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Glen Argan: The search for solidarity within the rule of law

By 
  • February 23, 2022

Three cheers for the more than 30 million Canadians who chose to be vaccinated against the COVID virus. You have played an invaluable role in limiting the virulence and death toll of a disease which ravaged many nations much more than Canada.

The simple act — painless in my case — of getting a jab in the arm did wonders to protect yourself, your families, friends and fellow workers. What you did was the Canadian way, pulling together in times of crisis to realize the common good.

It is also the Catholic way. The principle of solidarity is the core principle of Catholic social teaching. It honours the bond of interdependence among individuals and peoples. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Solidarity, according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, is a moral virtue — “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.” More than that, it can structure our institutions. Structures of sin should be transformed into those of solidarity.

In Canada, although structures of sin persist, we have done more than almost any nation to foster solidarity. Our welfare state, restrictions on exploitation by the powerful and efforts to create a fair way to share the wealth are good reasons to wave the flag.

In the aftermath of the truckers’ blockades which shut down part of the national capital and jammed border crossings, we should not forget this. If these blockades, which held the common good to ransom, indicate the rise of a disturbing trend, there is another trend. That is one of justice and reconciliation.

A central part of our national story is the ruthless exploitation of Indigenous people. Finally, the tide is beginning to turn on that. Progress has been slow, and racism endures. But Canada is moving toward equal opportunity for the first peoples. We have far to go, but at last the corner is being turned.

This positive development should not be forgotten as we pick up the jagged pieces of recent weeks. The best way to displace evil is by filling the vacuum with good. Yet, the violations of the common good by those who have caused our country such pain should not be ignored. Lawbreakers should be brought to justice, and those who created economic damage should help pay the cost. Seditious movements should be watched for developments which might mean the rise of anarchy.

Most of all, Canadians should renew and expand our commitment to solidarity. In doing so, we must reject the false concept of freedom which motivated the blockaders. In that, we have the ready guide of Pope John Paul II who insisted that true freedom includes moral law and personal responsibility.

In his 1993 encyclical The Splendour of Truth, the pope said this: “Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist.” The blockaders spent their days in the national limelight waving signs which proclaimed such a freedom. Theirs is freedom as an absolute, a freedom without responsibility.

Too many viewed the blockades with Pollyannaish naivete. Yes, most who supported the shutdown of downtown Ottawa and border crossings into the United States are normally decent, hard-working people. But when decision day arrived, the bouncy castle disappeared, and children became human shields to inhibit the enforcement of the law.

Liberal democracy is the form of government most likely to protect human rights. Yet, it has the potential to devolve into a sophisticated form of domination. Unfortunately, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have used the current crisis to polarize, rather than unite, Canadians. Unfortunately also, the blockaders’ show of power with their enormous trucks was an attempt to replace due process with coercion. Solidarity was driven into the ditch.

Lent is about to begin. During this time Christians ponder our encounter with God in Christ’s self-offering on the cross. Putting personal desire in the background and Christ in the foreground leads to true freedom. Sometimes, the sacrifice is minimal — simply lining up to get a vaccine. But every act of solidarity lifts us above the allure of fake freedom. Such acts make Canada great.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at https://glenargan.substack.com.)

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