retirement age has dropped from 65 in 1976 to 61.2 in 2002.

A recent research paper prepared for Canada's Department of Justice concludes that the benefits of eliminating mandatory retirement are significant. Forced retirement, says the paper, can only be justified in occupations where aging employees would negatively affect efficient, economical, and safe job performance.

Many say retirement at 65 is an obsolete concept that was created when most people barely lived that long.

Now, more people are living longer, and the opportunity to work should be theirs. Otherwise, there could be a crisis by 2015, with a shortage of workers and an abundance of new retirees claiming Canada Pension Plan benefits.

The number of retirement-age Canadians is growing fast. In 1973, only seven percent of us were 65 or older. By 2003, about 13 percent fell into that age group, and by 2023, 20 percent of Canadians will be over 65.

It's been predicted that by 2030 about one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65. That's about 14 million people compared to 3.7 million seniors now.

While about 225,000 Canadians will retire in 2003, the number will increase to 265,000 by 2005, and, by 2020, 425,000 Canadians will retire every year. By the time the first baby boomers become senior citizens in 2011, the 80-plus crowd will have increased by 43 percent over 10 years, to 1.3 million people, according to Statistics Canada.

And, even now, there's no shortage of "seniors" in high-profile jobs. Prime Minister Jean Chretien is 69, and Paul Martin, who will be his successor, turned 65 in August 2003. Hazel McCallion, the long-time Mayor of Mississauga is 82. At 64, Paul Tellier took over the running of Bombardier, and Fred Telmer, 65, returned to the top job at Stelco.

On the creative front, at age 57, Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty. Agatha Christie wrote The Mousetrap, the world's longest running play, when she was 62. Laura Ingalls Wilder published little House in the Big Woods, the first of the eight-volume Little House on the Prairie series at age 65. Nikos Kazantzakis was 66 when he wrote Zorba the Greek. E.B. White wrote his classic The Trumpet of the Swan when he was 70. Grandma Moses decided to take painting seriously at age 78.

What's their secret? Some scientists say that attitude has as much influence on how we age as health and improved standards of living. Some researchers at Yale University found that negative thoughts about growing old may shorten life by 7.5 years. The study was published in 2002 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and involved 600 people aged 50 and older. It found that positive thoughts about aging extended life more than low blood pressure, low cholesterol, or a life free of smoking.

Some say now all we need is for society to take a more positive view of seniors too.

TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK

Moving to the other end of the age spectrum, 2001 saw a tussle between folks who think it's their religious duty to spank their children if they misbehave and those who say it's a violation of their human rights. That summer there were some startling pictures in Ontario newspapers of children being carried, against their will, from their home in Aylmer, Ontario. As members of the fundamentalist Church of God, their parents insisted it was their right to spank their children with a belt or a rod, believing the Bible instructs them to do so. The Children's Aid Society (CAS) thought otherwise, and removed the couple's seven children from their home, placing them in foster care. The pastor at the family's church said repeatedly that the children, aged six to 14, showed no signs of abuse.

The whole incident raised the broader issue of whether or not corporal punishment is an appropriate form of discipline. Church of God followers think it's okay. They quote Proverbs 13:24: "He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." In short, spare the rod and spoil the child. Opponents, even religious ones, say the Proverbs are merely symbolic, not to be taken literally. A lot of traditional bits of wisdom, they say, are expressions, not instructions: don't let the wool be pulled over your eyes, for example. In this context, the rod is a symbol of guidance, not punishment.

But, Church followers in Aylmer couldn't bring themselves to promise not to use corporal punishment. Fearful that their children might also be removed from their homes, about 100 women and children from the church fled to an affiliated church in Ohio.

The children who were taken away from their parents spent three weeks in foster care before they were allowed to return home. In a court case a year later, the CAS argued that the children need protection, but the parents said they were never at risk, and the only rights abused were theirs.

One observer, who doesn't support corporal punishment, defended the Church of God parents, saying they seem to be excellent parents in many other ways: they spend a great deal of time with their children, read to them, don't park them in front of the TV, make sure they get lots of fresh air, and shield them from pornography, secondhand smoke, junk food, and excessive materialism; they teach them modesty and manners.

Section 43 of the Criminal Code allows parents to discipline children by hitting them. The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth, and the Law challenged that law. The Foundation says that Section 43 "denies children equal protection under the law ... in an unjustifiable, stereotypical manner, based on the notion that it is good for kids." Lawyers for the Foundation argued that hitting, slapping, and spanking harms children's physical and emotional development, and that the vague wording of the law "allows too many cruel acts such as beatings with rulers, belts, and even horse harnesses."

