- Human Rights in Canada: A History by Dominique Clément
Human rights discussions are often spearheaded by international treaties and global events. Dominique Clément however adds a laudable supplement to these familiar histories with a meticulously detailed but thoroughly compelling account of the domestic story of human rights in Canada. This monograph not only provides an insightful look into the development of the practice of human rights in Canada, it also provides a rich resource examining very particular social, legal, and political events that shape human rights discourse in Canada.
The contemporary rights culture in Canada, though it remains contentious and imperfect, displays certain unique characteristics. Through approaching human rights as a practice which is historically contingent, Clément frames the most contentious issues in human rights in Canada in their respective social, legal, and political contexts. Through applying a historical–sociological approach to the still ongoing debates on the rights revolution, a complex picture emerges of how Canada evolved from a regime where rights, as they then were, often sacrificed to the cause of state formation to a nation with a prevalent culture of human rights. This journey through the events since the early moments of Canadian state formation to the present affords us a complex account of Canada's culture of rights that is both unsettling and sympathetic.
Clément's account is roughly framed on five loosely defined epochs of human rights in Canadian history. The first era of human rights examined is Canadian state formation. In this account Clément unearths some particularly disquieting tendencies of the government during this time that our modern rights culture often overlooks. The accounts of repression of political opposition and the use of martial law as a preferred tool to suppress possible rebellion, however, illustrates the core of Clément's argument that it is these conflicts that created a social demand for and the eventual recognition of rights.
The second loosely defined era of human rights in Canada in Clément's account is typically the one that usually gets the most focus. Rather than a focus on the formulation of international treaties after the Second World War, however, Clément instead highlights domestic developments, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code. The third era, the rights revolution, again provides an account of domestic legislation and social movements such as the women's rights movement to inform the development of the Canadian rights culture, which stands as a reminder of how recent many of these rights victories indeed are. The final era is described as contesting human rights, wherein an account of the more fractured contemporary discourse on human rights is examined.
Clément's detailed and ambitious examination of Canada's human rights culture is not only a good resource for the human rights scholar, but also suggests a paradigm shift in how we account for human rights both domestically in Canada, and abroad. The increased emphasis on human rights as an evolving practice rather than a variety of articles in international treaties opens a rich area for development that may be quite timely. [End Page 244]