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What are your rights?

Date: 
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rights. Freedoms. Authority. Control. Responsibility. Those are big and important words. We do not think about them often enough. That is a mistake..

WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?

by David A. Tomlinson

Rights. Freedoms. Authority. Control. Responsibility. Those are big and important words. We do not think about them often enough. That is a mistake.

Most people have very imperfect knowledge of what their rights are, and that is a pity. There are only eight of them, so learning them is easy. Imperfect knowledge allows other people to abuse them and their families, and they do not protest when their rights are violated. That is dangerous. It is only by knowing and protecting their rights that they can continue to enjoy them.

There is a continuing battle between the citizens and the government in every country: the governments want to control the citizens, but the citizens want rights--and the freedoms granted to them by those rights.

No one--citizen or government official--wants responsibility, but there is an old and very true rule. If the authority and the responsibility are in the same hands, a system may work--but if those two are in different hands, it can never work. Few people know that rule. Even fewer realize that it is an absolute necessity for successful government. If Henry is responsible for what Charles does, nothing works well.

The best available source of knowledge about your rights is Sir William Blackstone, who wrote his "Commentaries" in the middle of the 18th century. That book is still the standard reference work on British common law and the British constitution. What follows is an abridged version of Book One, Chapter One of that work--"Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals." Notice that he used "Individuals" in his title, and not "Men"--in the 18th century. Sir William, below, uses the male, conventionally, to include the female.

By the absolute rights of individuals, we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. The principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights.

Law is a rule of civil conduct, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong. Hence, it follows that the first and primary aim of law is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals.

The rights themselves consist in a number of private immunities, formerly, either by inheritance or purchase, the rights of all mankind; but in most countries of the world now more or less debased and destroyed.

These may be reduced to three principal or primary articles: the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property. There is no other known method of compulsion, or of abridging man's natural free will, but by the infringement or diminution of one or other of these important rights. The preservation of these, inviolate, may justly be said to include the preservation of our civil immunities in their largest and most extensive sense.

The right of personal security consists in a person's legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health and his reputation.

DAT: Note that the above right is also protection against libel and slander.

Next to personal security, the law regards, asserts and preserves the personal liberty of individuals. This personal liberty consists in the power of changing situation, or moving one's person to whatsoever place one's own inclination may direct, without imprisonment of restraint.

The third absolute right is that of property, which consists in the free use, enjoyment and disposal of all his acquisitions, without any control or diminution, save only by the laws of the land.

DAT: So these three primary rights protect you from being physically harmed, negligently given a disease, libeled, or slandered; from being imprisoned, chained to a rock, or forbidden to move to Moose Jaw; and from having your property stolen, damaged, destroyed, moved, or painted without your permission. They protect you against threats, too, so as long as you enjoy them no one can pressure you by threatening you.

In the three preceding articles, we have taken a short view of the principal rights which appertain to every man. But in vain would these rights be declared and protected by the dead letter of the laws, if the constitution had provided no other method to secure their actual enjoyment. It has, therefore, established certain other auxiliary rights, to protect and maintain the three great and primary rights. These are:

The constitution, powers and privileges of Parliament.


The limitation of the King's prerogative.

DAT: In today's world, the King's prerogative belongs to the Prime Minister. The King's prerogative includes foreign affairs, so decisions of that type do not to go through Parliament. That is why, for example, a decision to send troops to Afghanistan does not require a vote in Parliament. Much earlier, the King's prerogative included nearly everything--you may have heard of "the divine right of Kings," which meant that the King was a boss appointed by God and exercising the power of God over his subjects.

A right of applying to the courts of justice for redress of injuries. Since the law is the supreme arbiter of every man's life, liberty, and property, the courts of justice must at all times be open and the law be duly administered therein. Justice is directed to be done according to the law of the land, and what that law is, every subject knows, or may know if he pleases; for it depends not on the arbitrary will of any judge, but is permanent, fixed, and unchangeable, unless by authority of Parliament.

If there should happen any uncommon injury, or infringement of the rights before-mentioned, which the ordinary course of the law is too defective to reach, there still remains a fourth right, appertaining to every individual, namely the right of petitioning the King or either House of Parliament for redress of grievances.

The fifth and last right is that of having arms for defence; allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient.

In these several articles consist the rights, or as they are more frequently termed, the liberties of men; liberties, more often generally talked or than thoroughly understood. They are highly necessary to be perfectly known and considered by every man, lest his ignorance should hurry him into faction and licentiousness on one hand, or pusillanimous indifference and criminal submission on the other.

These rights consist, primarily, in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property. To preserve these from violation, it is necessary that the constitution of Parliament be supported, and limits, certainly known, be set to the royal prerogative.

To vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law. Next, they have the right of petitioning the King and Parliament for redress of grievances, and lastly, to the right of having arms for self-preservation and defence.

