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Posted on July 27th, 2012, by

Canada’s Rights Revolution by Clement Dominique is an enthusiastic book on the history of Canadian civil liberty and human rights over the period of 1937 1982. It bristles with a great number of main issues on social movements, such as the differences of generations among agitators, ideological misunderstanding, and the opposition to initiate national bodies. The most captivating part is its critical understanding of the role of federal government in Canada. The early chapters of this work show the ideas that build the rest of the analysis. It includes negative vs. positive rights, civil liberty vs. human rights advocacy and generational movements between primary campaigns in search of antidiscrimination for certain groups vs. later groups struggling for the absolute legal forms of individual, social and cultural rights. Clement Dominique questions that early generations of rights agitators encounter an exhausting struggle against the state of Canada, which characterized many as radicals or communists and finally put down their organizations. The government did not want to banish the supremacy of Parliament in defense of the Canadian rights, which consequently brought about severe divisions with the movement between left and liberal politicians.

The history of Canada’s generation rights movement began soon after the First World War, based on the most important events in Canadian history [Dominique]. Clement considers that early generations of rights agitators had to deal with a struggle against Canada, which labeled many of them as radicals and communists and consequently persecuted their organizations. The government did not want to surrender Parliamentary supremacy in defending the civil rights of Canadian citizens, which originated the movement between left and liberal parties. The book also argues that advocates managed to gain rights legislation that defended civil and political freedoms. In such a way, early rights agitators were in favor of civil liberties.

Human rights activism did not fully appear until 1960s and 1970s. It closely concerned the emergence of new organizations and a younger generation of activists. They were trying to protect group rights, but not only the rights of individuals. They wanted to protect language together with social and cultural minorities. They had new institutional forums open to advocacy, such as the courts [Dominique].

Clement makes a conclusion that Canada had a real rights revolution during that period. It led to numerous using of the courts to protect group and individual rights. Nevertheless, Clement also points out that at that time Canadians failed to build a truly national movement. The book also gives a profound overview of several cases, which will be discussed and analyzed in detail. These are British Columbia, Quebek, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador. The book remains a proper introduction of civil liberties, human rights advocacy and important social movements. The author attempts to show that the state aimed at the protection of basic human rights and liberties of Canadians:

Any association whose professed purpose is to bring about any governmental, industrial or economic change within Canada by use of force, violence or physical injury to person or property, or by threats of such injury, or which teaches, advocates, advises or defends the use of force, violence, terrorism, or physical injury to person or property in order to accomplish such change, or for any other purpose, or which shall by any means persecute or pursue such purpose or shall so teach, advocate, advise or defend, shall be an unlawful association [Dominique].

In such a way, the author reveals the fact that the Canadian authorities and legislator did introduce changes which enlarged and protected fundamental democratic rights of Canadians. On the other hand, the author argues that the Canadian authorities tended to the oppression of leftist movements and ideas, but the aforementioned social initiatives and the protection of human rights and liberties, to a significant extent, met the goals set by leftist movements. In other words, the book contains certain contradictions because, on the one hand, the author states that the authorities oppressed leftist ideas and movement, while, on the other hand, he shows that the Government conducted policies which grew more and more socially oriented. Therefore, the author contradicts to himself because Canadian Government simultaneously oppressed leftist movements and implements at least some of leftist ideas. In addition, it is important to stress the fact that since the 1930s, the concept of the welfare state became a strategically important concept that defined the development of Canada in the mid-20th century.

At the same time, the book investigates the fact that several prosecutions appeared in 1936, the most widely known for being the trials of all members of the Communist Party of Canada in 1931 [Dominique]. In such a way, the author provides examples of the prosecution and oppression of leftist movements. However, he fails to explain adequately motives of the Canadian authority which oppressed leftist movements. In this regard, the Canadian authorities oppressed leftist movements not only because of their ideological hostility to Canadian democracy and capitalism. As the matter of fact, the author ignores the fact that leftist movements were radical movements and their overall goal was the social revolution. This means that leftist movements did aimed at the change of the existing social order, socioeconomic and political system. Obviously, it was a threat to Canada as a democratic and independent state. In such a context, the oppression and ban of leftist movements in Canada may be justified, but Clement prefers avoid justification of oppression of leftist movements. Instead, he concentrates entirely on the criticism of policies conducted by the Canadian authorities.

