The right to be let alone

Par Beryl Wajsman le 30 juillet 2013

“All civilized systems of law confer upon the people, as against their governments, the right to be let alone. That is the most comprehensive of rights and the most valued by civilized men.”

~ Justice Louis D. Brandeis

As we enter what we hope is a quiet period in Quebec’s political landscape, it is time to reflect on the turbulence we have gone through over the past eight months. Pastagate, Pastrygate, Spoongate and all the other “gates.” But what is the common thread that binds all these egregious violations of private prerogative? What was the most injurious prejudice to our social contract? It was the constant and unceasing violations of the central right of free people everywhere that Justice Brandeis declared in the quote above. The right of every individual to be let alone.

The lack of respect for this central tenet of liberal societies is at the heart of the sickness whose symptoms were once again in evidence through so much of the year. We must come to a point in Quebec where we decide once and for all what kind of a society we are going to be. 

Is our Quebec to be a reflection of our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects freedom of expression in article 2, makes sacrosanct our private domains in article 7, and guarantees no bias based on language in article 10, or is Quebec to be forever a society of snitches and inspectors with a citizenry constantly being scrutinized and supervised? This question is far more important than any debate about the ramifications of language laws. For this illness permeates our entire system of law and legislation that seems to be based on anonymous denunciators and state authorities prosecuting citizens without so much as basic respect for pillars of law that have been in place since Magna Carta. 

It is time for responsible and resolute voices in our public life, be they in elective office or in media, to put to rest once and for all the canard that a society can brook the slow undoing of natural rights simply for the maintenance of social peace or for the propagation of a system of government that is broken. Social peace cannot be established and perpetuated on bodyguards of lies, and it can never be legitimized when one of its organizing principles is the contraction of rights – to one extent or another - of all its citizens.

Quebec statism, throughout the public agenda, allows politicians to make political capital by playing to peoples insecurities and fears. It makes of them slaves and forces their complicity in their own self-abnegation. And it is not a matter merely of language. When a society institutionalizes command-state control in all social and judicial policies, all citizens feel helpless in the advancement of their own lives. 

Our laws have created a mindset that has allowed state fiat to dictate our lives in all manners and forms and government by elected representatives has been replaced by the “benign” dictatorship of the statocrats.

Perhaps the coarse, petty venality of what Quebecers have lived through the past eight months will finally sink in. Perhaps people will finally stand up and say enough to being homogenized, pasteurized and sanitized. Enough of inspectors telling us what to eat, where to smoke, how to walk, how to play the sports we love and in what language to live. 

A free society is about the freedom of the individual to choose. Even to choose badly. Especially yo choose badly. And it is about the open battleground of free ideas.

It has been heartening to hear these sentiments expressed over the past months not merely by non-francophones, but by a broad mass of francophone Quebecers as well. There have been almost as many cries of “Ca suffit!” as of “Enough is enough!”

Silence and inaction in the face of a system that does not work is nothing less than complicity in perpetuating the injustices of that system. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of the end of our submission to the snitches of the state and the irritants of the inspectors. Perhaps we are seeing a new stirring. A reassertion of the consequence of our individual sovereignty.

A sovereignty that no longer accepts state wrongs committed on the backs of other wrongs simply because society was silent on the first ones. That kind of society is one that runs between the raindrops, never daring to care, ruled by governors who can no longer tell right from wrong. Maybe we are turning our back on that. We can be better. 

We can bring to an end rule by innuendo, rumour and assassination by insinuation. We can bring to an end our current predicament where agents of the state weigh our every action, every communication, every contact; tamper with their intent and then use it to our individual detriment. We can bring to an end adherence to the most smug orthodoxies simply to avoid any governmental oversight or inquiry. We can learn to live without fear. We must learn to live with courage. For only with courage will we regain our right to be let alone.


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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