All of these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire, unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints; restraints, in themselves so gentle and moderate that no man of sense would wish to see them slackened.

All of us have it in our choice to do every thing that a good man would desire to do, and are restrained from nothing, but what would be pernicious either to ourselves or our fellow citizens.

We all have each of the eight absolute rights, but it is very important to recognize the triple importance of the three primary rights. If someone attacks a primary right, that is clearly a crime. At gut level, nearly everyone will agree with that.

A crime is an attack on one of the three primary rights of a person (individual or corporation) by a criminal, acting alone or with others. The attack may be the result of negligence or deliberate action. It may be an actual attack, an attempted attack, or a threat to attack a primary right of another. A criminal can then be convicted and his punishment ordered by a court in accordance with relevant law. The only known way to punish the criminal is by ordering that one or more of his primary rights be threatened, damaged, diminished, or abolished--temporarily or permanently.

Before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect, the legal definition of a crime was "anything Parliament puts into the Criminal Code and provides a penalty for." That was an open door, and Parliament enacted quite a number of abusive laws. Since the Charter came into effect, many of those abusive laws have been struck down, but "crime" has not yet been redefined in a way that is clear.

Perhaps a new definition of "crime" is needed: "A crime is a deliberate or negligent act that is an actual attack, an attempted attack, or a threat to attack a primary right of another." That definition would clearly justify the court's threatening, diminishing or taking away (temporarily or permanently) of an equivalent primary right of the convicted individual.

A regulatory offence is the violation of a regulatory law (parking violations, zoning regulations, traffic laws, etc.) set up to make it easier for members of society to live together. It is not a criminal offence, and does not include the severe penalties (including a criminal record) that an attack on a primary right would justify. Usually, the penalty is limited to a fine--the loss of a bit of personal property only.

Where an individual is attacked by a criminal who intends threat, injury, or death, Blackstone says: "The fifth and last right is that of having arms for defence; allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient." The individual needs the right, power, and capability to stop the criminal by the use of whatever force is necessary to prevent the commission of the crime--either by arresting the criminal or by stopping him if he resists arrest.

The individual needs that auxiliary right to own arms if the preservation of the three primary rights is to be a reality and not merely a pious wish. At times, the sanctions of the society are insufficient to prevent a criminal from attempting to violently violate a primary right of another. The state can then stop the criminal only through the threat implied by the existence of, or by the presence of, one of its police or other agents. That usually works if such an agent is present at the scene of the crime. If he is not, the individual must be able to stop the criminal--and therefore must be allowed the tools that are necessary to stop a criminal from committing a violent criminal act.

An individual under attack will probably not have the capability to stop a criminal, but the knowledge that some individuals--unidentifiable individuals--may be able to do it acts as a powerful deterrent to violent crime.

The primary purpose of society is to protect the primary rights of its people, particularly those of its women and children. If the society is unable or unwilling to at all times preserve and protect the primary rights of all of the individuals who comprise that society, the society has an obligation to find methods that will successfully protect those rights.

The concept of a police service is an excellent idea, and a police force is an excellent way of deterring criminals. However, the criminal has absolute choice of time and place for the crime. He does not usually choose a time and place where interruption by a police officer is likely. The police usually arrive at the scene of a crime after the crime has been completed and the criminal has left the scene. It is usually impossible for the victim or anyone else to notify police in time for them to take any earlier action. That, in turn, is a powerful reason why the victim should not be rendered unable to stop the criminal during the period before the police can arrive.

Where a society decides to diminish or eliminate the victim's capability of stopping the violent criminal, it is essentially providing the criminal with a guarantee of his personal safety during the period of time used in the commission of his crime. That does not diminish violent crime rates. It increases them, as Canada is seeing today.

Relatively few individuals in a society want to have the capability of stopping a violent criminal, but the few that do can have powerful effects on their society. In some societies, where permitted by law, a few potential victims have the capability to stop the criminal. In others, the government of the society has done its best to prevent the existence of such individuals. Choosing between those two alternative paths toward security can exert a powerful influence over the violent crime rates in a society. The U.S. movement in the former direction (1991-2005) resulted in a 38 per cent reduction in violent crime rates. The British movement in the latter direction resulted in violent crime rates that have been constantly increasing throughout the same period. The British now have worse violent crime rates--in every category--than the U.S. Now think about what you are seeing today in Canada, which is copying Britain.

As is so often the case, a proposed solution (in this case, to rising violent crime rates) can be simple, obvious--and wrong. Laws that take away the capabilities of the victims do not take away the capabilities of the violent criminals. Laws that prevent victims from acquiring firearms do not prevent criminals from acquiring firearms. The net effect of a "firearms control" system on a criminal (other than its protection of the criminal) is essentially zero. Its effects on victims, however, can be rather severe.

by David A. Tomlinson

Rights. Freedoms. Authority. Control. Responsibility. Those are big and important words. We do not think about them often enough. That is a mistake.