At this point, it is possible to speak about certain gaps in the research conducted by the author. What is meant here is the fact that the author underestimates the potential threat of the emergence of leftist movements in Canada in the 1930s, especially on the eve of World War II. In this regard, the attention of the author to the prejudiced attitude of the authorities to leftist movement is quite logical because the authorities attempted to protect democratic rights and values and oppressed political rights of supporters of leftist movements. At the same time, the author does not research potential threats which leftist movements could bring to Canada, especially before and during World War II. Obviously, radical leftist movement could destabilize the situation in Canadian society, while internal political and socioeconomic problems could lead Canada to the failure and loss in World War II. It proves beyond a doubt that consequences of the loss of Canada in World War II could be disastrous, while the rise in power of leftist movements could lead to even more disastrous outcomes. For instance, it is possible to refer to the example of Eastern Europe and countries that became a part of the Soviet Bloc. In such a context, regardless of the position of Clement, the policies in relation to leftist movements conducted by Canadian Government can be justified for they could avert the threat to the democracy and social order in Canada. Probably, Clement stands on a biased position in relation to state policies which did not meet traditional democratic norms and standards, but it is obvious that the author overestimated the negative effects of such policies and underestimates threats such policies have prevented.

The similar trend can be traced in other historically important events and periods described by Clement in his book. To put it more precisely, Clement’s views are often superficial and biased and, therefore, issues raised by Clement in his book need further, in-depth research, while the book definitely fails to research these issues objectively. For instance, Clement explores the period of the 1960s in detail and points out that it was portrayed by the remaining de-colonization of former colonial lands of European major forces. New governments appeared in former British colonies beginning with colonies in Africa. By 1966 Europe’s status of a colonial force had practically disappeared. The process of de-colonization was not at all simple. Clement does not give a clear overview of the European status during decolonization, but he emphasizes that in 1960s Eisenhower created the first Civil Rights Act at the time when his presidency was almost over. In such a way, Clement is focused on North America and he views the development of Canada in the context of the development of North America paying little attention to the development of Europe and European politics.

At any rate, he apparently underestimates the impact of European policies on the development of Canada. For instance, he has under-researched the process of decolonization conducted by European states, including the UK, but he lays emphasis on the Civil Rights Act. However, from the historical point of view, decolonization was not less significant than the Civil Rights Act. What is meant here is the fact that decolonization guaranteed the sovereignty of Canadian as well as other nations which used to be colonies of European states. In such a way, they got the right and possibility to develop as independent states and define their own future regardless of European countries. However, Clement underestimates the significance of decolonization for, instead of in-depth analysis of this process he prefers to focus on the Civil Rights Act and its effects on the US as well as Canadian society. At this point, it is possible to estimate that Clement’s standpoint is America-centered. Consequently, his arguments and his research cannot be absolutely objective. In stark contrast, it is quite biased and under-researched. At any rate, it is impossible to view the historical development of Canada and Canadian society ignoring the historical context and the world’s development in that time. In fact, his research would be more reliable and objective, if he had managed to overcome national boundaries and views the development of Canada, Canadian society and Civil Rights and social movements in the context of global trends.

At the same time, Clement attempts to enlarge the scope of his research focusing on different groups and their struggle for human rights and liberties. For instance, Clement discusses the position of feminist organization during the period of social unrest. In such a way, he shows that the Civil Rights movement affected different groups of Canadian society, including women. The latter is particularly important because women were traditionally oppressed by men and they played secondary role in Canadian society. The attention of the author to the emergence of the feminist movement may be viewed as a strong point of the book. Thus, he attempts to show the extent to which the scope of his research is large. Nevertheless, even the focus on the development of feminism in Canada did not prevent substantial drawbacks of his research which have been already mentioned above.

In such a way we can see that Clemet Dominique wrote about such key events in Canadian history as the Gouzenko Affair, development of human rights in Canada and throughout the USA. Moreover, he showed a unique perspective of the most famous human rights disputes in history. However, Clement’s research seems to be fragmentary, while some of his arguments and ideas are quite controversial. For instance, he criticizes the government for the oppression and elimination of leftist movements, but he supports the governmental initiatives which actually led to the implementation of some leftist ideas. At the same time, the welfare state became the major concept that defined the development of Canada in the mid-20th century and this concept incorporated many leftist ideas, but Clement remains indifferent to this concept. Also, the author underestimates and under-researches the process of decolonization and the impact of European politics on Canada. Instead, he focuses on the impact of the US politics on Canada. As a result, his research turns out to be a bit overlapped and shift toward American-centrism. In other words, he views the development of Canada and civil and social movements in a relatively narrow historical context, ignoring processes which influenced substantially the development of Canada in the 20th century.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the book of Clement Dominique cannot be considered a profound overview of all the events during 1937-1982, as in many ways it represents a brief introduction to the important social movements during the period of social unrest. And most events in the book are not described in detail. Nevertheless, it remains a vigorous writing that is to be studied in detail so as to understand the order and the significance of numerous historic events that took place in Canada. The book deals with various aspects of rights revolution, even though it is created to emphasize the activities of various non-governmental organizations. Clement examines the influence of such events as baby-boom generation and ideologies of rights on social movements. The book also specifies a lot of human rights controversies in the history of the Canadian state, national security and welfare regulations, education and others. It also briefly explains the impact of women’s movement on the course of history. At the same time, Clement’s book conveys basic, historically important events that occurred in Canada and which influenced Canadian society, but he fails to conduct objective, unbiased research.

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