On Sunday, at the eleventh hour, Canadians once again paused in silent tribute to those who gave their lives for our country in war. As events elsewhere remind us, what they fought for is easily lost.
Freedom is in retreat around the world. It is not in retreat here. For that reason, Remembrance Day is not just a day to remember. It is a day to give thanks.
Democracy is not preserved through constitutions and laws, but through shared trust. We collectively assume that politicians respect the institutions of government. The police are honest and judges impartial. Citizens obey the laws.
This trust is not universal. Indigenous Canadians question why their community accounts for 46 per cent of youths in custody while making up only 8 per cent of the youth population. Many LGBTQ Canadians of colour object to having police march in Pride parades. Sometimes, politicians and public servants abuse the public trust. The media sometimes get things wrong; a few do it deliberately. Everybody speeds, now and then.
But enough of us trust enough of the system for the system to work. We take that trust for granted. We shouldn’t.
The roots of freedom are shallow in Hungary, which for much of its history has been part of one autocratic empire or another. Democracy arrived in 1989. But three decades is not a long time in the life of a nation. Today, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s regime suppresses criticism of the government in the media and harasses opposition parties.
He has rewritten the constitution in his favour and packed the constitutional court with flunkies, In September, the European Parliament declared that Mr. Orban’s government represented a “systemic threat to the rule of law.” But some politicians see Hungary, not as a pariah, but as a template.
Last Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump fired his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, for not being sufficiently loyal − in particular, for refusing to rein in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.
The new acting attorney-general, Matt Whitaker, has been harshly critical of the investigation. Will Mr. Whitaker fire the special counsel? The integrity of the Justice Department is at stake.
Democracy in Brazil may have been dealt a fatal blow by the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in October’s presidential election. A far-right populist, Mr. Bolsonaro’s rhetoric is steeped in racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. And he has made it clear that his coming anti-crime campaign will not be inconvenienced by the rule of law.
His inspiration may be Rodrigo Duterte, who has been responsible for at least 12,000 extrajudicial killings since he became president of the Philippines in June, 2016. On Nov. 7, Benjamin Ramos became the 34th lawyer killed as well. Mr. Duterte has told police not to allow lawyers to interfere with their war on drugs. “If they are obstructing justice, you shoot them,” he advised in a speech in August.
Russia has largely abandoned the imperfect democracy that took hold in the 1990s; journalists are regularly killed or imprisoned in Turkey; in China, earlier this year, President Xi Jinping was effectively declared dictator for life. The Economists’s 2018 Democracy Index concluded that 89 of the 167 countries studied had become less free than they were the year before.
Canadian politicians often stretch the truth. Some have been caught in a lie. In the past, a few seriously undermined democracy: Maurice Duplessis in Quebec abused his powers in oppressing unions and religious minorities from the 1930s through to the 1950s; During the Depression, William “Bible Bill” Aberhart tried to legislate restrictions on freedom of the press (the legislation was struck down by the courts); Pierre Trudeau probably went too far invoking the War Measures Act during the 1970 FLQ kidnapping crisis.
But public trust in institutions is higher in Canada than in any other G7 country, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. Crime is low, elections free and fair, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms respected and admired around the world. A 2012 report by two American law professors found that the Charter is now more influential than the U.S. Bill of Rights among nations reforming their constitutions.
Men and women fought and died to preserve the idea of Canada. This is what we remember, and why we give thanks.