Easter Sunday, 17 April 2022, marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Easter Sunday, a day of new life, of energy, of optimism – a perfect metaphor for what the Charter means to Canada.
Canada.ca, ‘Guide to the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms’, tells us that the Charter is part of the Constitution of Canada and “sets out those rights and freedoms that Canadians believe are necessary in a free and democratic society”. An important point (that some people might have missed of late) is that the rights and freedoms are not absolute - “they can be limited to protect other rights or important national values". For instance, as recently shown, we are free to protest but not in a way that disrupts the day-to-day functioning of our country. (photo: Canada.ca)
In short, the Charter provides protection for:
- fundamental freedoms – conscience, religion, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly
- democratic rights – the right to vote
- mobility rights – the right to live and be employed in any province
- legal rights such as surrounding arrest and detention
- equality – in ethnicity, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability
- language rights
- Indigenous people’s rights
I am unabashedly Canadian. “Oh, Canada” can reduce me to tears (especially after an Olympic win or after our new-found soccer heroes conquer the world!). I love this physical country – the size and the diversity (according to Wikipedia.com, 'Geography of Canada', all 3,855,100 square miles and 243,042 kms of coastline and all the different land and water areas that house over 80,000 classified species of life). I love the ‘vibe’ of Canada – generally unassuming and understated. “Canada’s International Personality” identified by P. Pettigrew in 2005, stands out as it seems to be something to strive for: “our deeply held beliefs of liberal democracy and respect for human rights, diversity, and the rule of law.” (semanticscholar.org, ‘Canada’s International Personality’). (And that Canadian passport really has loosened up some of those immigration booths in far off countries!)
I look at this immense, diverse landscape and at our underlying values and at our rights and freedoms that are written in hard copy and I think, “What an incredible country!” And then I am a little shocked to learn that Canada has fallen on the world happiness scale in 2022 to 15th spot, down from 5th in 2010. The research shows that the over-60 age group is still as contented, or even more so, as before, but the younger generations are less happy. (ctv.news, ‘The world’s happiest countries for 2022’). We know that 'happiness' is hard to quantify, but the report takes into account factors such as family, health, income, freedom, trust, etc.
Turns out, these factors might not be so telling.
Christine Sismondo, in ‘So Canada placing 15th in the World Happiness Report is good, right? Not so fast . . . . ‘ (thestar.com), quotes Sofia Panasiuk, a U of T student leading the Canadian Happiness Report, who points out that the recent trends towards achieving happiness might actually be making us more unhappy! I get it. There is so much focus on mindfulness, journaling, gratitude exercises, slogans, 'fun', and the need to be happy – it becomes one big competition to be as happy as possible and even happier than we were the day before. Phew! Christine Sismondo reminds us that comparing ourselves to others robs us of, well, happiness. To me, if this is true, it is no wonder that younger generations are less happy because they grew up in this happiness culture (we 'old' ones never purposefully wondered if we were happy and we just accepted that life is hard, period; and we were never asked what we wanted for supper or where we wanted to vacay; I'm not even sure if our parents even considered whether we were happy or not).
So, what to do about this state of affairs?
Well, we don't have to rely on the government to make us happy and maybe we don't have to spend so much time on happiness exercises. But, on an individual level, maybe we should take a look at other societies to make ourselves a bit more thankful (or, is that 'happy'?). I have not seen all of the world (darn), but I have been ‘outside my back yard’ enough times to really appreciate all that Canada has to offer: if you want to know what real authoritarianism is, visit somewhere where armed soldiers walk the streets , where you can be put in jail for expressing your opinion, where all media is sanctioned; if you want to know what corruption is, visit a country where the leader lives in a palace(s) but the ‘people’ are lined up for whatever food is available that day (maybe none); if you want to know what inequality is, visit a country where women can’t go to school or can't vote. And then there are are war-torn countries. The list goes on. (Photo credit visualcapitalist.com; there are a lot of fairly unhappy countries in the world which means that there is a lot of true hardship which means that we have it pretty darn good here in Canada)
Of course, some of these countries are not safe to visit (which is even more reason to be grateful for Canada). And, yes, I realize that we are not all fortunate enough to have the finances or opportunity or ability to travel. So, read books or watch programs instead. It opens our eyes and minds to the world outside our doors and gives us a sense of what we've got. It does not have to be ‘textbook’ learning – historical fiction is a great teacher.
So, that 15th place . . . maybe the solution is simply to stop trying to be just so darn happy. And maybe learn about countries who truly do have some reasons to be unhappy.
Yes, the government does have some responsibility. The happiness rating can be a warning sign that Canada still has work to do. We know we need to continue to put our efforts into income/ health/ethnic/gender equality. The younger generations are going to take over, and they need a good base.
The important thing is that we have a document, just 40 years young, that spells out our vision for this country. Government officials and we, ourselves, need to visit this often. It can be a guiding light for legislators and for each one of us to make Canada an even greater and 'happier' place to live.