In 2002, the Ontario Court of Appeal disagreed with that view. When the Foundation went to court in an attempt to strike down Section 43, the Court of Appeal rejected its arguments. The Court ruled that children are protected by criminal law and federal educational programs, as well as provincial child protection legislation. The presiding judge said that while each jurisdiction has its own definition of a child in need of protection, all definitions include physical abuse. He said that every province and territory, monitors the family and deals with issues of child protection as they arise, adding that many other countries deal with the issue in much the same way that Canada has. He also pointed out that no country in the world has criminalized all forms of physical punishment of children by parents. Instead, their approach is to develop educational and other social programs designed to change social attitudes, rather than to expand the reach of the criminal law.

The ruling marked the second time in as many years that an Ontario court rejected the foundation's claims that the law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court said: "The section permits limited physical punishment of the child by a limited class of people without the punishment being a criminal assault. (It) carefully defines the limits that must be observed if those actions are to escape criminal sanction."

In dismissing the Foundation's appeal, the court of appeal said the question is not whether a parent using reasonable force on a child for corrective purposes is a good or a bad thing. The question is whether Parliament's decision not to criminalize that conduct violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a 3-0 decision, the justices ruled it does not.

Next, the Foundation took the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada in June 2003. There, the anti-spanking group met with more vigorous opposition from judges who pointed out the law guarantees immunity for reasonable discipline, not for child abuse: striking down Section 43 could make parents liable to criminal charges for every smack on the bum, they argued. The court reserved judgement in the case and, at the time of writing, no date had been set for a decision.

MINORITIES WITHIN A MINORITY GROUP

The Ponderosa Hutterite colony in Alberta has shunned a family of long-standing members. The reason for severing contact with the family is that they sought help from the Canadian legal system in settling an internal dispute, which is frowned upon in Hutterite culture. The colony maintains that the Waldner family were shunned because they failed to comply with the teachings, beliefs, and rules of their group. Seven members of the family went to court charging that they were improperly expelled, and that they should be reinstated, or awarded damages of $500,000 each.

Hutterites five a simple, agricultural, communal lifestyle. Everything in the colony is owned by everyone, and money earned from different businesses belongs to everyone. Furthermore, any method of earning personal spending money is frowned upon and greatly discouraged. Criticism of how the colony is operated may result in harsh treatment by the community. All this helps the colonies remain separate from the outside world and eliminates the greed they feel comes from owning private property.

But, being an outcast in such a society is devastating. The Waldner family members who decided to leave in 2001, said they were victims of threats, harassment, and a poisonous living environment.

Dozens of people left the colony over the dispute, but the Waldner elders are determined to stay. They are both near retirement, have only a Grade 8 education, few skills, and no savings because they were born into the Hutterite system. In January 2003, the Alberta Court ordered the colony to reinstate Mr. Waldner and allow him to stay in the community until the trial was over (which could take years). The Court ruled that he and his family were not given a proper hearing, and were deprived of the lifetime social welfare system the colony typically provides.

There are about 295 Hutterite colonies in Canada. Of the roughly 28,000 people in the colonies, most live in the Prairie Provinces--nearly 14,000 in Alberta, about 9,000 in Manitoba, and about 5,000 in Saskatchewan. As pacifists, war often led to their many migrations (originally from southern Austria and northern Italy), and they started to settle in Canada in the early 1900s. While Hutterite colonies offer little of the freedom that most of us are used to, they generally provide lifetime security to their members.

THE RIGHT TO SPREAD THE WORD

A Toronto law professor said in 2002 that laws limiting freedom of expression may appear to be neutral, but often they are used to target minorities. Kent Roach at the University of Toronto was commenting on the case of an Ohio village with a by-law that restricted the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses to canvass neighbourhoods door-to-door.

Opponents in the village of Stratton said the practice invaded their privacy. The Witnesses saw the by-law as an attack on their freedom of expression. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the side of the Witnesses and supporters said that was a good thing for freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. The court struck down the law by a vote of 8 to 1, reasoning that the right to free speech includes the entitlement to take a message directly to someone's door. People have the right not to listen or to close their doors, but it's not up to the government to decide who knocks on doors. The ruling was cause for celebration for the Witnesses: it was their 48th Supreme Court victory in the U.S. As one supporter observed: "Remember this: If the government can restrict the freedom of one faith, it has the power to restrict the freedom of any faith--or all faiths."

A similar by-law restricting door-to-door preaching by Jehovah's Witnesses existed in the small Quebec town of Blainville. It was struck down in April 2001 by a Superior Court judge who also said it was a violation of basic freedoms. The Court ruled that the group's activities are protected by both the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights. But, the citizens of Blainville went to court again in June 2003 claiming the Witnesses' activities should be restricted: once again their appeal was rejected, with the by-law described as "a serious infringement on religious freedom."

