I mentioned in a previous article that I administered a statute as a human-rights decision maker. (1)
What is it like to administer a law?
The law in question was the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada and I was responsible for the provisions that applied to refugees.
And that further led me into needing to read the decisions of the Federal Court of Canada and, on occasion, the Supreme Court of Canada.
So what was that like?
It was said that Abraham Lincoln read Euclid’s Geometry because it helped him to attain clarity and discernment in his practice of the law. In the same way reading court decisions written by truly wise legal figures also assists one to become clear and discerning. (I think I’ll go read one now.)
The finer and finer distinctions made in the administration of the law have an awakening effect upon a person. And the manner in which the heart shone through and the probity of the individuals presiding showed was totally inspiring.
I emerged from that experience so proud to be a Canadian that I worried that I’d burst my buttons. I would never be a citizen of any other country. I think other people may think that the rest of the world is dying to be a citizen of their country. Well, no.
It’s the same pride I feel in a universal healthcare system or a social safety net that was once the best in the world. Why people in other countries don’t demand universal healthcare is beyond me. That is truly being dumbed down, if you’ll pardon me for saying so. (Still a little judgmental but I come by it naturally. … That was a joke.) (2)
There was no pettiness in any of the judges I read, unlike in the decisions of those in some countries. They took the high road and had obviously dedicated their lives to truth and fairness.
And it seemed as well that practice made perfect. Their ability to make one finer distinction after another was cumulative and progressive. Their decisions, and the body of the law, just kept getting better and better, more and more inspiring, reassuring, peace-inducing.
I knew that I was in good hands if I came before the Federal Court in my country. I might even sit there in the courtroom during the trying of my case and listen raptly to what was determined and decided.
Now that’s the administration of the law. What was it like to decide the fate of refugees? I have never felt my life to be more useful, my opportunities to do good to be greater, and the integrity expected of me to be higher than when I was called upon to decide the fate of people who might face torture, imprisonment and death in their own countries.
At the same time many people used the refugee system to jump the immigration line. It allowed a person access to the welfare and healthcare systems and was an almost irresistible channel to take for all those wanted to get into the country for economic, rather than human-rights, reasons. And then they’d bring their families.
Other Members of the Board used to say: “Do you blame them? Wouldn’t you want to do anything to get out of those conditions and into these?”
Yes, I suppose so.
Some of the most profound moments of my life were spent in that hearing room or after. To see how harshly the world (OK, mostly men) treats primarily women and children, to see how cruel and unjust governments could be, or militaries, or prison guards was totally life-changing.
Never mind reading the newspapers. Listen to the people who’ve actually been mistreated.
The danger in the job was secondary traumatization. After listening to the story of the Russian woman who was used as a sexual plaything by the Chechen mob, I cried in my office for three hours. I am crying as I write this. (I am still crying as I read this. I cannot even think of her story without weeping.)
She bravely told her story, while her voice went up and down like a roller-coaster. She was determined to get her words out, no matter what it took. And if you heard what she went through, it would reduce you to tears. My traumatization was definitely nothing compared to hers but it wasn’t something you can escape when you listen to refugee accounts.
There are people in our society that do the dirty jobs for us, the unpleasant jobs, the traumatizing and the dangerous. We don’t pay them half enough, if payment is your yardstick.
In a sense, society sloughs off or delegates to them the jobs that we won’t do – fight fires, arrest criminals, wipe up vomit and blood.
But the sense of service that arises from doing those jobs, the sense of competency, strength and willingness, more than compensate for society’s neglect of those who protect and clean up after us.
But of all of them, my respect is greatest for the judges who sit determining the fate of another’s life and not allowing themselves to depart from integrity, compassion, and fairness. They walk a fine line and they walk it straight. I wish all of heaven’s blessings on them.
(1) “Reinvention of the Law – Part 6,” at http://goldenageofgaia.com/2014/08/23/the-reinvention-of-the-law-part-6/.
(2) Where is Robin Williams when you need him? Linda Skyped me yesterday and said: “Robin W showed up to me a couple of days after he died – he looked fabulous. He was on the back of a motorcycle – wind blowing in his hair, sun in his face – huge smile and he simply said ‘This is heaven.'” Ain’t never coming back, Robin?