Two Thoughts For A Wednesday

We start with the wrongful dismissal case, where a fired employee was successful on his suit against his employer.

He worked for the RCMP, a clerk for Canada’s national police force. At a social event at a superior’s house he consumed large quantities of alcohol and smoke marijuana. This led to his termination. He sued. A labour relations tribunal said he should not have been fired.

Last time I looked, marijuana was still illegal in Canada. The RCMP are supposed to uphold the law. It seems to me that smoking marijuana, or any other illegal drug use, would be grounds for dismissal if not arrest.

At least that is how I and my co-workers understood it when I was a civilian employee, a clerk, working for that same police force. Yes, there were those who smoked pot (not me), but they certainly didn’t do it in front of someone in authority who might feel they had to take notice. The grounds for dismissal in this case should have included stupidity as well as drug use. The tribunal said the firing was a form of discipline and ordered the employee reinstated. I guess society has changed. I would agree it was discipline – but it could have been a Criminal Code conviction, which would have been worse. I think the tribunal blew this one.

Court decisions can at time be baffling, and I generally stay away from criticizing judges. They have no sense of humour and I don’t want to have to defend myself against contempt charges. So my comments on a recent Quebec case are not aimed at the judge, who was constrained by federal sentencing guidelines. But I still found the sentence disturbing for its implications.

The case in question involved an Aboriginal man who received a reduced sentence for a rather sickening assault on a child. The judge took into account the residual effects of Canada’s residential school system on the accused’s life.

There is no doubt that the residential schools did more harm than good. I’m in the minority when I say I think the people involved were for the most part well meaning (and I know my Aboriginal friends would strenuously disagree with me there). Being well meaning doesn’t justify the damage that was done. And to use the word “damage” is almost to trivialize what happened.

However, the young man in the case is not a survivor of the residential schools. He is too young. Neither are his parents survivors of that system. They too are too young. It was his grandparents who were torn from their families and placed in the schools. That fact, two generations ago, is justification for a reduced criminal sentence today.

My question is: where and when does personal responsibility start? My maternal grandfather fought in Russia during the First World War. Conditions were so bad they had to eat their horses, the ones pulling their cannons. I suspect there would be some trauma involved.

My paternal grandfather (who died long before I was born) was afflicted with various illnesses and, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the family was so poor they had to use the doors to rooms of the house for firewood so they didn’t freeze in the Winter. Was that traumatic?

But nothing that happened to either of my grandfathers is justification or mitigation for any crimes I might commit. Nor would I expect it to be. We all have family histories, some more horrific than others.

My point, in both these cases, is that not only do actions have consequences but at some point people need to take responsibility for their actions. I get the distinct impression that is missing from both these incidents. Or maybe I just don’t understand.

We live in a society where the idea of personal responsibility seems to be fading. I wonder if anyone cares?

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