Democracy and Diversity

"To believe in rights is to believe in defending difference."
Michael Ignatieff

A central premise underlying democracy is the belief that people are different. After all, why would democratic states need to make sure that individuals had rights like freedom of speech or religion if all people thought and acted in the same way. A well known Canadian author recently wrote, "To believe in rights is to believe in defending difference." (View in Russian) Elections would also be unnecessary as there would be no political differences to decide among.

All democratic states take some steps to ensure that people are allowed, even encouraged, to be different. In many cases they have provisions in their constitution or basic law which protect people's right to believe and act in different ways. Some governments also provide support to groups and institutions, like schools, media outlets, and arts organizations, which help people maintain their distinctive beliefs and practices.

At the same time that democratic governments recognize and protect people's right to be different they also recognize that in order to have a workable society the people in it must adhere to some common beliefs and practices. The system of law in a country, for example, is really a statement of what is and is not acceptable practice. The law is not a fixed and static thing, however, it changes everyday as legislators at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels make new laws or reform old ones. Laws also change when courts rule they are unconstitutional - that is they violate the principles set out in the Canadian Constitution.

Sub-Sections: In every democracy debates go on about what the common values and practices of the society should be and, the flip side of that, how much difference or diversity is appropriate. The purpose of this section is to involve you in the debate about those questions as it applies to Canadian society. What are common Canadian values? What should they be? Are there limits to what people can do to express their political, social or cultural differences? Who should decide what those limits are? The scenarios and activities in this section are designed to provide an opportunity for you to explore these questions and join the discussion about diversity in Canadian society.


Home Search Site Map

Copyright © 2000-2004 All Rights Reserved
Last Updated: 29-Mar-2004