Most people have very imperfect knowledge of what their rights are, and that is a pity. There are only eight of them, so learning them is easy. Imperfect knowledge allows other people to abuse them and their families, and they do not protest when their rights are violated. That is dangerous. It is only by knowing and protecting their rights that they can continue to enjoy them.

There is a continuing battle between the citizens and the government in every country: the governments want to control the citizens, but the citizens want rights--and the freedoms granted to them by those rights.

No one--citizen or government official--wants responsibility, but there is an old and very true rule. If the authority and the responsibility are in the same hands, a system may work--but if those two are in different hands, it can never work. Few people know that rule. Even fewer realize that it is an absolute necessity for successful government. If Henry is responsible for what Charles does, nothing works well.

The best available source of knowledge about your rights is Sir William Blackstone, who wrote his "Commentaries" in the middle of the 18th century. That book is still the standard reference work on British common law and the British constitution. What follows is an abridged version of Book One, Chapter One of that work--"Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals." Notice that he used "Individuals" in his title, and not "Men"--in the 18th century. Sir William, below, uses the male, conventionally, to include the female.

By the absolute rights of individuals, we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. The principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights.

Law is a rule of civil conduct, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong. Hence, it follows that the first and primary aim of law is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals.

The rights themselves consist in a number of private immunities, formerly, either by inheritance or purchase, the rights of all mankind; but in most countries of the world now more or less debased and destroyed.

These may be reduced to three principal or primary articles: the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property. There is no other known method of compulsion, or of abridging man's natural free will, but by the infringement or diminution of one or other of these important rights. The preservation of these, inviolate, may justly be said to include the preservation of our civil immunities in their largest and most extensive sense.

The right of personal security consists in a person's legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health and his reputation.

DAT: Note that the above right is also protection against libel and slander.

Next to personal security, the law regards, asserts and preserves the personal liberty of individuals. This personal liberty consists in the power of changing situation, or moving one's person to whatsoever place one's own inclination may direct, without imprisonment of restraint.

The third absolute right is that of property, which consists in the free use, enjoyment and disposal of all his acquisitions, without any control or diminution, save only by the laws of the land.

DAT: So these three primary rights protect you from being physically harmed, negligently given a disease, libeled, or slandered; from being imprisoned, chained to a rock, or forbidden to move to Moose Jaw; and from having your property stolen, damaged, destroyed, moved, or painted without your permission. They protect you against threats, too, so as long as you enjoy them no one can pressure you by threatening you.

In the three preceding articles, we have taken a short view of the principal rights which appertain to every man. But in vain would these rights be declared and protected by the dead letter of the laws, if the constitution had provided no other method to secure their actual enjoyment. It has, therefore, established certain other auxiliary rights, to protect and maintain the three great and primary rights. These are:

The constitution, powers and privileges of Parliament.


The limitation of the King's prerogative.

DAT: In today's world, the King's prerogative belongs to the Prime Minister. The King's prerogative includes foreign affairs, so decisions of that type do not to go through Parliament. That is why, for example, a decision to send troops to Afghanistan does not require a vote in Parliament. Much earlier, the King's prerogative included nearly everything--you may have heard of "the divine right of Kings," which meant that the King was a boss appointed by God and exercising the power of God over his subjects.

A right of applying to the courts of justice for redress of injuries. Since the law is the supreme arbiter of every man's life, liberty, and property, the courts of justice must at all times be open and the law be duly administered therein. Justice is directed to be done according to the law of the land, and what that law is, every subject knows, or may know if he pleases; for it depends not on the arbitrary will of any judge, but is permanent, fixed, and unchangeable, unless by authority of Parliament.

If there should happen any uncommon injury, or infringement of the rights before-mentioned, which the ordinary course of the law is too defective to reach, there still remains a fourth right, appertaining to every individual, namely the right of petitioning the King or either House of Parliament for redress of grievances.

The fifth and last right is that of having arms for defence; allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient.

In these several articles consist the rights, or as they are more frequently termed, the liberties of men; liberties, more often generally talked or than thoroughly understood. They are highly necessary to be perfectly known and considered by every man, lest his ignorance should hurry him into faction and licentiousness on one hand, or pusillanimous indifference and criminal submission on the other.

These rights consist, primarily, in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property. To preserve these from violation, it is necessary that the constitution of Parliament be supported, and limits, certainly known, be set to the royal prerogative.

To vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law. Next, they have the right of petitioning the King and Parliament for redress of grievances, and lastly, to the right of having arms for self-preservation and defence.