Almost 50 years earlier, in 1953, the Supreme Court ruled that Quebec City could not penalize a Witness for handing out literature on the street, which set a precedent protecting public preaching.

There are one million Jehovah's Witnesses in the U.S. and about 180,000 in Canada.

Another source of conflict for their followers is their belief that blood transfusions are against God's wishes. This was the centre of a battle in Calgary, Alberta in February 2002. The provincial government ruled that Bethany Hughes, a 16-year-old Jehovah's Witnesses girl with leukemia, had to continue to have life-saving blood transfusions forced upon her. The judge in the case said, "If she doesn't have the treatment, she will suffer irreparable harm. I acknowledge there is a harm to religious beliefs, but that has to be balanced with the right to life." The girl's lawyer said forcing her to have the transfusions against her will amounted to "an assault."

Ms. Hughes struggled with staff during the dozens of transfusions that were administered to her in Calgary. After four months of treatments, cancerous lesions appeared on her back and doctors said it was unlikely she would survive. She died in September 2002.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES:

1. There's a debate about whether seniors should be allowed to drive, as we occasionally read tragic news stories about elderly drivers causing fatal accidents. About 70 percent of people in Canada age 55 and over have a driver's licence, and, on a per-kilometre basis, they have about the same number of accidents as newly licensed drivers in the 16- to 24-year-old age group, according to one report. Some say seniors should only drive under certain conditions: in daylight, for example, or in familiar neighbourhoods to improve road safety. Others take the more extreme view that there should be an age limit for licensing drivers. But, opponents argue that conditions vary among individuals because some 80-year-olds are more fit than others in their 50s. Discuss how you think the issue should be handled.

2. Have a class discussion on the following: What distinguishes discipline from abuse. How would you raise your own children? What are some of the pros and cons of physical and nonphysical forms of discipline?

3. A recent poll, citing Blainville, Quebec's desire for Jehovah's Witnesses to pay for a permit that would limit their right to seek converts, asked: Should door-to-door missionaries get a licence before they come knocking at your door? Seventy-three percent (12,479 votes) of respondents said yes, 27 percent (4,675) voted no. What do you think?

4. Do a report on the daily lives of Hutterites, and discuss the pros and cons of their lifestyle.

5. Everyone knows that education budgets have been cut. That's one reason there was such a ruckus over the Ontario government's decision to fund (through tax credits) religiously based private schools in 2001. At the time, political science professor Anne Bayefsky said funding all religious schools in the province on an equal basis with Roman Catholic schools (which have public funding) is the only way to make the system fair. Not to do so, she said, violates international human rights law: she cited the UN Human Rights Committee which declared in November 1999: "[If] a State ... chooses to provide funding to religious schools, it should make this funding available without discrimination." She also argued that where religious schools are funded in other provinces, no religion is excluded. But Rick Moffitt at the Elementary Teachers' Federation in the province's Waterloo Region was furious: he said by funding private schools through tax credits the government creates a two-tier education system. "At a time when this government has cut all funding for design and technology, family studies, guidance for kindergarten through Grade 6 students, and reduced the teacher-librarian ranks to 30 percent of what they were five years (earlier), it has found $300 million for private schools," he writes. He also noted 50 percent cuts in support for music and visual arts programs, and no increase in funding to account for inflation and increased enrolment, over the previous five years. Debate this issue in class.

COURT NOTES

In dismissing claims that corporal punishment should be outlawed, the Ontario Court of Appeal noted that social scientists agree this method of discipline should be strictly limited in several areas:

* Hitting a child under two is considered wrong and harmful: with such young children, even mild spanking has no value and can destroy a child's sense of security and self-esteem, essential components of a healthy, nurturing environment. A child under two will not understand why he or she is being hit. (A spanking was defined as "one or two mild to moderate 'smacks' with an open hand, on the buttocks or extremities which does not cause physical harm.");

* Corporal punishment of teenagers is not helpful and is potentially harmful. There is agreement that it achieves only short-term compliance and carries with it the danger of alienation from society, along with aggressive or otherwise anti-social behaviour;

* Use of objects such as belts, rulers, etc., is potentially harmful both physically and emotionally and should not be tolerated:

* A slap or blow to the head is a totally unacceptable form of punishment:

* Corporal punishment that causes injury is child abuse.

FACT FILE

In April 2001, a Quebec Superior Court justice ruled that to lump the Jehovah's Witnesses in with peddlers was "insulting, degrading, hurtful, and defamatory."

Websites

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons--http:// www.50plus.com/carp/ about/main.cfm

The Child Rights Information Network--http://www.crin. org

The Hutterian Brethren--http://www.hutterites.org/

Jehovah's Witnesses--http:// www.watchtower.org/
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Title Annotation:Minorities--Grab Bag
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2003
Words:3302
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