On our Duty to Oppose Unjust Laws
(a note on civil disobedience)
To Oscar Lacombe, veteran of the Korean war, who dared say:
«No !»

We all know the tragic fate reserved to dissidents by dictatorships but, nevertheless, few people would dispute our duty to fight against laws of racial discrimination for instance, in particular those introduced by the Nazis against Jews from 1933 (1). And yet, in our so-called liberal democracies, obedience to any law, even the silliest and contrary to common sense and individual freedoms, is regarded as a virtue. We are conditioned to obey laws, which we must accept as perfect until they are invalidated by a judge, amended or repealed by the party in power. We thus encourage a mentality of submission instead of having free and responsible people look after themselves.

In that sense, democracies imitate dictatorships so far as they forbid individuals to follow their conscience. Moreover, no State will allow individuals to vote directly on its laws, as they can vote with their feet, since this would undermine the basis of its existence. This is dangerous and this is why we should be vigilant, especially when we see legislations piling up.

The Dangers of Majority Rule

Our parliamentary regimes are based on the power (theoretical) of the majority which, through elected representatives who legislate, imposes its will on minorities. These may oppose legislations so long as they follow established rules: they must obey existing laws until they obtain a majority of representatives to change or repeal them. In as much as individual rights and freedoms are recognised in a constitutional law the legislative process is therefore constrained. This is the theory.

In practice, we all know that this regime is far from being the best of all worlds. At present, political parties in Quebec are putting the emphasis on the reform of the electoral system whereas majorities are often created artificially (by the lack of information for instance). Undoubtedly, the most significant problem is that individual rights and freedoms depend on what the majority or pressure groups having the most political influence feel is in the public interest. This is allowed by section 1 of the Canadian Charter which states that rights may be restricted within reasonable limits and whose justification can be demonstrated within the framework of a free and democratic society.

Judges must therefore decide on the limits of what is «reasonable» and rule on a justification that is usually of a political nature and a pretext to restrict rights. This is asking quite a lot to the judges of the Supreme Court although their task is probably made easier given that they are named, here in Canada, unilaterally by the Prime Minister.

This situation is all the more problematic since the so-called collective rights have precedence over individual rights. This propensity to subject individual rights to abstract collective rights to satisfy the aims of pressure groups is the starting point of the worst totalitarianism; very often, advocates of the so-called common good equate their own special interests to the interests of all, with the force of laws and police to enforce them.

We have thus a State (more precisely a political, administrative et police apparatus) who wants to know everything, who wants to be everywhere, ready to sacrifice the rights of individuals to please some of them, and who legislates for that purpose.

Civil Disobedience

Must we disobey laws that we consider unjust, and how? This is discussed by Pierre Lemieux in Civil and Uncivil Disobedience, reproduced at http://www.pierrelemieux.org/artho.html, where he distinguishes a disobedience arising from an antisocial behaviour from one which would respond to moral imperatives and the respect of freedom. In a more recent article («Calling a Tyrant a Tyrant», The Laissez Faire Economic Times), he writes that we cannot afford to wait until the State is a 100% tyrant to call it by its name, because at that time it would be too late. It is more advisable to denounce the 40% of tyranny that we have, right now, rather than wait until the tyrant forbids us from saying anything.

Mohandas Gandhi (nicknamed Mahatma, the great soul) is probably the best known resistant although he advocated a non violent disobedience motivated by Indian nationalism against British rule. There are precursors in the Antiquity but the one who most defended disobedience in the name of individual rights is certainly the American essayist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) who, in an essay entitled «Civil Disobedience» (1849), writes that when laws are in opposition to our conscience, then we must obey our conscience. He asked for the respect of the right more than laws («it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, as much as for the right»). In other words, justice is more important than obedience to laws, when these are contrary to justice.

If violent disobedience is to be proscribed in a country where there is still a tradition of respect of individual rights, of freedom of speech and a political freedom, it remains that civil disobedience, non violent, is the most effective means of persuasion when the majority (real or created artificially by the party in power, and often motivated by subjective and totalitarian objectives) restricts individual rights and those of minorities. «Most modern philosophers consider civil disobedience a justified method of persuasion when majority rule ignores the valid concerns of a minority» (2)

The vexations of a consumer of pizzas, in a future Quebec where the production of pizzas has been nationalised for the collective good, are told with humour by Jasmin Guénette (Québec 2012: petit conte libertarien, Québécois Libre No. 116). This is however very actual in other fields, of which public health and firearm legislation.

