Justice is a concept we are all familiar with, but few of us, if anyone at all, can truly define. From the ancient Greek philosophers to more modern conceptualizations of this subject, justice has been discussed as being paramount to a good state, a good society, and a foundation of our ideals of Liberalism. With such ambiguity around this archetype, there is little wonder that it elicits questions and contentions within the media, within society.
As one of the virtues that our modern state is founded upon, justice is implied as the premise of good government. Whether this is through the ideals of peace and order, or through the very basic ideals of the divisions of power, maintained through checks and balances, the various levels of governments in Canada are responsible to maintain a sense of justice for us as citizens. Though not an easy task, as this current system is not perfect, for the most part it has worked quite well. We have been fortunate in the past, but we should always be aware that this system could always be improved upon.
Justice is something more than just an ideal held within the state however, but something that we all as individuals have a sense of. We have a natural, inherent understanding of justice, of a sense of right and wrong, which we cannot put a finger on. We know when something is wrong, that it is unjust, and it evokes emotions like anger and outrage. These are good bellwethers for things changing within our society, things that we, and our government, need to become aware of.
For decades within Canada, we have had a problem festering with regard to justice and the lack thereof for First Nation peoples. We have seen evidence of the institutional racism inherent within Canada; whether it was through the residential school system, the Oka standoff, the failing of policing highlighted in the Robert Pickton trial, the same issues seem to arise again and again. Our governments have made apologies and promises, but have never followed through, usually because of politics, and none of this is taking us forward as a society.
This raises the question of what a future Canada may look like. The Canadian government can no longer continue to make placatory statements with regard to First Nation demands for self-government. This, of course, will conjure up ill will from other groups, especially provinces, across Canada. But this does not have to become a conflict within Canada; we can learn from our past mistakes, and from other countries that have faced similar issues. The issues always seem more complex than the solutions, which, when we work together to find, usually meet a standard of Justice we can all live with.
John Kennair is an international consultant and doctor of laws who lives in St. Albert.