2008 Karen Selick
An edited version of this article first appeared in the January 15, 2008 issue of the National Post.
If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.
(able-bodied) Petra to pay (disabled) Paula
Joanne Neubauer of
“It means we have the same rights as
Neubauer said. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Maritimes myself. I’ve seen pictures but I’ve never been,
because I haven’t been able to afford [two seats.]”
In my view, Neubauer’s satisfaction with this ruling is extremely short-sighted. Ultimately, the erroneous thinking that gave rise to this ruling threatens the security of able-bodied and disabled individuals alike.
The CTA probably had no choice but to rule
as it did, given
the content of the governing legislation and case precedents. However, Neubauer’s conclusion that she was
given the “same rights” as everyone else is incorrect.
The right that able-bodied passengers have is to consume whatever services an airline willingly provides at a particular price—in other words, the right to engage in voluntary trade. The disabled now have something different—the legal power to consume services in excess of what an airline willingly provides at that price. They have the power to coerce others into parting with their property, against their will.
This power is clearly a privilege, not a
right. If it were a right, everyone would
is what distinguishes rights from privileges.
But if everyone had it, Canadian society would rapidly
the chaos, brutality and destitution that characterizes societies where
property is not secure, but can be seized against the owner’s will by
comes along with superior muscle power.
The philosophical error underlying this ruling is the widely held notion that justice consists in our following Lady Luck around and trying to undo what we perceive to be her injustices. Neither Air Canada nor Westjet (the defendants in this case) had anything to do with causing Neubauer’s rheumatoid arthritis. Most likely, nobody did. Neubauer was simply unlucky in falling victim to this crippling condition.
No matter how we may seethe against the
seeming unfairness of
her situation, we must accept that there is no element of morality or
involved. Lady Luck is not an entity—merely a metaphor. But morality
justice are concepts that apply only in judging the deliberate actions
conscious entities. We don’t call a tree immoral or unjust if it falls
kills someone. Trees aren’t conscious and their falling is not
The fact that Neubauer became disabled through sheer bad luck is morally neutral. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the CTA’s decision to shift the burden of Neubauer’s disability to others. In concert with the law-makers who passed the Canada Transportation Act and the judiciary who have interpreted those laws, the CTA has taken deliberate steps to harm others who are innocent of any wrongdoing. If the airlines raise fares for other passengers, then it is other blameless travelers who will be victimized by this decision. If the airlines absorb the costs themselves, then it will be their shareholders who are victimized.
Surely we must acknowledge that deliberately
innocent bystanders is not an act of justice—that it is morally wrong
how sympathetic or appealing the intended beneficiary may be. Otherwise, the thug who steals your wallet in
a dark alley and gives the money to his ailing grandmother should be
an agent of justice rather than punished as a criminal. Nor
does it help that the state’s decision to
redistribute wealth has been made using the democratic process. If democracy remedied this injustice, then
two thugs in the dark alley could justify taking your wallet simply by
you vote with them on it, and outvoting you two to one.
The moral course of action for people to take if they wish to help the disabled is to donate their own resources, not to commandeer someone else’s, for that purpose. Charities like Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, for example, converts voluntary donations into invaluable assistance to blind people. Neubauer would have done a genuine service, rather than a disservice, to the country if she had organized a similar voluntary organization to fund travel expenses for the disabled.
As for that trip to the Maritimes, I’ll bet there are many able-bodied people in Victoria who can’t afford it either. The proper course of action in such circumstances is to save up until you can. Neubauer apparently expects to be able to save enough for one ticket. She should simply save twice as long and buy two.
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January 30, 2008