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Fairness

I get very impatient with the one-liners, the slogans of both the left and right. They are usually backed up with an argument that’s as shallow as the slogan.

The federal government is going to review their hiring policy over a recent employment issue and the essence of this is revisiting “affirmative action”. This is, of course, making employment possibilities available to people who, for one reason or another, have been disadvantaged.

The mantra is “a person should be hired on his/her abilities, not the colour of their skin or their gender”. Then the Bakke case or one like it is trotted out – Bakke was the white that couldn’t get into a medical school because his place was taken by a black without Bakke’s qualifications. And, without doubt, this sort of unfairness does happen.

Let’s examine that word “fair”.

Many like me had an enormous push from “affirmative action” when we were born as white, male Caucasians in families that made sure he was well educated. In my case it went further – I received some private school education and my godfather was later Lieutenant-Governor of the province so that I not only had those other things going for me, I had a huge safety net available. Many with less advantaged positions still benefited because they were protected by unions or other trade organizations. My point is a simple one – the society in which we live gives advantages to the majority of males – and to a lesser degree females – by reason of their birth.

This same society had this hit them in the eye in the Southern US when the great Civil Rights Legislation was brought in by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Cities like Atlanta had hitherto given its civic building and maintenance business to companies that only employed blacks in the most menial of jobs with no room for advancement. The problem faced was pretty simple – how do we square that decision with the fact that 50% of our citizens are black and this is their money we’re using?

The issue became obvious – many were “advantaged” by birth, many were disadvantaged by birth and the former had the means by which the latter were kept that way. Was this fair?

It certainly wasn’t fair as far as Caucasian women were concerned and there was little more than token intellectual opposition to equality but there was, and remains, a male stubbornness against such things as equal pay for women.

We also heard very little intellectual opposition to the notion that French speaking Canadians ought to have a proportionate number of government and armed forces positions including the better ones. We haven’t been so quick to help Natives or those who by reason of being on the wrong side of the tracks have started life in a disadvantaged position.

Quotas – a strict mathematical commitment to jobs for those less advantaged – are not popular. However, should a police force not be roughly representative of the community it serves?

Any who practiced law in the criminal courts of the province knows how Indians were treated by police forces generally. Many a time I went into Provincial Court in Kamloops on a Monday morning and saw Indians, holding their trousers up because their belts had been taken away, facing charges of one sort of drunkenness or another. Miraculously, there were never white people from the “better” neighbourhoods there. Would the Kamloops Indian Reserve have been so well patrolled on a Saturday Night, and the better neighbourhoods left alone, if there were some native policemen?

It’s not my position that there should be quotas for everything but as long as women still make the case that they are being discriminated against, and we listen, we must listen to the concerns of other groups who are at even a greater disadvantage.

Many years ago I interviewed a very well known New Zealand author – Alan Duff, a Maori. He told me that one of the immense disadvantages for Maori kids going to school is that their parents had never read to them, that they had no reading skills going into first grade. Mr. Duff wasn’t blaming the Pakeha, white people, for that at all but was blaming his own people. But, he said, it was little children not older people who were suffering … as was the state!

Curing injustice will often create injustice in its wake but that can’t be the excuse for not giving less advantaged children a boost so that the playing field of life will be level for all.

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