Anti-family chickens come home to roost (National Post June 25, 2008)


Barbara Kay, National Post 

Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canada Day, traditionally cherished as quality time for families, is almost upon us. Yet what more ironic reminder of the demise of the traditional Canadian family could we have dreamed up than this Boston Legal-worthy scenario:

A divorced, custodial Quebec father cuts off the Internet privileges of his 12-year-old daughter for accessing forbidden Web sites. Daughter uses friend's computer to post indecent pictures of herself on the Web. As punishment, father grounds her from a school excursion.

Daughter and mother conspire with a sympathetic lawyer. Daughter sues father. A Superior Court judge rules father's punishment is too harsh. Father rethinks his custodianship.

Public recoil from the court's appropriation of what most Canadians recognize as a private family dispute was swift and intense. As the Post's Saturday editorial noted: "The courts have no business -- none -- in such routine family matters. This ruling is so profoundly intrusive we can only hope the Quebec appeals court strikes it down, and quickly."

Well, it may and it may not. Thanks to the Charter of Rights, our judiciary has come to assume that all personal behaviours are legally examinable, with alternate behaviours liable to enforcement at the court's pleasure, and so -- under the guise of the child's "right" to a peer social ritual -- an appeals court validation is not unthinkable.

As for the Supremes, should it get that far, who can say nowadays? Perhaps they would decide it is "fundamental justice" for a 12-year-old to exercise autonomy over her body's public representation, or that posting salacious pictures of herself "does no harm" or that since no individual liberties are guaranteed without the court's approval -- including the right to discipline one's own child -- the court's personal values, read into some or

other fuzzy Charter sentiment, may supersede the biological parent's wishes in response to any trivially aggrieved child.

That neither the lawyer nor the judge immediately dismissed the suit as frivolous is a perfect example of anti-family ideological chickens coming home to roost.

By coincidence, just as I was doing a slow burn over that story's implications, I happened to be reading a chapter called "Restoring the Pro-Family State" in a newly-published book, Oh, Oh, Canada! A Voice from the Conservative Resistance. The author, William Gairdner, gave eloquent voice to my indignation.

When the family is perceived to be the core unit of society, as it used to be, he notes, its value to society, including the judiciary, is greater than the sum of its parts. But today, Gairdner says, "[W]e all now take it as an article of faith that the parts are all there is." The end result of this belief is the "atomization" of society -- and in particular the breakdown of the "molecule" of the traditional family -- through judgment after judgment that, like the one above, "weaken[s] the grip of the family?by dissolving [its] unique values and prestige?"

Oh, Oh, Canada! is therefore my 2008 pick for Canada-themed reading over the holiday. It's short (195 pages), reader-friendly and, since it is a collection of brief essays, tidily grouped by general topic -- values, gender wars, family, politics, law -- easily surfed in a hammock, rowboat or garden.

This is Gairdner's seventh book. All promote a conservative approach to policy as the optimal foundation for a healthy, just and civil society. His 1990 book, The Trouble with Canada, was a national best-seller.

Gairdner is a former Olympic athlete (decathlon, Tokyo 1964) and a PhD in English literature, an interesting and unusual combination that explains a disciplined but combative prose informed by a breezy familiarity with Western intellectual history.

I was quite taken, for example, with his coolly contemptuous assessment of Pierre Trudeau's starry-eyed deference to the philosopher Rousseau in the making of the Charter, in particular Rousseau's tremendously French idea of the unitary "General Will" (Rousseau advocated the death penalty for all who opposed it), and the significant departure for Canada this represented from "the glories of the English tradition."

Predictably, Oh, Oh, Canada! was self-published after numerous rejections by mainstream publishers. Gairdner's trenchant views on the judiciary -- not to mention on gay marriage, abortion, and women in combat -- are persuasive to sympathetic readers like me, but out of sync with the cultural zeitgeist. I nevertheless recommend it to all open-minded readers as a useful primer on the weaknesses at the heart of the policies that have been shaping Canada's character for a generation.

bkay@videotron.ca