All of these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire, unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints; restraints, in themselves so gentle and moderate that no man of sense would wish to see them slackened.

All of us have it in our choice to do every thing that a good man would desire to do, and are restrained from nothing, but what would be pernicious either to ourselves or our fellow citizens.

We all have each of the eight absolute rights, but it is very important to recognize the triple importance of the three primary rights. If someone attacks a primary right, that is clearly a crime. At gut level, nearly everyone will agree with that.

A crime is an attack on one of the three primary rights of a person (individual or corporation) by a criminal, acting alone or with others. The attack may be the result of negligence or deliberate action. It may be an actual attack, an attempted attack, or a threat to attack a primary right of another. A criminal can then be convicted and his punishment ordered by a court in accordance with relevant law. The only known way to punish the criminal is by ordering that one or more of his primary rights be threatened, damaged, diminished, or abolished--temporarily or permanently.

Before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect, the legal definition of a crime was "anything Parliament puts into the Criminal Code and provides a penalty for." That was an open door, and Parliament enacted quite a number of abusive laws. Since the Charter came into effect, many of those abusive laws have been struck down, but "crime" has not yet been redefined in a way that is clear.

Perhaps a new definition of "crime" is needed: "A crime is a deliberate or negligent act that is an actual attack, an attempted attack, or a threat to attack a primary right of another." That definition would clearly justify the court's threatening, diminishing or taking away (temporarily or permanently) of an equivalent primary right of the convicted individual.

A regulatory offence is the violation of a regulatory law (parking violations, zoning regulations, traffic laws, etc.) set up to make it easier for members of society to live together. It is not a criminal offence, and does not include the severe penalties (including a criminal record) that an attack on a primary right would justify. Usually, the penalty is limited to a fine--the loss of a bit of personal property only.

Where an individual is attacked by a criminal who intends threat, injury, or death, Blackstone says: "The fifth and last right is that of having arms for defence; allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient." The individual needs the right, power, and capability to stop the criminal by the use of whatever force is necessary to prevent the commission of the crime--either by arresting the criminal or by stopping him if he resists arrest.

The individual needs that auxiliary right to own arms if the preservation of the three primary rights is to be a reality and not merely a pious wish. At times, the sanctions of the society are insufficient to prevent a criminal from attempting to violently violate a primary right of another. The state can then stop the criminal only through the threat implied by the existence of, or by the presence of, one of its police or other agents. That usually works if such an agent is present at the scene of the crime. If he is not, the individual must be able to stop the criminal--and therefore must be allowed the tools that are necessary to stop a criminal from committing a violent criminal act.

An individual under attack will probably not have the capability to stop a criminal, but the knowledge that some individuals--unidentifiable individuals--may be able to do it acts as a powerful deterrent to violent crime.

The primary purpose of society is to protect the primary rights of its people, particularly those of its women and children. If the society is unable or unwilling to at all times preserve and protect the primary rights of all of the individuals who comprise that society, the society has an obligation to find methods that will successfully protect those rights.

The concept of a police service is an excellent idea, and a police force is an excellent way of deterring criminals. However, the criminal has absolute choice of time and place for the crime. He does not usually choose a time and place where interruption by a police officer is likely. The police usually arrive at the scene of a crime after the crime has been completed and the criminal has left the scene. It is usually impossible for the victim or anyone else to notify police in time for them to take any earlier action. That, in turn, is a powerful reason why the victim should not be rendered unable to stop the criminal during the period before the police can arrive.

Where a society decides to diminish or eliminate the victim's capability of stopping the violent criminal, it is essentially providing the criminal with a guarantee of his personal safety during the period of time used in the commission of his crime. That does not diminish violent crime rates. It increases them, as Canada is seeing today.

Relatively few individuals in a society want to have the capability of stopping a violent criminal, but the few that do can have powerful effects on their society. In some societies, where permitted by law, a few potential victims have the capability to stop the criminal. In others, the government of the society has done its best to prevent the existence of such individuals. Choosing between those two alternative paths toward security can exert a powerful influence over the violent crime rates in a society. The U.S. movement in the former direction (1991-2005) resulted in a 38 per cent reduction in violent crime rates. The British movement in the latter direction resulted in violent crime rates that have been constantly increasing throughout the same period. The British now have worse violent crime rates--in every category--than the U.S. Now think about what you are seeing today in Canada, which is copying Britain.

As is so often the case, a proposed solution (in this case, to rising violent crime rates) can be simple, obvious--and wrong. Laws that take away the capabilities of the victims do not take away the capabilities of the violent criminals. Laws that prevent victims from acquiring firearms do not prevent criminals from acquiring firearms. The net effect of a "firearms control" system on a criminal (other than its protection of the criminal) is essentially zero. Its effects on victims, however, can be rather severe.