The Firearms Legislation

December 31, 2002 was the deadline to register (or manifest an intent to register) all firearms, except for the Inuits of Nunavut (supported by their government) who benefited on December 10 of an injunction from a Nunavut judge to postpone the enforcement of two sections of the Firearms Act. Opposition from firearm owners expressed itself until (and after) the deadline, obstructing CFC's communications.

On the 1st of January, the Canadian Unregistered Firearm Owners Association (http://www.cufoa.ca) had organised a demonstration in Ottawa gathering approximately 250 opponents to the Firearms Act. At noon, Ms Claire Joly read in French our declaration of disobedience, followed by Mr Jim Turnbull, the president of CUFOA, who read it in English. Then we burned the Firearms Act, firearms licences and registration certificates. On a sliding scale of disobedience, Jim Turnbull convened all of us to exchange an unregistered firearm (an offence, according to the Criminal Code).

In fact, the so-called firearm was only the receiver of a rifle: without the bolt, the cannon, the trigger. In other words, without all the components necessary to shoot! Therefore, a receiver is totally harmless but according to section 2 of the Criminal Code, this is a... firearm.

We thus exchanged this firearm ("we", including the undersigned), surrounded by reporters who understood very well that there was no danger or wrongful intent "against public peace" (sec. 88 of the Criminal Code). At that time, the police rushed in, armed with its semi auto pistols (not... water pistols), and proceeded to the arrest of Jim Turnbull and, later, to Ed Hudson, CUFOA's secretary. The charge: bearing a firearm at a public meeting (sec. 89 of the Criminal Code).

All could see this ridiculous scene on t-v or in the press, worthy of Justice Minister Martin Cauchon who continues to defend the registry and the Firearms Act despite the opposition of firearm owners and eight out of ten provinces who are asking for suspension of the registry.

This demonstration was a legitimate example of resistance not causing any wrong to others and openly defying a silly law not targeting real criminals (police and politicians are more tolerant with other types of demonstrations).

Coming Back to Quebec Politics

Prince Edward Island (pop. 140 000) and the Parti québécois government remain the only ones defending blindly the firearms legislation although it is useless and costly.

On January 8, in what was probably one of his last swan-lake songs before the next provincial elections, the Quebec minister of Police, Murders, Rapes and Thefts, Mr Serge Ménard, jumped to the defence of the registry. He acknowledged that his government knew about the rising costs of Bill C-68 (but he never told about it). Following Martin Cauchon and the antigun lobby, the Quebec minister argued we should not abandon the registry after having spent so much on it (a known tune). It goes without saying, he concluded, that a modern State (sic) must register firearms like we register automobiles, bicycles, cats and dogs, etc. Either this minister takes all of us for idiots or he does not know anything about Part III of the Criminal Code (see my article on the subject in Le Québécois Libre No 116).

And what about the silence of the two opposition parties in the Quebec National Assembly?

When he was leader of the federal Conservative Party, Mr Jean Charest made a few statements against Bill C-68. Here are excerpts from the Fed Up Canada Web site: «Charest also promised to kill Bill C-68, the Liberal gun control legislation, replacing it with a practical and realistic law» (3). «Charest said there is no evidence forcing law-abiding gun owners to take part in a costly, bureaucratic registry will fight crime. "We would put a stronger focus on prevention", he said, promising to toughen penalties for those who use guns in the commission of crimes.» (4).

Here are a few questions that the two opposition parties could ask Prime Minister (outgoing) Bernard Landry: 1. What was the cost (with and without federal transfers) assumed by Quebec for the administration of the firearms legislation since 1995? 2. Will the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec's provincial police) proceed, after the 1st July 2003, to the arrest of all those who did not register at the end of 2002 (or did not express a written intent to register before the 1st of July 2003)? (If you think this a difficult question, you are right and we can't imagine how the police will enforce this!) But the answer is positive, i.e. those who did not register, for one reason or another, are from now on criminals and the police will enforce the law, although it will not proceed (but some might be willing to) to an extensive search in all homes! 3. Could the Minister tell us if the Firearms Act had a positive impact on the homicide rate, on retailers, gunsmiths, shooting clubs and hunting?

Yvon Dionne
January 2003

Notes :
1. Hitler was named Chancellor in January 1933. Our well-fed and influential Left (who has a special status in many government departments and most medias) will not be forgotten: this year is the 70th anniversary of the great famine in the USSR (a direct result -- millions of deaths -- of government intervention) and the 50th of the death of one of its spiritual leaders, Uncle Joe.  >>
2. «Making the Case for Civil Disobedience in Canada», Canadian Unregistered Firearm Owners Association.  >>
3. See Fed Up Canada, 4 May 1997.  >>
4. Fed Up Canada, 21 May 1997.  >>

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